A moving ceremony to mark the signing of the new five year Local Education Agreement (LEA) with three First Nations bands and School District No. 83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap) was held Friday, Nov. 18 at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort.
Representatives from Adams Lake, Little Shuswap, and Neskonlith bands as well as SD83 were in attendance for the signing, drumming, gift-sharing, and dinner.
An LEA is a commitment made by a school district, local Indigenous communities, and the Ministry of Education and Child Care, to work together to improve the success of all Indigenous students.
Heartfelt comments about the importance of supporting youth and education were shared at the signing.
Joyce Kenoras, Councillor of Adams Lake Band, said it was wonderful to get together to celebrate how we are going to have our children educated. She said they were taught that it takes a whole village to raise a child and with so many challenges in the world, that was never more true. “I’m so glad we have a team like this together.”
James Tomma, Kukpi7 (Chief) of Little Shuswap Band commented he only went to Grade 9 and then many years later, when in his 30s, went back to school and then on to university. He added that in the 60s and 70s it was an oddity when an Indigenous student graduated. But, he was proud to say that last year 215 Indigenous students in SD83 received their diplomas, including his grandson. “The strides we’ve seen are incredible.” He shared how he talks to Band youth and asked how they can be supported to succeed. “Something I’m really passionate about is our youth.” Also in attendance from Little Shuswap were Councillors Shelly Witzky and Brandy Chelsea.
Councillor Fay Ginther said she felt it was really important to be at the signing and was happy to be there representing Neskonlith Chief and Council. She talked about how people in her life who checked up on her, encouraged her, helped her persevere and strive for more. “I always thought to myself I need to prove to them that I can do this.” She now supports others and helps them persevere. “I tell them that doors open and close for a reason and to never give up. Other doors will open for you.”
Board Chair Marianne VanBuskirk recounted a memory from 1993 when she was a French Immersion teacher and that she had Troy Thomas, Gerry Thomas’ son and Dr. Mary Thomas’ grandson in her class. She invited Dr. Mary Thomas to come to her class to share cultural traditions. “Her stories, her warmth, her kindness, her truth. Our students learned may things that day. So did I. But, the main message for me was that we need more of this. More collaboration with Indigenous rightsholders so that together we can absolutely provide the best support and service that we can.”
“I know that all families and staff will benefit from this milestone signing as we paddle together on this journey to Truth and Reconciliation.”
Superintendent of Schools Donna Kriger added that the issues of the past are inherited, but together we have the ability to strengthen the relationship with one and another and ensure that the children aren’t left to continue to clean this up. “I pen my name to that document and I understand the immense responsibility I have as a leader in the district. It is a binding agreement that ensures Indigenous students have the right to self-identify, to be confident that family, traditional values, culture, and language will be respected, and to provide them with the skills they need to not just survive but thrive as they prepare for higher learning. This document is a commitment to break down barriers. I take that responsibility to heart, to lead my colleagues to do the hard work and to do the right work.”
After the signing, there was drumming and a song by Tara Willard as well as gift giving. The evening wrapped up with a dinner.