SD73 Board of Education Celebrates the First Regional Indigenous Student Summit at Thompson Rivers University

Posted On Wednesday June 07, 2023

By Diane Jules, Trustee

June 7, 2023

I am very proud of how Indigenous students came together from 11 school districts to share their lived experiences of Indigenous culture in the education system, Indigenous student health and well-being, and Indigenous-specific racism.

In January 2023, the Kamloops-Thompson Board of Education hosted Minister Rachna Singh to launch the provincial anti-racism action plan, and the Aboriginal Education Council spoke with Minister Singh about the importance of not only launching action plans but reporting back on how we are doing with them. One of the first steps in the provincial and district anti-racism action plan is to learn firsthand from students about what they see, hear, and personally experience as racism.

This summit was the first step in these plans. On May 15 and 16, 2023, Kamloops-Thompson staff members under the leadership of District Principal Mike Bowden organized the first regional Indigenous Student Summit. It began with almost 140 students gathering from schools within the Kamloops-Thompson School District and schools in ten other school districts (SD8 Kootenay Lake), SD19 (Revelstoke), SD22 (Vernon), SD23 (Central Okanagan), SD53 (Okanagan-Similkameen), SD83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap), SD74 (Gold Trail), and SD93 (Le Conseil Scolaire Francophone).

These students and staff gathered in the Thompson Rivers University Brown’s House of Learning designed to symbolize a traditional c7ístkten?. The evening of May 15 began with students gathering, socializing, and sharing food in the House of Learning followed by a scavenger hunt around the TRU campus. The next morning, on May 16, students, staff, and guests gathered to share breakfast. After breakfast, students were drummed in by the Sage Hill Drummers and a traditional jingle dancer. Indigenous student leaders from the 11 School Districts entered the House of Learning carrying their District banners in a Grand March.

These Indigenous student leaders took part in learning from a guest speaker, Mr.Greg Hopf, an Indigenous entrepreneur and co-owner of Moccasin Trails, born and raised in the Northwest Territories (NWT) and who has presented around the world on Indigenous issues, shared his story and experiences of resiliency. Students then worked in focus groups to examine the three agenda items that they had determined mattered most for this summit: racism, Indigenous culture in the education system, and Indigenous student health and well-being.

When they completed their focus groups, the students gathered again as a larger group and presented these discussions and actions. In the first group, Indigenous youth leaders from SD73, Mikey Friesen, Elle Ross, and Dakoda Kelm, explained why student voice matters. They talked about how when the student voice is honoured and valued in an authentic way, youth will have more engagement and responsibility in their learning journey. In the second group, students had discussed Indigenous Specific Racism and spoke about microaggressions as one of the issues. They gave examples of people talking like their culture is past tense, how they constantly feel like they are thought of as ‘dumb’ or not as capable as their non-Indigenous peers in academics, sports, and arts. They talked about the imperative of educating non-Indigenous educators around trauma, cultural awareness, and cultural humility. In the third group, students discussed Indigenous culture in schools and how they felt that they only heard about the tragic events Indigenous peoples endured. Instead, they advocated for celebrating the positive contributions that come from their cultures. In the last group, students shared about Indigenous student health and well-being and talked about how it was important to foster a sense of belonging and safety.

In the District Strategic Plan, Cultural Development is a Board priority and the goal is for every student to learn and share who they are and to be proud of their cultural backgrounds. This first Annual Regional Indigenous Student Summit was one location to empower Indigenous children and youth to be who they are and to be celebrated for sharing voices about topics of importance to them. It is our job now to do something with what we learned from them–to make our schools welcoming, caring, inspiring spaces for all students and families.

This column appeared in Kamloops This Week: View from SD73 on June 7, 2023

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