Trustees in School District 10 Arrow Lakes have changed the board’s Indigenous land acknowledgement to only mention the Sinixt people.
The new acknowledgement, which opens every school board meeting, states “We gratefully acknowledge that we live, work and learn on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Sinixt Peoples, and we honour their ongoing presence on the Land.”
The old acknowledgement also mentioned the Okanagan, Ktunaxa and Shuswap nations, whose people also had a historic presence in what’s now called the West Kootenay.
“But this is the territory of the Sinixt, so this is really about telling that truth,” says Terry Taylor, SD 10’s superintendent. “The purpose of a land acknowledgement is really to honour the territory of the people whose territory it is.”
Taylor says the initiative for change came from the district’s Indigenous Education Council. The council is comprised of Indigenous peoples, including a Sinixt elder, Metis elders, Indigenous school staff and community members.
“Students and parents at recent Equity Scans [workshops] in Nakusp and New Denver discussed wanting to better acknowledge Sinixt language and territory,” says Taylor. “The Indigenous Education Council were all in agreement and passed a motion unanimously.”
The school district board accepted the council’s decision at its latest meeting.
Sinixt leaders acknowledged the move as a positive one.
"From the earliest court case of the Sinixt asking for recognition the judge said: when your community recognizes you, then maybe the government will,” says Sinixt elder Marilyn James. “This is the first step on a long road to reconciliation. There can be no reconciliation without truth. It's time the institution of education did something about the truth, especially given the long history of residential schools.”
"I really appreciate the action they took to recognize the ancestry of our people who once resided there,” adds Colville Confederated Tribes Chairman Rodney Cawston.
Taylor says the change in acknowledgement reflects the ongoing work of reconciliation that the board – and society as a whole – is currently taking part in.
“In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, there are calls to action for education. And the call to action is to tell the truth and move towards respectful understanding,” she says. “So I think that is part of the greater piece of this.”
Other First Nations had an historic presence in the region, and the Okanagan’s Westbank First Nation even has landholdings in the district. But Taylor says the acknowledgement doesn’t diminish the recognition of those nations.
“It in no way negates or doesn’t acknowledge the rich diversity of Indigenous students we have or families that live in our school district and territory, doesn’t preclude the rich cultural programs we do with our kids, and the ways we celebrate and honour Metis cultures, or our Inuit culture, or other First Nations…
“We’re not doing any less of that. It’s just that the purpose of the land acknowledgement is to acknowledge the people in whose territory you’re living and working.”
While the acknowledgement seems divorced from day-to-day teaching, Taylor says it does have an impact, and reflects the hard work the district has done to support Indigenous learners – who make up 20% of the district’s enrolment.
“We’re doing a pretty amazing job in our district, in ensuring that our Indigenous learners are successful… we’re also really committed to the work that matters, from equity scan conversations with parents and students, and recently with the pandemic… we’ve enhanced our mental health supports in our school outreach…
“We’re really committed to doing this work, and doing it with a good heart, not wanting to exclude and not wanting to erase Indigenous people and culture.”
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice