June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On this day, we honour Indigenous heritage, celebrate Indigenous cultures and recognize the achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. In particular, we want to honour the importance of contributions by Indigenous students, staff, and community in education.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis are the First Peoples of what we now call Canada. Their history marks the beginning of human history here. At York Region District School Board, trustees, students and their families and our staff have been working to increase student and staff understanding of Indigenous perspectives, cultures and histories.
Our efforts to address incidents of anti-Indigenous racism in our schools and workplaces must continue.
Indigenous peoples’ experience with Canada’s education system has not been a good one. Too often education, through residential schools, has been used as a tool to take culture, language, and disrupt family and community life. This knowledge has informed our commitment in the Director’s Action Plan to build a collective understanding of the ongoing impact of colonialism on Indigenous people and their communities.
We also know that incidents of anti-Indigenous racism in Canada have harmed Indigenous students, staff, and community members and make them feel unsafe. The recent police killings in New Brunswick, shootings in other parts of Canada, and the violent arrest of an Athabasca Chipewyan Chief have highlighted the issue of over-policing of Indigenous people in Canada. There are multiple ongoing issues that are a direct result of systemic anti-Indigenous racism in Canada. They include, the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare system, the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, the ongoing cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as well as the continued trauma from residential schools. This tells us that there is much more work to be done. It also implores us to recognize Indigenous people’s strengths and resilience derived from their communities and cultures.
In the spirit of ‘nothing about us without us’, we are working with our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit team to build genuine heart to heart relationships with the diverse Indigenous people and communities in York Region. Administrative leadership and our Board of Trustees will continue to learn the hard truths of the impact of colonialism as an important step on the road to reconciliation. We will continue to build on our strong and respectful relationship with the Chippewas of Georgian Island, our partners in education, and continue to develop strong professional development for staff that supports them in teaching a new generation of Canadians that we can and will do better into the future.
This year, we as a Board unanimously approved the addition of two new permanent trustee positions, one Indigenous Trustee position and one Indigenous Student Trustee position. These roles will give Indigenous students and families a voice at the Boardroom table and in our decision-making process. Going forward, we look to their input and perspectives being reflected in our policies and procedures, not just on Indigenous issues.
To support Indigenous learning and achievement and intercultural understanding, we are working to implement the Indigenous Education and Equity Strategy in our schools and departments. We have taken the first steps on our journey to ensure that students of Indigenous ancestry have opportunities to be successful as Indigenous people and that we are able to work together as strong nations, supporting each other to live in a good way with this land. We invite you to join us on our journey and in celebrating National Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
As the Truth and Reconciliation report states, “Schools must teach history in ways that foster mutual respect, empathy, and engagement. All Canadian children and youth deserve to know Canada’s honest history, including what happened in the residential schools, and to appreciate the rich history and knowledge of Indigenous nations who continue to make such a strong contribution to Canada, including our very name and collective identity as a country. For Canadians from all walks of life, reconciliation offers a new way of living together.”
Juanita Nathan Louise Sirisko
Board Chair Director of Education