Principiis obsta…Finem respice
Resist the beginning… Consider the end
The June 3rd open board meeting was a mere side show to the real McCoy meeting that occurred in closed. I sometimes think though our citizens are seemingly spared the indignity of living in a quangocracy we are just kidding ourselves really. What real difference is there between being actually ruled by unelected bodies and what we have? Trustees have to fight for every scrap of influence and power to direct school district business in order to serve those who elected them. I think the senior admin believes trustees are here primarily to approve student travel plans and retirements while courageously adopting agendas we did not create and adjourn meetings we needn’t have bothered sitting through in the first place. Oh yes – and play dignitary at district functions. I have never been paid so little to be so unproductively annoying to my betters.
But in the open meeting there was the annual report on Aboriginal Education delivered by the outgoing District Aboriginal Principal – someone who will be missed for her perceptive devotion to the kids and has presided over some hard won and meaningful advances in her sphere.
This report which details some of the stats describing the progress or lack thereof among aboriginal students in Cowichan school district begins by telling us there were- as of 2007/2008- 1313 aboriginal students in our public schools – about 15%.
The themes which are examined in the report are Sense of Belonging, Academic Success and Culture. Of course as there must be- there are charts telling us how aboriginal kids have fared in completing the reading and writing assessments as well as the FSA results. We see from the data that between 2003 and 2008 there has been virtually no improvement in graduation rates. We are told aboriginal students are identified with behaviour disabilities at twice the rate of non aboriginal students. Additionally it is noted that defining and addressing giftedness among aboriginal students requires a focus on traditional values like listening, story telling, arts, spiritedness and leadership. Complicating the struggle to achieve academically is the raw fact that aboriginal students miss more school time than non aboriginal students for a variety of reasons.
But the report concludes powerfully –
“While gains have been made, Aboriginal culture, history and language are still a small part of the overall education of students in School District #79.It is clear that Aboriginal students are not succeeding at the level of Non -Aboriginal students. It is also clear while some gains are being made there is still a need for an inclusive approach that embraces and includes aboriginal culture, history and language. Dialogue with aboriginal communities through the development of a new aboriginal education enhancement agreement and an overriding concerted effort to fully embed aboriginal culture, history and language in education are needed for aboriginal students to have full academic success.”
In the context of this information we can now examine the response of this district to the budget proposal brought to the table of the district Ad Hoc Budget Committee by the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council which represents the bands in the valley as well as the Métis Nation.
In the dying days of the very hurried budget process this year, the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council brought its design to the budget committee for consideration. The priorities of this proposal which was brief and to the point are: advancing academic success for native students/ learning through fully embedded culture and language / equality in hiring outcomes for the native community.
Fundamental themes are:
Targeted funds meant to serve the enhanced culture and language needs of native students must be used for that and that alone- not to supply native students with core services they are entitled to just as all students are. And it is vital the representatives of the aboriginal community establish the right to autonomy over these funds and in particular the practice of directing their allocation.
Also – it is critical a greater portion of the core funding contribution derived from the presence of aboriginal students should be redirected where possible to serving the three priorities listed above in order to advance aboriginal student learning.
Further the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council is determined to see the Aboriginal Support workers and the Cultural Teaching Assistants brought into the bargaining unit with the all other support workers in the schools and thus end the apartheid arrangement that now exists.
The budget proposal (and of course this is an offering and a first stage in the understanding the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council wishes to arrive at with the school district) was meant to be addressed and to be featured in the general discussions leading up to the passage of the district operating budget. At the very least -some acknowledgment of the need for change and recognition of an equal partnership in managing funding for native students would have been a swell old touch.
Instead the document was referred to senior staff (god only knows what that is a euphemism for), a letter was proffered indicating that this had occurred (stop the presses) and that -my friends, was all she wrote. The hopes and dreams of the Hwulmuhw have been swept away along with the hopes and dreams of the rest of Cowichan in the miserly wake of the usual boilerplate budget blueprint which cuts and denies and freezes.
There is deep dismay that after years and many miles the aboriginal community in Cowichan is still forced to plead for their right to direct those matters that affect their communities most .If anyone thinks that the elders, experts, families and representatives of the native people could possibly do a worse job of caring for their kids education then a bunch of white people have done they are living off planet. This proposal restructures some of the elements of native education in our schools and may be exactly what is needed in Cowichan – a community built, community endorsed plan to pry some of the power away from the school district.
The Hwulmuhw community has identified all the problems that haunt their kids – they have offered specific, practical and well understood solutions.
They are anxious to expand the culture and language content into more areas of the curriculum and to proceed with Hul’qumi’num immersion. How many times must it be confirmed that the presence of the culture and language of aboriginal people is decisive to the realisation of a quality learning environment.
The district has failed to seriously consider the hopeful proposals of the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council in a timely manner but is shocked and hurt when these people are no longer willing to wait their turn. Who can blame them? The district talks unconvincingly of working together, of accord and progress but where is this really?
It is always an easy thing for the powerful to call for unity with those they have subjugated – but unity which is not cultivated in solution with equality and fairness can never be a true thing – only a pretense for the express purpose of perpetuating toxic relationships and ancient wrongs.
Now before I continue I want to say that I live by a few well thought out principles and I am happy to report that I have rarely if ever violated them. I will not under any circumstances participate in anything that involves colour draping, raising the dead or space travel. I will not allow myself to be a shill for the pornography industry no matter how many times they may ask. Like most people over 50 I have pledged that I will never quote from a Bob Dylan song in anything I write- ever. Well – momentously I find I must sully my rather impressive record and do just that. It fits really because among members of the aboriginal community, most trustees and a sizable section of the non aboriginal population there is a tremendous ambition to see change that signifies justice and autonomy for native people in all the realms that affect their lives. So why the hell can’t our board just release its maddening control over everything and accept the new age and a new relationship.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
It is simple – these things must change – no doubt the folks who finally seize their rights will make mistakes and screw things up from time to time but as I always say – Mistakes made by free people are worth more then all the petty efficiencies of despots.
I am going to do it again … forgive me.
The line it is drawn
The course it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
Your Trustee Pal