School board votes to include Sto:lo acknowledgement

Trustees divided on how often they should acknowledge traditional First Nation land, ending in 4-2 vote

School trustees have made a small but significant change to their meeting protocol that will acknowledge local First Nations history.

At the beginning of each board meeting, they will acknowledge that they are carrying out their work on traditional Sto:lo territory.

It’s an announcement that’s already made at many larger ceremonial events, such as awards nights and graduations, formally and informally in speeches. But after a brief discussion and a failed amendment, it will now become a regular opening statement at meetings, as well.

The motion was presented by Trustee Dan Coulter, and supported by Trustees Barry Neufeld, Walt Krahn and Paul McManus.

Trustees Heather Maahs and Silvia Dick, board chair, both opposed the motion, preferring an amended version that asked board to support making the same announcement only once a year, at the first meeting in September.

The differences of opinions sparked a short debate on the purpose of the statement, and drew some passionate arguments on either side.

When challenged by Maahs on who the statement was referring to, and what land the statement was speaking to, Coulter said it could apply to the entire school district.

“The beauty of this motion is that it’s the truth and there is nothing wrong with telling the truth,” he said. “This is the traditional land of the Sto:lo people.”

Maahs called the motion to acknowledge the Sto:lo land history “condescending” and argued that it wouldn’t help with the education of students — the board’s main goal.

“This is just paying lip service to something that is a politically correct statement right now,” she said.

Dyck was supportive of the idea, but not the frequency, considering it would be acknowledged to mostly the same people around the table and in the meeting gallery.

“To me this doesn’t make sense to do it so frequently,” she said, adding that the work they do with students on a daily basis speaks louder than a statement.

“We’re so engaged in this reality that to repeat it every two weeks, to me, is odd and unnecessary,” she said. “We would be preaching to the converted.”

But Coulter pressed on, and found support in the other three trustees.

“Saying one sentence is hardly arduous or invasive,” Coulter said. “I don’t know if we are converted, if we can’t say it every two weeks. No one is going to light up in flames. No one’s teeth are going to hurt. It’s painless and it’s the truth.”

He underlined that board meetings are important, and a place where important decisions are made, reported on, and acted upon.

McManus said that acknowledging the Sto:lo connection at the outset of every meeting would help the board “stay focused on what’s important.” While the aboriginal achievement rates are better than others in the province, they still aren’t where they need to be, he added.

After the meeting, Coulter told The Progress that the idea to acknowledge traditional Sto:lo territory has been in the works for a while.

“I had floated the idea before to the board in planning meetings,” he said. Coulter sits on Aboriginal Advisory Committee meetings, where a protocol has been developed that provides direction on local First Nation culture.

“It’s just becoming done more and more,” Coulter said. “The board meetings are important, we are the governance body of the school district, and it’s a nice gesture. It shows that we understand. It shows recognition and respect.”

The Fraser Cascade School District (Hope and Agassiz) also already acknowledges “indigenous territory” at the start of their meetings.

The Government of Canada goes one step further, Coulter noted.

“They say the land is unceded, and not just traditional territory.”