Ensuring that Indigenous perspectives are infused in education is very important to the Peace River School Division (PRSD). It is crucial that First Nations, Métis and Inuit students see themselves and their cultures in the curriculum and school community, and that non-Indigenous students are taught the true history of Canada, including the, at times, painful relationship between Canada and the First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
As you may be aware, the Canadian government declared September 30th as a federal statutory holiday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We fully support the importance of this day of observance and therefore the PRSD board of trustees voted to make September 30, 2021 a non-operational day, meaning there will be no school for students and school-based staff. The board of trustees also voted that September 27- October 1, 2021 be declared Truth and Reconciliation Week in PRSD schools. By dedicating a full week to Truth and Reconciliation, schools will have the flexibility to select a minimum of one school day within the week to recognize Orange Shirt Day while students learn about the history and legacy of residential schools. Other learning activities that support Truth and Reconciliation will also be encouraged.
As an educational organization, we have a great duty, responsibility, and opportunity to create change and we take this very seriously. Last year, the PRSD Board of Trustees unanimously voted to form an Anti-Racism Committee. The committee includes representation from the board of trustees, students, and staff, and is committed to further positive systemic change, with the goal of ending racism in all PRSD school communities.
We are very excited and humbled to share that on September 23, 2021, we will demonstrate our respect for, and solidarity with, our Indigenous communities by raising the Treaty 8 flag and the Métis flag at the Grimshaw Shared School Facility. This flag raising Ceremony has been planned in collaboration with Duncan’s First Nation, Métis Region VI, Holy Family Catholic Regional School Division, and the Town of Grimshaw. At PRSD, we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation by collaborating with our local Indigenous communities to plan future flag raising Ceremonies to be held at each of our schools.
In our classrooms it is emphasized that Indigenous history is Canadian history. It is very important to us that all students learn about the important traditions, cultures, and histories of the First Peoples of Canada. We seek out opportunities to have our staff learn from local Elders and knowledge keepers. For example, our school leaders learned more about the significance of smudging from a local knowledge keeper during their first Administrators Association Meeting of the year. This month, students in Peace River and Fairview will be building tobacco bundles with the guidance of a local knowledge keeper to support the local Sisters in Spirit events when our communities gather to remember missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Although pandemic restrictions have prevented large divisional events such as our Hand Games Tournament, other virtual opportunities have arisen. For example, in the coming weeks, all schools will have the opportunity to have students learn Cree songs with Sherryl Sewepagaham through Zoom sessions. Throughout the school year, opportunities are woven into the classroom whether that is a part of a specific event such as Remembrance Day, Métis Week, or Indigenous Peoples Day, or just as a part of what regularly happens day-to-day in the classroom.
This important work is supported by the vision and passion of the Board of Trustees, and through the work of PRSD’s management staff, Indigenous Education Program Coordinator, Indigenous Support Workers, school-based Indigenous Education leads, teachers, educational assistants and through the contributions of Indigenous community members and organizations. These programs and initiatives are supported by way of special funding from the Government of Alberta which is determined by self-declaration. Peace River School Division receives funding for each self-declared Indigenous student. Parents can declare their child’s ancestry on the school registration form that is completed every year.
Thank you to our students, staff, families, Elders, knowledge keepers, community members and organizations for your important contributions and support.
Superintendent of Schools
Peace River School Division