It’s been years in the making, but the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement is close to being signed.
The AEEA is a working agreement between the Okanagan Indian Band, the Vernon Métis Association, the First Nations Friendship Centre and the Vernon School District.
Members of the Aboriginal Education Working Group have been meeting with administrators, teachers, parents, students, elders, and community members gathering their voices, opinions, advice and knowledge to ensure continued success for students who identify aboriginal ancestry.
At Wednesday’s district board meeting, group chairperson Jami Tonasket and vice-chairperson Colleen Larson provided an update on progress so far, and presented trustees with the first draft of the agreement.
“We’ve been very busy and have completed and compiled all of the committee’s comments, sorted through them and come up with four goals: communication, diversity, identity and vision,” said Tonasket. “Our goals reflect the importance of relationships and provide a framework for our living document.”
The first goal is to improve effective communication of the AEEA to support the success of aboriginal students.
“It’s about honouring the diversity of all of the aboriginal peoples, and to give the kids a strong sense of identity,” said Larson. “If you have a strong sense of identity you will have a strong sense of who you want to be.”
The second goal is to increase the knowledge and understanding of the culture and traditions of Okanagan (Syilx) people and aboriginal peoples for all students, parents, district staff and administration, community members and partners.
The document states, “We live and learn in the territory of the Okanagan (Syilx) people. We acknowledge our shared responsibility and commitment to the education and recognition of the diversity of people in our communities.
“We see a need to strengthen relationships by learning about one another’s cultures. The increased understanding by all partners will result in students and families feeling more welcome in the district, and assurance that all members of the district and aboriginal communities respect the relationships and commonality we all share.”
The third goal aims to give aboriginal students the ability to believe in themselves and to be proud of their aboriginal heritage and identity.
“Goal four is for aboriginal students to have a strong vision of who they want to be,” said Tonasket.
The Working Group has sorted the numerous comments from all participants to write goals and recommended actions for the draft enhancement agreement. The group met Monday to make final additions and edits.
“We have been focused on gathering data and now is the time to go through it again and make sure we have captured all the voices because we want you to pick it up and enjoy it and understand it so it is not so much like a government document, but something to enjoy,” said Tonasket.
“We will be finalizing the document and having a meeting with Joe (Rogers, district superintendent) soon to look at a date for a signing ceremony and we’re hoping to make the announcement on or before May 15,” said Tonasket.