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‘So uplifting’: Squamish Nation to reclaim education, enter new agreement with Ottawa

Click to play video: 'Squamish Nation votes to take back education system'
Squamish Nation votes to take back education system
WATCH: A prominent B.C. First Nation has taken a huge step toward taking back its education system. As Julie Nolin reports, the initiative by Squamish Nation members is designed - in part - to help erase the painful memories of Canada's residential schools – Jan 12, 2023

Citizens of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw have voted overwhelmingly in favour of “reclaiming education,” infusing Sḵwx̱wú7mesh worldviews and land-based learning into school curriculum.

The Squamish Nation in B.C., held a referendum on the topic last month, with 87.5 per cent of voters green-lighting the proposal to enter a new educational jurisdiction agreement with the federal government.

It will now embark on a mission to develop its own education law, freeing itself from five sections of the Indian Act that give Ottawa decision-making power over Indigenous children and schools

“It’s so uplifting because it’s not only our elders that are speaking their minds, they’re the ones that are teaching us, passing down that knowledge,” said Squamish Coun. Wilson Williams in an interview.

“This is what we’re telling our young ones in the schools.”

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Historically, Canada’s colonial leaders sought to eradicate Indigenous identities, languages and cultures across the country, and with Christian churches, used the residential school system to try and accomplish their goal.

Now, Squamish ways of education — s7ulh wa nexwniw̓ éyalh in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim language — aim to empower the nation’s children with the knowledge settlers attempted to steal from their ancestors.

“Coming from two parents that are residential school survivors, I never was introduced to the language at home,” Williams told Global News.

“We have strong legends of how far our people have come and travelled, and overcome so much … these are the oral histories that we know now, but it also means we’re regaining that back.”

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver promises new relationship with Indigenous community'
City of Vancouver promises new relationship with Indigenous community

Once the new education law is in place, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw will control schools and education on its reserve from preschool to Grade 12, using its own qualification process for teachers, and creating its own graduation standards and requirements.

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The system will be streamlined so students can transfer to an equivalent grade in the public system as well, according to an information sheet on the nation’s website. The nation will also ensure its standards are on par with other schools, while empowering children to embrace their gifts in a non-colonial setting.

“Our survival, pre-colonialism, was about identifying people’s gifts at a young age to say, ‘You’re a hunter.’ We’re going to embrace that,” Williams explained. “That’s how we use to build capacity.”

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Squamish citizens will be able to choose whether or not to send their children to schools it runs, the information sheet states, and new schools will be built as a result of the approval.

“We’ll be developing stronger relationships, not just with our families and communities … but with external entities as well, whether it’s school systems, the government system, the provincial or federal governments,” said Williams.

Language will be at the forefront of education for older students, he added. The nation also expects the formal adoption of s7ulh wa nexwniw̓ éyalh in the education system will improve its graduation rates.

Click to play video: 'Advancing reconciliation through the power of education'
Advancing reconciliation through the power of education

Education Minister Rachna Singh said the provincial government fully supports the nation’s move to self-governing education.

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“I felt extremely encouraged when I saw that news, especially coming from the previous role I had as the parliamentary secretary for anti-racism,” she told Global News.

“I know how important self-governance and self-determination is for these nations.”

The ministry will support Squamish Nation in “every possible way,” she added.

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