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Tsq̓éscen̓ First Nation takes control of children’s education

The Tsq̓éscen̓ is the seventh First Nation to do so since 2022

The Tsq̓éscen̓ First Nation now has the full authority to control their children’s education.

This comes after signing an individual jurisdiction agreement with the Government of Canada on July 1, 2023, becoming one of seven First Nations to have control over the law-making authority for Kindergarten to Grade 12 education systems on their land.

Families came together last Friday (Oct. 27) to celebrate this landmark event. Various speakers discussed what this will mean for the future of the community.

“Traditionally our leaders were chosen when they were babies. Even when they’re babies their strength and their aura just shines and you can determine what path your child is going to take,” said Chief Helen Henderson. “And you’d start wrapping around teaching, and you’d start wrapping around mentorship so they could step into their rightful role.”

Students from Eliza Archie Memorial School opened the celebration with a song. Each Monday morning the children drum and sing during their sage ceremony said Michelle Archie, the senior education manager for the Tsq’escen’ First Nation. Archie is one of many individuals who have been sitting at the negotiating table over the last 20 years.

“Our jurisdiction journey has brought us to where we are today,” she said.

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The journey started in 2006 with the First Nations Education Steering Committee, representing the First Nations, entering into a framework agreement with BC and Canada with all parties agreeing to work together to implement First Nations’ jurisdiction over education. Supporting federal legislation was enacted in 2006 and at the provincial level in 2007.

The first four nations, aq’am, the Cowichan Tribes, Lil’wat Nation, and Seabird Island signed individual Canada-First Nation Education Jurisdiction Agreements in 2022, forming the First Nations Education Authority.

This year the Tsq̓éscen̓, Ditidaht and Skwxcwú7mesh Úxwumixw First Nations signed.

Two directors from each band are appointed to the education authority, who oversee the certification and regulation of teachers’ certification or participation in First Nations schools.

By putting their own laws in place Archie said they can create a school calendar that suits the needs of the children and families including hours and the length of the school day. She added they have given consideration to a 12-month school year in the past.

They will create discipline policies for their students, manage elder and traditional knowledge keeper compensation, install conflict of interest and code of conduct policies for staff and the school authority and be responsible for the management of school facilities and operations.

These systems will then allow them to turn their policies into laws, including but not limited to language and culture curriculum and on-the-land learning. Almost every Friday afternoon the school is already involved in culture or language learning of some sort, she said.

“These laws will be developed by you, the band membership,” Archie said, before adding that they still have work to do.

When asked why education jurisdiction is so important to the First Nations people, Henderson said it is important to understand the plight of indigenous people, their move towards self-determination and self-governance and what that really means for their people.

”It means making our own decisions. It means holding up our Tsq’esenemc practice or Tsq’esenemc traditions all under our laws,” said Henderson. “In the meantime, empowering our children to become full Tsq’esenemcm citizens and meet their full potential whether they’re chosen for a particular leadership or area of government, our responsibility as Tsq’escen’ is to increase our Tsq’esenemcm capacity of our children.”

The first step in achieving this is drawing their own education laws. To do this they plan to engage with the community and find ways to amalgamate traditional practices into their current curriculum.

Henderson said from a political viewpoint, jurisdiction involves getting their children ready for life. This means addressing their past, their traumas and their history in order for their children to heal.

When they incorporate their cultural practice into the curriculum, Henderson said their children will become stronger and know and be proud of who they are. Understanding the history, bloodline, their family and territory is critical in their success as Tsq’esenemcm children.

Fiona Grisswell

About the Author: Fiona Grisswell

I graduated from the Writing and New Media Program at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George in 2004.
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