Lheidli T’enneh Chief Dolleen Logan has spoken out about the resignations of Trent Derrick and Suirose Valimohamed from School District No. 57’s Board of Education stating the relationship between the district and Indigenous leadership must be improved.
“It was hard to hear but they resigned and there is a lot of underlying issues of why they resigned,” said Logan. “I would like to wish them the best in their future pursuits and I would like to thank them for their work on the school district board.”
Both Derrick, former chair and Valimohamed former vice-chair announced their resignations on Monday Sept. 13 in the wake of a Special Advisor’s Report that found systemic anti-Indigenous racism and a “substantial culture of fear” within the district.
In February, B.C. Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside ordered an investigation into governance practices in SD57 and appointed two special advisors to the board and the report was released in late August.
The report also found that Indigenous students are disproportionately held back, placed in alternative programs and removed from the typical graduation path.
In his resignation letter Derrick, who is Gitxsan, stated he could no longer be apart of a broken education system that the report has shown to be “racist, a culture of fear and broken”.
Valimohamed echoed similar concerns in her resignation letter and said the system is not built for minority voices in elected positions or leadership.
Trustees Sharel Warringotn and Ron Polillo have now been appointed to chair and vice chair and a byelection will now be called within the next three months to fill the two vacant positions at the board table.
“I would like to welcome the opportunities to work with our new chair Sharel Warrington and vice chair Ron Polillo. We are committed to working with the three special advisors appointed by the Minister of Education for all the parties to implement the recommendations of the special report,” said Logan.
“The special advisors report clearly outlines there is much work to be done at the Board of Education level within the administration and school staff to rectify some of the challenges Indigenous leaders have experienced in recent years. The grad rates of our First Nations Students are very low we need to improve on those immensely. “
Logan said she wants the 45 recommendations outlined within the report to be implemented as soon as possible.
“We don’t want this to be a very slow process. We want the changes and the recommendations to be rectified ASAP. Not two years from now, not four years from now. We need this done now.”
Logan said while she wasn’t surprised with any of the findings in the report she wanted it to dig even deeper.
Special advisors Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor based their report on on 56 interviews and a review of documents.
The report found that the district uses a culture of fear to command and control decisions. The advisor’s stated that due to the culture of fear we think there may be more examples of individuals who feel they cannot identify their concerns for fear of retribution.
“Nobody honestly wants to put what they honestly feel in that report or what they are being asked. They are going to sugar coat it. I wish everyone was comfortable to answer honestly,” said Logan.
She added that said she hopes the special advisors work Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake to implement the changes in the report.
Logan said Lheidli T’enneh and McLeod Lake are also still going to push for designated seats for both Nations at the board table.
In Sept. 2020 McLeod Lake Indian Band and Lheidli T’enneh First Nation officially requested two seats on School District No. 57’s (SD57) Board of Education for Indigenous Trustees in addition to the other seven positions.
SD57’s Board of Education already has two designated seats with one trustee position reserved for a representative from the rural communities of the Robson Valley and another from McBride.
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside also release a statement regarding Derrick and Valimohamed’s resignations where she stated she was surprised and saddened to learn of the resignations.
“The special advisors’ report identified systemic racism in the district, and a clear need to rebuild relationships between the district and First Nations and to focus on improving educational outcomes and supports for Indigenous students,” said Whiteside.
“We now have an expanded team of special advisors who are supporting the school district to develop a work plan to enact the recommendations on the basis of mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, and grounded in our government’s broader commitments under the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. This is difficult and necessary work. Feedback from local First Nations and the board has been very positive about this direction.”
She said it was regrettable Derrick and Valimohamed would not be able to contribute to the change but the work would go on.
“We thank Trent Derrick and Shuirose Valimohamed for their hard work and leadership in bringing the district to this place. We will continue this necessary work with the special advisors and the new board leadership of chair Sharel Warrington and vice-chair Ron Polillo.”
The special advisers will submit a final report to outline the progress made by the board in meeting government's expectations in March 2022. The Prince George Board of Education is also required to report every two months on its progress until March 31, 2022.