North Vancouver teachers implementing the roll-out of Indigenous courses have had their efforts acknowledged by being honoured in a blanketing ceremony.
On Tuesday, Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Councillor Dennis Thomas and Councillor Stuart Gonzolas from Squamish Nation came together to honour 12 teachers from North Vancouver schools.
Speaking after the ceremony, Thomas said the introduction of Indigenous-focused courses is an “important step forward” that upholds the tenets of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“On behalf of Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief and Council, I hold my hands up to the North Vancouver School District for championing reconciliation, and for strengthening the foundation of Indigenous teachings and learning with students,” he said.
He said the blanketing ceremony was “meaningful,” as it connects to Tsleil-Waututh traditions and cultural identity.
“It marks an important milestone as we walk forward together in this journey.”
Sutherland Secondary teacher Jennifer Kwong said it was a very rare opportunity for “settler folk” to not only witness a blanketing ceremony, but to be honoured in that way.
“It’s very empowering for teachers to have that, especially teachers who are taking some risk,” she said.
“In teaching these courses, there’s a lot of vulnerability, because you need to really out your position and explain to the students that you’re not an Indigenous person, and that you might make some mistakes.”
Kwong has been working alongside Rose Greene, District Principal, Indigenous Education and Equity, to gain a better grasp of the Indigenous worldview, learn the curriculum and understand the best way to approach in a teaching environment.
Greene said Kwong was one of “many teachers” who answered the call to lead the new courses, which began in September.
“They came to work with us in the middle of their summer holidays to start the learning and build curriculum, and have taken First Nations Education Steering Committee courses and the Jo Chrona series of learning,” she said.
Greene said the dozen-strong group have begun teaching with “a good mind and a good heart” and have been working since May to learn, and create curriculum alongside the local Indigenous knowledge keepers and educators.
“All students deserve to learn the authentic true histories of the lands they live, learn and play,” she said.
Keeping in line with the new graduate requirement that all secondary students must complete Indigenous-focused coursework before graduating from Grade 12, Kwong said the lessons focus on social studies from an Indigenous worldview point, literature from Indigenous authors and poets and history, from the perspective of oral culture.
While initially nervous for what reaction would be from parents, Kwong said the response has been “very, very positive” and she has received ample support from families of students.
“The students themselves are excited about it,” she said.
“They realize that they are getting to do something that should have been done a very long time ago.”
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.