Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

5.1 General description of the district

The school district website provides an excellent overview of the school district:

School District 52 (Prince Rupert) is located on the rugged northern coast of British Columbia, Canada and is situated in the traditional territories of the Ts’msyen people. The district serves families in Prince Rupert, Port Edward, Metlakatla, Gitxaala, Hartley Bay, Lax Kw’alaams, Dodge Cove, and Gingolx (Kincolith). We are situated on a 22.5 kilometre long harbour that is one of the deepest, natural, ice-free harbours in the world. The population, including the surrounding villages, is approximately 12,500 (Census Canada 2011)… School District 52 (Prince Rupert) has 2233 students attending 9 public schools with the latest in technological and learning resources. Our Aboriginal student population is approximately 60%. The district has recently reconfigured and now has elementary schools for students in kindergarten through grade 5; middle school for students in grades 6 – 8; and high school for students in grades 9 – 12. We also have Pacific Coast School that provides students and adult students with alternative styles of education including on-line learning. (summary taken from http://www.sd52.bc.ca/sd52root/content/welcome-school-district-no-52-prince-rupert)

As the above description makes evident, this district has a significant number of Aboriginal/Indigenous students, served primarily in the communities of Prince Rupert, Port Edward and Hartley Bay. Other independent schools exist in the region including a school in the village of Lax Kw’alaams operated by the Coast Tsimshian Academy; Lach Klan School in Gitxaala is a band operated school; finally there is a Catholic Annunication School in Prince Rupert.

There is a significant history in the Prince Rupert school district of working on addressing the needs and interests of its diverse communities; it has had a First Nations Education Council in place for a considerable time. Founded in the fall of 1989 as the Indian Education Advisory Council, this organization has had at the core of its work the mission of “creating a community of young people and adults who value First Nations culture, knowledge, and people as an integral part of the education system” (Wilson, 2007, p. 1).

In a written history of the work of the Aboriginal Education Council in Prince Rupert by Elizabeth Wilson (2007) the spirit of this work is captured by the words of its founding members:

“We want children to want to go to school, to have a sense of belonging, to see themselves in our schools. We wanted all of the things stated in “The Indian Control of Indian Education”… that First Nations people will have a clear say in what is important, what is success in school, and how all this ties to life experiences in the community, so that the First Nations worldview is reflected in the education system. We didn’t want these to be separate worlds… We want to focus on a curriculum that embodies First Nations culture and to bring it into the classrooms, to help First Nations students and also for other students to gain an appreciation of First Nations culture” (p. 1).

Documenting the full scope of this organization’s visionary work goes beyond the scope of this short case study. However, it is important to acknowledge that this group has acted as an advocate for First Nations children and the community at large, and that their persistent efforts can be attributed to creating a culture in which both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples have become connected to a common core purpose.

This core purpose is evident in many different ways, but firstly in the representation of its vision statement: “Sagayt Suwilaawksa Galts’ap”, which translates as “A community of learners”. More recently, the opening of the Wap Sigatgyet in 2006 has offered a visible symbol that realizes this vision by creating a physical space and the primary location for Aboriginal Education. Wap Sigatgyet means “House of Building Strength” and this site has indeed become the center of Aboriginal Education in the district. It houses all of the program staff who work in the district and resources to support the work of staff and teachers. It has become a shared space where collaborative activities are hosted and all educators and community members are welcome as they collectively seek to enhance the strength of their diverse community. The focus on community is no accident as is evident by the approaches the district supports and mandates within its schools. A primary means of realizing this vision is evident from the work being done by its Aboriginal Education programming, and governance measures such as the Aboriginal Education Council, The Aboriginal Education Committee and Aboriginal Education Partnership Agreement. Brief descriptions of these structures and programs follow.