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First Nations educational projects outlined for trustees

A First Nations and Metis education report was submitted to the South East Cornerstone School Division's board of trustees on August 19.

A First Nations and Metis education report was submitted to the South East Cornerstone School Division's board of trustees on August 19. Velda Weatherald, the superintendent of education for the district that includes three First Nations communities (Pheasant Rump, Ocean Man and White Bear), the only reservations in the Cornerstone Division, said that she has been administering specific programs for these communities "from the side of my desk for the past couple of years." She noted that she has received assistance in obtaining start-up grants from the province for special projects. She said one grant helped curb costs associated with doing a survey which revealed that more education was required among the teachers regarding First Nations education. She said language and cultural projects have evolved from the original research to the point where Lakota language classes are now available in Arcola's school. That was just one small example. "We developed some partnership agreements, but that has changed now with the changes in provincial funding agreements," said Weatherald. She said the elders in the First Nations communities have been key in getting children more comfortable with the educational system. She said native language problems exist since language backgrounds differ significantly, especially at White Bear. "Because there are only a few students in a few schools, it's difficult to keep First Nations and Metis education in front of the system," said Weatherald who has a background in teaching First Nations children and administering various systems that include them. "Emphasis on education changes after each round of elections (on reserves). There are always misunderstandings and you'll get charges of racism that the schools and our system will have to deal with," she added. Weatherald said she found it interesting that "a lot of non-First Nations students have become involved in the cultural studies and that now the kids are celebrating events together." Recruitment of First Nations teachers continues to be a challenge, she said. Potential teachers are often financially supported by home communities who then require them to return to teach, thus making them unavailable to others. Carol Flynn,Cornerstone board chairwoman said the board would probably be interested in forming a committee that would work specifically on First Nations/Metis subject materials with Weatherald so that the program could take another step forward. She said a description of what the committee can and will do, would be the first step in that process. "The Aboriginal population in this province is huge. Kids need access so it's a job for the whole division, not just one section," said Flynn. Estevan area trustee Janet Foord noted that when the former Estevan Rural School Division held awareness events, "you'd be surprised at how many students could claim some connections to a First Nations background." The discussion ended with the board's commitment to conduct a specific management meeting with the First Nations' community that would be aimed at improving educational opportunities for them from a Cornerstone perspective.The board will be conducting their next management meeting in Arcola later this month and the next regular board meeting is slated for September 16.