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COLUMN: LKDSB at the forefront of truth and reconciliation, action

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Tara Jeffrey

The move to create a student trustee position designed to represent Indigenous youth is yet another positive step forward for the Lambton Kent District School Board’s leading efforts to acknowledge and integrate First Nations teachings and tradition.

“I think we’ve always been a progressive board,” Lambton-Kent District School Board superintendent Helen Lane told me last week, while discussing the unanimous decision to bring an Indigenous Student Trustee to the table – one of the first in Canada.

“In this particular area, we have definitely been at the forefront in bringing change… we have some amazing educators in our system and some really strong advocates within our First Nations communities that want to see better things for their kids.”

While we spoke on the phone, Lane was attending a training session for revising curriculum in response to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

In the wake of that report, the LKDSB – which represents four First Nations communities: Aamjiwnaang, Walpole Island, Kettle & Stoney Point and Delaware –made national headlines for being the first to implement a new mandatory English class focused on First Nations writers and literature.

“You can learn about Lord of the Flies but that has a British post-colonial perspective,” superintendent Mark Sherman said at the time. “It’s a great book, but it probably doesn’t speak to who we are as a local community.”

More than 1,300 students in the board self-identify as indigenous, representing about six-per-cent of some 22,000 students.

“This just shows that the LKDSB is willing to be partners with the First Nations in educating all of students about our history,” Aamjiwnaang chief Joanne Rogers said.

Since the TRC was released, the board has also implemented a Traditional Territory Acknowledgement, launched during Treaties Recognition Week last fall, which is read in schools and at board meetings. Staff attend professional development days centred around residential schools and the impact of generational trauma, along with a recent Aamjiwnaaang symposium geared at providing better support for indigenous students and families.

Local high schools are implementing indigenous rooms/safe spaces and officials are reviewing how to support the retention and revitalization of native languages, while student symposiums and field trips rooted in Indigenous education are ongoing, Lane said.

Last year, I was invited to join a Restorative Circle, led by Lakeroad teacher Emily Fortney Blunt, where senior students used the traditional First Nations practice to reflect on relationships and conflict resolution.

“I would say that collectively, as a region, we’ve been forerunners in partnering with First Nations to move things forward for our kids,” Lane added. “It’s been really exciting how we can improve things even more, and continue to move forward.”

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