The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre (NAC) has launched a fundraiser to raise $1 million and create B.C.’s first urban Indigenous school for Indigenous communities.
The funding would support the development of a K – 12 school program and application process for a 2022 opening, according to a press release from the NAC Thursday.
The NAC and the Mid Island Metis Nation (MINM) are concerned that urban Indigenous students, having struggled in the past, may have difficulty transitioning to a larger educational system as two Indigenous learning centres will consolidate into a larger system at the end of June.
The NAC say this could a problem because of a lack of Indigenous-centred support systems and year-round programming. The application for the school aims to address these issues, according to the NAC.
“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) articulates that Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems,” said Joy Bremner, MINM president in the press release. “According to UNDRIP, the state should take effective measures so that Indigenous individuals — particularly children — can have access to an education in their own culture when possible.”
The initiative for the school comes in response to community feedback for two Indigenous learning centres. The Niasaika Kum’tuks Learning Centre — which was created in 2014 — and the Tsawalk Learning Centre — created in 2016 — in collaboration with the Vancouver Island West School District 84.
The NAC says the centres demonstrated effectiveness by building trust within the community through respect of Indigenous culture. It also made staff available to students 365 days a year through an open-door policy.
Other funds would also go towards securing a physical site as the school will combine the Nisaika Kum’tuks Learning Centre with the Tsawalk Learning Centre.
“We’ve served hundreds of learners over the past seven years, and we’re hoping to ensure the future of even more with the infrastructure and stability of an independent school,” said Ian Kalina, NAC interim executive director in the press release. “The goal of this new institution is to build a community-supported environment where learners never even begin to see the cracks in the system.”
The school would provide Dogwood diplomas, Adult Dogwood diplomas and Evergreen certificates to graduates.
“An independent school would also be a step towards fulfilling some of the calls to action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in regards to the education of Indigenous children with the full participation and informed consent of Indigenous peoples,” said Bremner.
The two centres currently have eight teachers, three support workers, a land and sea coordinator, two Elders and various program supports from community partners. The curriculum includes traditional teachings, culture and academics.