Carey Newman is known internationally as an Indigenous artist, but more recently, he’s been a concerned parent.
“Systemic racism exists in most of our structures, in most of our institutions,” said Newman. “What matters to me is how hard we’re working to uncover and dismantle it. And I think that’s where SD61 needs to do work.”
Newman says over the past five years while working at the board level, he’s noticed a shift at the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) towards ‘divisiveness.’
“It’s not one incident, it’s the accumulation of many,” said Newman. “It’s the way Indigenous people have been removed from important conversations.”
One incident Newman remembers happened March 1, where Education Policy Committee Chair Ryan Painter cited a bylaw to remove Esquimalt and Songhees Nation representatives.
“Our bylaws are pretty specific around representation at the table,” said Painter in a publically available zoom meeting. “We stick by those pretty strongly and those are typically a member from each nation may be represented at the table.”
The last straw for Newman came in a meeting over SD61’s budget.
SD61 has a $7 million deficit and it’s considering cuts to music programs for elementary and middle schools to deal with it, drawing protest from students, parents, and teachers.
Last week, a presentation on the budget process insinuated that the cuts were on the table because of a lack of Indigenous student participation in music programs.
“It seemed to pit the needs of Indigenous people against music. In saying we need to cut music so that we need to address the needs of Indigenous students, I think is really divisive,” said Newman. “And it was done under the name of reconciliation.”
As a result, Newman took the one stand he could and resigned from the district’s Indigenous Ad Hoc Committee, writing the district an open letter citing his concerns, which now has hundreds of signatures.
Since then Painter has stepped down as Chair of the Education Policy Committee.
“I apologize unreservedly to those who were hurt, harmed, or traumatized by me during the March 1 meeting,” said Painter in an online statement.
Meanwhile, the SD61 Board Chair says the allegations of system racism are real and need to be immediately addressed.
“I think we’ve got to really reflect deeply on the missteps that we’ve taken there and there clearly have been several,” said Jordan Watters, SD61 Board Chair. “We really have to face the fact that we have systemic racism, implicit biases all embedded within our system and each of us. The individuals make up the system, we all have to do that deep deep work of reflecting.”
Watters said the district has contacted the First Nations Education Steering Committee and Ministry of Education for assistance in ensuring Indigenous voices are included at all levels of decision-making.
The district has delayed making a final decision on next year’s budget and a budget meeting scheduled for May 17 was postponed until further notice.
In a statement, Watters said she and the district’s superintendent have asked the Ministry of Education to step in and help find an independent advisor to assist with the budget review.
With files from CBC.