The Victoria Native Friendship Centre wrote a scathing letter to the Greater Victoria School District in regards to the hiring process for the district principal of Aboriginal Nations Education (ANED). The letter states that the school board is “gravely out of sync with the desires of the greater community as a whole.”
The district principal role was held by Nella Nelson for over a decade, where she was responsible for facilitating Aboriginal lessons and resources into the education system. The role is shared with another district principal, which is held by a non-Indigenous person.
“So, when it was expressed that Nella will be stepping back, it was expressed that her replacement should be of Indigenous heritage to balance it out,” said Tanya Clarmont, director of human resources and management support at the VNFC.
In order to come to a hiring decision, the Aboriginal Nations Education Council (ANEC), which represents all the different First Nations communities and stakeholders in Southern Vancouver Island, began a long process of discussions to find a new appointee.
“This committee was helping to manage the conversation as to how they should recruit a replacement for Nella,” Clarmont said. “But School District 61 made the decision to release an executive search paperwork without any consultation to the Aboriginal Nations Education Council.”
The School Board also developed an Aboriginal Ad Hoc Committee to develop this executive search – a job posting for the position– in an action that the VNFC letter says “tokenizes Indigenous participation by erasing Indigenous leadership and urban Indigenous voices.”
“They made an ad hoc committee that usurps the authority of ANEC,” Carlton said, adding that the ad hoc committee is primarily comprised of non-Indigenous people.
The job posting describes a position where First Nations knowledge is an asset, but Indigenous heritage is not required.
“The executive search paperwork does not include any Indigenous context,” Carlton said. “In the second draft of it, they decided to at least include some Indigenous art.”
The Greater Victoria School District serves over 20,000 students, with over 1,500 who self-identify as Indigenous.
“In our education system, we’re looking to schools to create a new dialogue about Indigenous culture, pride, and history,” Carlton said. “Working in systems that work against that makes it hard to have hope about reconciliation.”
Carlton said the VNFC is now waiting on a response from the School Board, but the hope is to sit down with them and have a constructive conversation on how to better approach the situation.
The Greater Victoria School District said that the ad hoc committee was developed to specifically include the Songhees First Nation –which is not part of the ANEC– in the development of an operational plan on Aboriginal education. This would focus on creating better achievements for Indigenous students, especially those living on reserve.
“There is no intention to disband ANEC, that is not the intention of the committee,” said Jordan Watters, Chair of the GVSD.
The ad hoc committee was just voted in, and has not had any meetings yet, she added.
As far as the hiring process goes, Watters said ANEC was consulted in regards to the job posting advertisement, before it was given to a third party for production and posting.
“Perhaps they feel not enough of their feedback was incorporated,” Watters said. “Perhaps they think we’re further down the line than we actually are.”
Watters said ANEC would be heavily involved in the hiring process because of the importance of the position.
“We probably could have done better to make sure everyone was given the opportunity to share their opinions. Now in the hiring process, we expect ANEC to give input into how we select someone,” Watters said.
“The Board takes the work of truth and reconciliation really seriously. We recognize how important it is to have a positive relationship with all of our community partners. It’s challenging work at times, but we’ve got our shoulder to the wheel and are going to continue to work to serve our Aboriginal students.”
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