The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)

School district’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

Backlash grows over ‘pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership’

“I am writing to express our disgust,” a letter from the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) to SD61 read this week.

The association is among a group of community members infuriated over the school district’s wording and approach to Indigenous students throughout its budget process.

Two weeks ago, the district came under fire when a survey it released to get public feedback on its proposed budget and a then $7 million deficit included a question asking participants to rank the importance of Indigenous learners’ success against that of non-Indigenous students. The district removed the question, later calling it inappropriate and assuring the community the data from that question wouldn’t be used.

READ ALSO: SD61 budget survey question ranks Indigenous learners’ success against others

But on Monday, some parents and teachers were left feeling like the district still didn’t understand after a slide presented at the school board meeting suggested Indigenous learners’ success couldn’t be found in music programs. Under the bullet of reconciliation the slide asked “Will core bands, strings or choir improve the Indigenous completion rates?” and “Do Indigenous students participate in band?”

Music programs are one of many things on the budget’s chopping block and have received the most public attention. After initially suggesting an approximately $1.5 million cut to them, the board later voted to retain $482,000 of that to keep Grade 6 to 8 band alive.

READ ALSO: SD61’s proposed $7 million cuts threaten equity and inclusion, say parents, teachers

Some parents and the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association were infuriated by a district presentation May 10, which they see as proof of how out of touch the district is with Indigenous people. (Screenshot)

Carey Newman is a parent and multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist who says music permeates the lives and culture of Indigenous people. His daughter started playing violin in the district’s elementary strings program this year and absolutely fell in love with it.

“This idea that Indigenous students don’t somehow benefit from it is an example of the paternalistic colonial viewpoint toward Indigenous people,” he said.

To him, the suggestion is indicative that the district doesn’t have adequate Indigenous representation.

The GVTA’s letter noted, “there is a pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership of the (Greater Victoria School District) and tainting the budget process.”

The district has repeatedly said the proposed budget is intended to invest in Indigenous students – who have significantly lower rates of completion than non-Indigenous students – through a greater focus on literacy. The plan is to cut the reading recovery program, which aided Grade 1 students, and put those resources into literacy supports for kindergarten to Grade 5 students instead. In total, the district said $2.1 million in funding will go to Indigenous students, although it hasn’t specified how.

But Newman said music and arts should be treated as just as important as literacy, and by weighing Indigenous students’ success against music programs, the district is creating a false parallel and opportunity for blame.

“It’s a divide and conquer strategy. It pits arts against Indigenous learners under a bullet point of reconciliation,” he said. Reconciliation, he explained, isn’t about reducing access and support for everyone until they face the same structural barriers as Indigenous people.

The GVTA also said it believes the district is working “under the guise of reconciliation.”

“To use Indigenous students to justify your cuts to music and other programming is racist and reprehensible,” the association wrote.

SD61 didn’t respond to an interview request.

The board is scheduled to vote on whether to pass the proposed budget on May 17. It has until the end of June to submit a completed version to the province.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

READ ALSO: Gorge skull fragment could bring closure to one Greater Victoria missing person case


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Indigenoussd61

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

Municipality of North Cowichan.
Council acknowledges National Indigenous Peoples Day

Recommendations received for prioritization of the updated Climate Action and Energy Plan

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

North Cowichan’s committee of the whole have rejected staff’s recommendation to limit the use of fireworks to Halloween. (File photo)
North Cowichan rejects limiting fireworks to Halloween

Municipality decides staff recommendation would be unpopular

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Most Read