North Vancouver School District
the natural place to learn©
News Item

Chair Tsiakos' opening remarks at Board of Education Meeting

June 23, 2021

NVSDacronym_colour_small.jpg

Board of Education Public Board Meeting
June 22, 2021

I would like to acknowledge and thank the Coast Salish people on whose traditional territory the North Vancouver School District resides. We express our gratitude to the Skwxwú7mesh Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and we value the opportunity to learn, live, and share educational experiences on this traditional territory. 

I would like to begin tonight's meeting by addressing an important matter that occurred last month. At the May 18, 2021 North Vancouver Board of Education Public Board Meeting, Trustee Gerlach made comments and drew a comparison that minimized the residential school experience of Indigenous people. As the Board has previously shared with Chiefs, Councils and Members of Skwxwú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh and Métis Nations, and the NVSD community, the comparison and comments were unacceptable, highly inappropriate, insensitive, and are not representative of the collective Board of Education. Words matter, and there is no excuse for this comparison to have been made.

On behalf of the Board of Education and the North Vancouver School District, I would like to offer my most sincere apology for the hurt and pain the offensive remarks have caused. I offer this apology to members of the Skwxwú7mesh Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and Métis Nation, and all Indigenous students, educators, and staff who contribute so much to the NVSD community.

I also want to acknowledge the Board's silence in response to Trustee Gerlach's remarks. As a Board, we have thought a lot about why the issue was not addressed in the moment. Though we were shocked by the comparison and left speechless, there is no excuse for our collective silence. We should have addressed the matter as it occurred, and we deeply regret the hurt this silence has caused. As stated earlier, words matter. As a Board, we are learning from this experience, and we commit to doing better.

Now, I would like to address the matter further and acknowledge the Board's commitment to reconciliation through education. 

The legacy of the residential school system is nothing short of tragic. It is also a living history. Intergenerational trauma is very real and a reality for many Indigenous peoples. This is a fact that cannot be ignored, and as a society, we must address.

In June 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially established. The primary focus of the TRC's mandate was to record, understand, and communicate the history, legacy and impacts of the Indian residential school system on Indigenous students, families, and communities. It provided residential school survivors across the country an opportunity to speak their truth.

In June 2015, the TRC publicly released its findings on Indian residential schools in a comprehensive multi-volume report. The report includes statements, documents, and research gathered by the TRC over its six-year mandate. In one of these volumes titled Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future, a summary of the Commission's findings is presented. I would like to read the first two paragraphs from the Introduction section (p. 1) as they provide important context regarding the truth about the residential school experience and the path toward reconciliation. And I quote:

For over a century, the central goals of Canada's Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide."

Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next. In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.

This intentional act of cultural genocide cannot and should not be compared to any other experience.

Released with the report were 94 Calls to Action to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of reconciliation in Canada. Through specific Calls to Action, the Commission emphasizes the role of education in achieving reconciliation. Drawing from the wisdom of Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, “Education got us into this mess, and education is key to getting us out of this mess." 

Soon after the Calls to Action were released, the Board of Education and North Vancouver School District wrote an open letter to the community in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action for Education.

In the letter, we joined the Commission in asserting, “Schools must teach history in ways that foster mutual respect, empathy and engagement. All Canadian children and youth deserve to know Canada's honest history, including what happened in the residential schools, and to appreciate the rich history and knowledge of Indigenous nations." Furthermore, we agreed with the Commission's statement that “...all Canadians have a critical role to play in advancing reconciliation."

As stated in the TRC's Final Report (p. 8), and I quote:

Too many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts. This lack of historical knowledge has serious consequences for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and for Canada as a whole. In government circles, it makes for poor public policy decisions. In the public realm, it reinforces racist attitudes and fuels civic distrust between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians.

And that brings me back to last month's meeting. We know the path to healing begins with acknowledging the truth. We know we need to address untruths, assumptions, and views that are hurtful to Indigenous peoples. We know that unless we address systemic racism, we cannot achieve a fair and equitable education environment or a just and fair society.

We also know that the hard work of reconciliation cannot be done solely by Indigenous peoples, nor one individual or a group of individuals. We must challenge each other to lift each other up as we do this work together.

The devastating and tragic news from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation regarding the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has shown us that there is much work to do on our journey of truth and reconciliation. The news that came as a shock to many Canadians, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission releasing its findings in 2015, is not a surprise to Indigenous peoples. The shock further underscores the work we must all be willing to do to understand and appreciate the full, authentic history of Canada's treatment of Indigenous peoples.

The work we need to do requires leadership, courage, and commitment. The work will be hard, and it will be uncomfortable, but we must move beyond shock to action.

With the launch of our new Ten-Year Strategic Plan, the Board of Education has reaffirmed its commitment to truth, healing, and reconciliation and embedding Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing. Through our strategic goals, our collective hope is to educate and support citizens of humanity to have the knowledge, skills, and thoughtful and compassionate attitude needed to contribute to a healthy, inclusive and equitable society for all.

To realize these goals, I encourage everyone listening this evening to join the Board of Education and the North Vancouver School District on our journey of truth and reconciliation. l also challenge my fellow Trustees to think about collective actions that we as a Board can take to address the legacies of colonialism and further this journey of truth, healing, and reconciliation.

Thank you.

George Tsiakos
Chair, Board of Education