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Vancouver Island’s largest First Nation votes to reclaim the right to educate its children

Cowichan Tribes one of 13 negotiating with the federal government since 2006
Cowichan Tribes members voted yes on an education jurisdiction agreement and law-making protocol that will return the inherent right to govern education to the community. (File photo)

Members of Cowichan Tribes voted on Jan. 8 to reclaim the right to govern how B.C.’s largest First Nation’s children are educated.

“This is an exciting first step as we reclaim our inherent right to educate our children,” said Stephanie Atleo, the education jurisdiction negotiator for Cowichan Tribes. “Work will now begin on drafting education laws that will outline how we govern education for on-reserve schools. Once these are complete, community will then have an opportunity to review, provide input and approve these laws.”

The historic vote was 15 years in the making, Atleo said, and Cowichan is one of four B.C. First Nations that have accepted the education jurisdiction agreement and law-making protocol, and another First Nation is also holding their vote this week.

Cowichan and 12 other First Nations have been negotiating with the federal government for the right to educate their children since 2006.

“This allows us to create our own curriculum — meaning more culture, land-based learning and Indigenous ways of knowing,” said Atleo. “Teaching our children has always been a part of our culture. The education jurisdiction agreement returns a key cultural piece to our community.”

Once the agreement has been signed by the Government of Canada, the education responsibilities will fall upon the First Nations for the 2022/2023 school year.

As the First Nation embarks on a new endeavour, they’ll have the support of their peers at the Cowichan Valley School district.

“We are happy that Cowichan Tribes has taken this historic step towards reclaiming the right to educate their own children on their own lands. We continue to be proud supporters of Cowichan Tribes, and all nations served by the district, and will continue to work closely with them as the path ahead unfolds,” said Candace Spilsbury, chair of the Board of Education for the Cowichan Valley School District.

Sarah Simpson

About the Author: Sarah Simpson

I started my time with Black Press Media as an intern, before joining the Citizen in the summer of 2004.
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