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While the expectation is that school trustees will bring forward and advocate issues and concerns for their respective communities, Aboriginal students attending schools in St Paul Education Regional Division No. 1 (SPERD) have not had a voice dedicated to their specific needs. SPERD provides schooling to students from Saddle Lake, Whitefish Lake, Frog Lake, and Kehewin, so has opened a position on the board for a First Nations trustee to be elected in the fall of 2017.
Heather Starosielski, chair of SPERD council, provided answers to some questions about the new trustee position.
What is the result of the FNMI trustee discussion?
Late last year the SPERD Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of creating an action to appoint a First Nations trustee. This process has created change within existing Board Policy 7 – Board Operations. The First Nation trustee will have the same rights and responsibilities as the seven trustees elected to the Board, with a four-year term commencing in the fall of 2017. Currently in Alberta there are five other schools divisions that have an appointed First Nation Trustee.
SPERD has always included FNMI students, so what is the reason for creating this position at this time?
Under the provisions of the Local Authorities Election Act, residents of Saddle Lake, Whitefish Lake, Frog Lake, and Kehewin are not deemed residents of the St. Paul Education electoral area and not eligible to vote in school board elections. The Board wishes to have an appointed trustee to better represent the voice of our First Nation students. This opportunity is another step in fulfilling Calls to Action as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Alberta Education, and honouring Treaties. The Board believes that greater success can be achieved by all of our students by inviting a First Nation trustee to be a full participant in the educational governance process.
How will candidates for the position be chosen?
The process will require Chief and Council from Saddle Lake, Whitefish Lake, Frog Lake, and Kehewin to collectively recommend an agreed upon trustee. The Board requires notice of the nominee by September 1, 2017. This timeline will allow the First Nation trustee to begin their four-year term with all trustees commencing after the fall 2017 elections.
What needs does the board anticipate will be addressed by an FNMI trustee?
The First Nation trustee will be expected to bring forward and advocate for community issues while balancing the needs of all St. Paul Education students.
How will one trustee be able to address the FNMI needs in schools as far apart as Heinsburg and Ashmont? or in schools like Regional where there are many FNMI students as well as students with other heritages? or in schools like Two Hills or Mallaig where there may be only two or three FNMI students?
Although there is an electoral ward system in place for the current elected trustees we are all accountable to the entire community and to the provincial government. Our division also relies on the expertise of many to assist with necessary decisions in respect to all of our students including our First Nation students. Our superintendent, deputy superintendents, principals, teachers and essentially all staff have the responsibility to address all students’ needs. In regards to specific “FNMI needs” all of our individual schools (including out of town schools such as Two Hills, Two Hills Mennonite, Mallaig, Heinsburg, etc., ) have an appointed FNMI staff member that meets regularly as part of a larger committee to discuss topics of importance related to our aboriginal students. This committee is led by our division FNMI Education Program Coordinator and also has the participation of two trustees and community advocates. This fall, the appointed First Nations trustee will become a member of this committee.