Tla’amin Education Agreement (TEA), signed by Tla’amin Nation and School District 47 (SD47), provides a contract for the best educational outcomes for Tla’amin students.
A written statement from Tla’amin Nation’s executive council states: “Tla’amin Nation is pleased to have this new education agreement in place to support the learning of our children and youth attending School District 47 schools. We trust this agreement lays the groundwork to see the school experience of our students enhanced through educational programs, pedagogical approaches, and inclusive spaces that support the sense of identity, safety and resilience, while promoting understanding and reconciliation across the school community broadly.
“We see in our partner a renewed commitment to this relationship and sense of accountability through their expanding Indigenous education department and staff, increasing inclusion of our language and culture in schools, their welcoming our participation on their board and strategic planning, and their plan to change their name. We are, of course, deeply invested in our students’ development and well-being as Tla’amin children and the new TEA aligns with several goals identified in təms kʷʊnəmɛn (our vision), which is our five-year comprehensive nation plan.
“We raise our hands to those who have high expectations of them and care for their hearts and minds in schools day in and day out.”
Jessica Johnson, SD47 district principal of Indigenous education, said the agreement has been signed by both Tla’amin and the school district with a January 1 start date. Johnson said in 2022, the Tla’amin director of education and herself worked collaboratively and with others to put together the document.
“Fortunately, the [provincial] First Nations Education Steering Committee, over the past several years, has been working closely with school districts to come up with a great template, so that was the foundation of the TEA,” said Johnson. “The distinction is with Tla’amin Nation being a self-governing treaty nation, there was a lot that needed to be revamped for the specific context here.”
Johnson said there was a lot of consultation with and feedback from Tla’amin. The nation’s policy, governance and fiscal team went through the document to provide feedback, she added.
The TEA sets out the parameters for the relationship between Tla’amin and SD47 as the service provider for education of the Tla’amin students, according to Johnson.
“It’s an agreement that speaks to all aspects of that relationship,” said Johnson. “One is the financial relationship, plus how we want to engage together and work together to contribute to the success of Indigenous learners, from Tla’amin, specifically.”
The document has a focus on a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Johnson, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in BC. She said the TEA is meant to be a living document and as amendments are needed, the parties can work together. There is also an oversight team in place to make sure the TEA is being used and implemented at the school district level.
Johnson said there will be a presentation to school administrators this month to walk through some specific sections that would be relevant to administrators.
“The hope is that it is actually going to guide the relationship instead of being a nice thing to sign and then leave on the shelf,” said Johnson. “I know the board of education is really committed to the relationship with Tla’amin Nation, as is the school district, broadly.”
Johnson said about a third of the Indigenous school population in the schools is from Tla’amin, with another third being Métis and the other third being non-status or status learners from other communities around Canada.
“The TEA speaks to Tla’amin specifically, with the idea that what’s best for Tla’amin students will be best for other Indigenous students, as well as all students,” said Johnson. “It is meant to focus specifically on the Tla’amin student population with the overarching piece in mind.”
Johnson said Indigenous education is not just for Indigenous students, it’s for all, and the more people have an understanding of Indigenous history, the more it will impact the region and the community.
Johnson said Tla’amin students can have achievement gaps and there are a number of contributing factors that have led to that. She said impacts of colonialism on Indigenous people, with bias, prejudice and racism, plus systemic barriers, contribute to that achievement gap, which is seen province-wide for Indigenous learners.
“We’re definitely very committed to focus on closing that gap,” said Johnson. “A number of strategies have come into play, such as student tracking, so we are aware of what’s happening for students in terms of their social and emotional well-being, their academic success, and the challenges they might be facing.”
Johnson said there is thought about how and what is expected of students, what is meaningful learning to Indigenous students, and how does the school district capture and validate the educational experience.
“There are so many ways that Indigenous students have been impacted,” said Johnson. “There have been so many impacts, especially through COVID-19. The system can change to meet the needs of Indigenous students. We want students to be graduating, but beyond that, with dignity, purpose and options.
“We want to make sure their graduation is meaningful to them and that they are able to pursue whatever path they are passionate about. We don’t just want to get the Tla’amin students through the system, we want the system to serve them.”