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.

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


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