At Board of Education meetings and events, School District 71 leads off with a First Nations territories acknowledgement. Some may be wondering, is it because of the Indigenous population in our Comox Valley schools? That may be sound reason, but the real purpose is two-fold: it is good etiquette do so, and is part of a longstanding protocol here on Vancouver Island.
As reported in an article with Black Press, the chair of the First Nations Studies Department at Vancouver Island University explains, the acknowledgement came out of a formal practice that has continued throughout Indigenous communities for hundreds of year.
However, there is a distinction between acknowledging “traditional territories” and “unceded territories,” a point that was made by Rob Everson, former K’omoks First Nations Chief, at the Youth Reconciliation Gathering held March 21 for SD71 secondary leadership students.
Unceded territory indicates that no treaty was signed and, therefore, permission is required from First Nations to conduct government activity or industry on the lands. Unfortunately, our nation’s history has a poor track record of respecting Aboriginal Rights and Title, as Everson reiterated. And that is one of the main driving forces behind the need for reconciliation, the focal point of the discussions at the youth event hosted by Aboriginal Education (ABE).
Everson was among three guest speakers who addressed an audience of close to 100 students in attendance from the district’s secondary schools, Lake Trail Middle School and NIDES.
“When I was asked to talk today I really didn’t know at what level to talk to all the young people because I have a lot of my own views about reconciliation,” explained Everson.
Everson cleverly brought his discussion toward the role of youth today in reconciliation and the need for students to be informed and to have an understanding of Canada’s Indigenous culture that is only now in the early stages of rebuilding. Everson pressed upon the youth their responsibility to keep the conversation about reconciliation going and to take action.
”Support each other in your culture, stay in school, get an education, and continue to learn,” shared Everson. “When I look around the room, you are the future. Ten years from now you could be one of those people making decisions or arguing with our government.”
Everson was preceded by presentations from two Indigenous youth; his younger brother Jessie Everson, SD71 student, and by Valeen Jules.
Jules is a political organizer, motivational speaker and spoken who is currently touring the country to share her stories about reconciliation. Although she came to make a presentation, her main role was to witness the discussion taking place so that she can follow up with the leadership. Jules is part of the Youth Empowerment Campaign that was launched at the national Gathering Our Voices youth conference this year.