A member of the Greater Victoria School District’s (SD61) Indigenous Ad Hoc Committee has resigned from his role in an open letter to the district, citing “a pattern of systemic racism” and “deeply entrenched paternalistic attitudes.”
Carey Newman says recent actions by the district during its budget talks – namely, limiting Indigenous representation during a meeting, and using discriminatory language within its survey and presentation slides – were the final straws, but that the problems started earlier.
In 2017, SD61 hired a non-Indigenous person as District Principal of Indigenous Education. At the same time, the Indigenous woman who had been district coordinator of Indigenous education for several decades retired. Newman says when the district posted her job, it didn’t specify that applicants should be Indigenous.
Concerned, Newman says he reached out to the district and, while the posting wasn’t changed, an Indigenous woman was hired. He was then invited to join the Indigenous Ad Hoc Committee. Newman also has a daughter at Oaklands Elementary School where he and his wife are working with students on a carving project, and runs a scholarship for Indigenous students.
On March 1, during a district education policy and directions meeting, Newman was again concerned when board trustee Ryan Painter noted there were too many Songhees and Esquimalt Nations members present, according to board bylaw. The meeting was subsequently cut short.
Painter didn’t respond to an interview request in time for publication.
In early May, the district released a budget survey where one question asked participants to rank the importance of Indigenous students’ success against that of non-Indigenous ones. Following backlash, the district removed the question and promised data from it would not be used.
On May 10 during a board meeting, several presentation slides drew criticism, as under the heading of reconciliation they asked whether Indigenous students participated in band and if music programs would improve their success. Investing in Indigenous education has been listed as a reason the district is making cuts to programs like music.
Taken together, Newman wrote, he believes these events are indicative of “a pattern of systemic racism that can no longer be seen as a collection of unfortunate missteps, but rather as proof of deeply entrenched paternalistic attitudes towards Indigenous people and our education that continue to this day.”
He is calling on the district board and administration to publicly apologize for the “cynical and flagrant” use of the word reconciliation, and to develop a transparent plan on how it will change.
“I want a commitment to have Indigenous voices represented at every level of district decision making, not after the fact, impotent, consultation as I have experienced with the ad hoc committee, but as part of the process from beginning to end,” Newman wrote.
The school district didn’t respond to an interview request.
As of midday Friday, more than 350 people had added their names in support of Newman’s letter, including trustees Rob Paynter and Diane McNally. It can be found at docs.google.com.
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