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School board making mention of First Nations friends

by Joe Fries - Penticton Western News

Paying tribute to local First Nations is now the first order of business at school board meetings, and the idea has piqued the interest of at least one other leader of a public body here.

Last week’s board meeting of the Okanagan Skaha School District opened for the first time ever with an acknowledgement that those gathered were on the traditional territory of the Okanagan people.

“We look to make that a tradition and open our meetings with that statement just to honour our aboriginal community and population and relation building, and to respect their territory,” said board chairman Bruce Johnson.

He said the new agenda item arose from discussion at a board planning session last year and goes beyond goodwill.

“I think it’s just showing respect to a very important part of our education community,” Johnson said.

Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger was pleased to hear the school district is thinking about his people.

“I think that’s very respectful and very nice to be acknowledged on our homelands. It just shows we’re all here to stay,” he said.

“This is a part of the reconciliation process of all of us coming together and talking about our interests, rather than positions,” he said.

It’s unclear how many school boards elsewhere in B.C. offer such an acknowledgement, but Okanagan Skaha is the first in this region to do so.

Like the school board, both the City of Penticton and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen have co-operation agreements with local First Nations, but neither government offers an acknowledgement at its board meetings.

“We should be doing that locally, too,” said Penticton Mayor Garry Litke when told of the school board’s initiative, adding he would “absolutely” discuss the idea with staff.

“Every other organization I belong to does that,” he said, citing the Union of B.C. Municipalities and B.C. Teachers’ Federation as examples.

Mark Pendergraft, who chairs the board of the RDOS, said he would have to give the idea some thought.

“I don’t know that it’s something we’ve considered,” he said.

“I’m not saying that we wouldn’t or we shouldn’t.

“I just don’t believe it’s anything that we have really considered yet.”

“I guess it’s something we should probably discuss at some point, but I couldn’t say for sure whether it would happen or not.”

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