Members of the Davis family from New Aiyansh enjoy lunch at a function hosted by the Nisga'a Teachers' Union in the Nass Valley.

Striking teachers reach out to students in small northern school district

Nass Valley teachers have been hosting lunches with parents, students

While there are obvious challenges to working in a small remote school district, there are also benefits in the closeness of the community.

In that spirit, teachers from the Nisga’a school district in the Nass Valley north of Terrace hosted a series of informal lunches for students and parents in the valley’s four villages last week before rallying Friday at Lava Lake alongside the Nisga’a Hwy.

The local union’s lunches were meant to update parents on the ongoing labour dispute – specifically the BC Teachers’ Federation’s mid-week vote which called on the BC Liberal government to agree to binding interest arbitration – and give students a chance to meet their teachers.

The two sides have been locked in their current dispute since the spring and students have yet to enter classrooms this year, although hopes did begin to rise yesterday with reports indicating the sides have quietly agreed to once again try mediation over the weekend.

The lunches were held in village government buildings, not school buildings, so as not to violate strike protocol.

“It is unique. We just felt it was time for students to come and have a chance to meet their teachers,” said Nisga’a Teachers’ Union local president Rich Hotson.

He hasn’t seen too many kids in the playground during the dispute, “so they’re probably doing things inside. Let’s hope their parents have them doing some schoolwork.”

More than 100 people turned out in both Kincolith and Greenville, and “a smaller room in Gitwinksihlkw and it was jammed, so it’s been a good turnout at each of the luncheons.”

“It was great to see the turnout, really pleased,” he said.

The Nisga’a school district has more than 400 students, with 38 teachers if you include teachers on call.

“With us, it’s never really been an issue of class size because our district’s been committed to providing as low a class size as possible,” said Hotson, who has been president of the local union for a decade.

“Some of the problems come from some of the various needs the students will have. You can have a number of students with special needs, and if the teacher doesn’t have enough time to spend with them that can be frustrating for everyone.

“Our board has always been supportive, our argument is not with our local school board, they’ve always been supportive. They listen to our needs and try and meet them,” said Hotson.

Hotson said he would like to see the vote on binding arbitration lead to a solution.

“I’m always optimistic, I have to be,” he said. “There are other ways to get to an agreement, but they’ll be slower. This way we can be back to work and our kids have been out too long.”

“We’ll get through this somehow, I just hope it’s sooner rather than later,” continued Hotson. “I’m pleased we’re at the point that we’re at a solution and it’s a fairly fast solution. Neither side will be happy at the end of this because when you turn it over to a third party, he’s going to make decisions but in the end they’ll be a deal because that’s what you agreed to when you agreed to the arbitration.”

And with the third week of the strike looming, some parents are asking why the Nisga’a Lisims Government doesn’t take over education, as is their treaty right.

“They have the treaty rights to do that,” said Hotson. “That’s for the Nisga’a Nation to decide and we’ll work with them to make the best education possible, no matter which way it goes.”

He said teachers want to continue to hold luncheons throughout the school year for parents to ask questions and learn about school going ons, “but hopefully we’re not doing it while we’re on strike, hopefully we’re back to work soon.”