The Skeena River Métis Community Association (SRMCA) is continuing its push to encourage Métis families to register their children as having Métis ancestry.
Currently, school districts receive $1,200 per Indigenous student per year from the federal government to promote cultural programming within school district K-12 curriculum. Parents need to register their children as Métis to unlock the funding, and Métis specific programming.
Alan Sauvé, SRMCA director of education, started the initiative last year to access federal funding for Métis cultural education in Coast Mountains School District 82 schools.
“Up until now, most of the cultural awareness education has been slanted towards First Nations without acknowledgement of Métis cultural history,” he said.
“I don’t want to take anything away from that, what we are saying is that the Métis need to be able to become more aware of their own culture and their own history.”
In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada reinstated the original 2013 decision from the Daniels v. Canada (Northern Affairs and Northern Development) case, meaning Métis people fall under the category of Indians in the 1867 Constitution Act. That gives Métis access to benefits and legal rights that were not available before.
“The Métis were a nation without a face because they weren’t encouraged to understand their own origins,” said Sauvé.
“It’s about identifying our own culture and our own history because we are unique, and that’s what our youth need to know.”
When Sauvé began the push to have families register their children as having Métis ancestry last August, School District 82 acknowledged that there were six Métis students in the district. Sauvé estimated the true figure is likely closer to 400 students based on northwest B.C.’s Métis population of around 6,000.
In February, Sauvé met with Agnes Casgrain, School District 82’s director of instruction. She provided updated Métis enrolment figures in the district, now 157. She also agreed to make changes to the ‘Student Verification Form.’ Previously, families had the option to select either Aboriginal or Non-Aboriginal, but Casgrain agreed that all Métis do not identify with the term Aboriginal. Now families will be able to register their children as Métis or Inuit as well.
The SRMCA was also given permission to review the content of School District 82’s three cultural resource centres to examine the quality and quantity of Métis cultural content.
Now, Sauvé’s next step is to send a letter to Education Minister Rob Fleming, to encourage School District 82 to send a bulletin home with students to get the message across to parents.
Sauvé said if the initiative is successful, it will have an affect on Métis students around the province.
“The school district is like a test case, because they don’t have this type of programming in many of the other school districts throughout the province, so if we can be successful in encouraging families to come out and register their children and I guess improve the budget or funding then this is a template for any of the other school districts,” he said.
“We’re just taking our small piece and at least getting a toe-hold.”