To be a non-Aboriginal principal of Vancouver’s only Indigenous-focus school — χpey̓ Elementary on Hastings Street near Victoria — Rose McKenzie is having to delve deep into her almost four decades of teaching wisdom.
“This is a complex school,” she says leaving it at that.
“Every child needs a chance to learn. But we have to redefine what school means. It’s going to be different for a child on the westside than it is here.”
“This is a school of choice and we need to be aware of the impact colonialism has had on Indigenous people,” she says.
She has a staff of seven teachers, five are Indigenous.
The guiding principle behind creating Xpey’ out of the old Sir William MacDonald Elementary was to offer Indigenous families the opportunity to send their children to a school which would incorporate First Nations culture into their education.
“It’s based on Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing,” said McKenzie.
However, there’s a snag. McKenzie doesn’t have the money to do what she would like — the means being inadequate for the objective — the classic pitfall of many educational good ideas.
The curriculum should involve taking the children into forests, getting them out on the water, having them overnight in First Nation sacred spaces. It should involve bringing in elders, dancers, drummers, native artists. There should be Aboriginal regalia for the children to wear — but it all costs money which she doesn’t have.
“Normally, taking children on trips and other things are done by donations from the PAC (parents advisory committee) but we don’t have that capacity to raise the money in this school,” said McKenzie.
She is seeking $16,000 from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign this year to help immerse her students in their own culture.
The law firm of Alexander Holburn Beaudin+Lang LLP has donated $11,000 to AAS of which $7,000 is designated to Xpey’, the remainder going to KidSafe to help defray the cost of feeding children in that program.
Lawyer Ryan Howe said the company made the donation because it is committed to corporate social responsibility and would like to encourage other companies to step forward and help initiatives such as Adopt-A-School.
An AAS grant last year was approved so McKenzie could — among other things — send children on an extended trip by boat which fell through when she couldn’t find a suitable company to hire.
However, now she has found what she needs, if she can find the money.
“It’s not just the cost of the trip, the guide has to come in and train the children before they can go out there. And there is a cost to that, too.”
“But I am so grateful for what Adopt-A-School has done.
“It is helping me be a proper principal. When people asked for something I can say yes instead of no.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)