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Value in Aboriginal program for non-Aboriginals as well
Merritt Secondary School’s newest program, Aboriginal Academy 9, designed to immerse students in Aboriginal culture, is a leap in the right direction, especially considering so many still have firsthand memories of the injustices of residential schools.
Students will spend the entire semester looking at the world through a cultural lens while they are studying in the classroom and while they are out on the land exploring the traditional territory of the Thompson-Okanagan people.
Authors of the curriculum emphasize that while different from the typical grade nine course outlines, participating students will be engaged in a rigorous program that will earn them credit in four subjects over the course of the semester.
The only cause for concern is the fact that while segregation was certainly not the goal of the program, it appears to be the outcome. As of Thursday, the program which was open to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students had 23 registered participants — 21 are Aboriginal and two are Metis according to instructor Tim Manuel.
These numbers beg the question why a program as interesting as Aboriginal Academy 9 and with as many scheduled field trips as it has would not have attracted at least one student who did not come from an Aboriginal background.
Perhaps the non-Aboriginal students did not feel welcome in a program that was called “Aboriginal Academy” or at least may not have seen how the course material would have been relevant to them.
It could be that their parents were skeptical about a program that encompasses half of their Grade 9 course load and about how well it would prepare them academically for Grade 10 and whether it would put them at a disadvantage for the future.
School District 58 staff said the program was open to everyone but it’s likely that more emphasis was put on encouraging the Aboriginal students to register for the program, and this is not necessarily to be faulted since the design of Aboriginal Academy is to increase Aboriginal student engagement and ultimately improve the Aboriginal graduation rates.
It’s wonderful that by June, 23 students will know so much more about their heritage and have a greater understanding of the traditional and contemporary issues affecting their people; it’s just a pity that none of their non-Aboriginal peers saw the value in learning about this rich culture as well.
District superintendent Bob Peacock spoke about the opportunity to expand the program in the future if it is successful; hopefully as it grows more students will have the desire and the opportunity to be involved.