Neqweyqwelsten School: A Process of Educational Self-determination

(excerpts taken from a report written by Marie Matthew)

 

 

Emerging National and Local Trends

 

In their initiatives toward taking responsibility for managing affairs locally, the people of Chu Chua have kept pace with the national trends. Whereas the band began to manage some of its affairs as early as 1973, when Eddie Celesta became the band manager, programs shifted to the band more readily following the closure of the Indian Affairs office in Kamloops in 1975.  It was at this time that the band began to run the post secondary education program from the local band office.

 

In subsequent years, as the presence of the band office, hall and the ballpark provided space for community activity, band members gained greater understanding of the possibilities open to them in terms of running their own affairs.  No doubt those in political and administrative roles were also influenced by the surge of activity throughout the country, which purported to support the ideals of putting greater control for program delivery in the hands of bands.

 

A national policy which was to produce direct results in Chu Chua was the Native Indian Brotherhood's Indian Control of Indian Education  published in 1972 and adopted as the basis of Department of Indian Affairs policy in 1973.  The First Nations created this document in response to the federal government's 1969 White Paper which proposed that the Indian Act be canceled and Indians become citizens like other Canadian citizens.  The First Nations' reaction was immediate and powerful.  They postulated that after a century and a half of being subjected to institutionalized prejudice, First Nations issues had to be settled with the continued financial support of the federal government.  In the area of education it was noted that First Nations had not progressed at a satisfactory rate in either the federal or provincial schools.  It was believed that only by putting control in the hands of First Nations people could problems faced by students in educational institutions be resolved.

 

Indian Control of Indian Education  presented the view that First Nations must have jurisdiction over education.  The founding principles of the this policy were that educational decisions must be made locally and that parents must have real jurisdiction over the education of their children. The Department of Indian Affairs supported this policy by setting in place a mechanism which  allowed funds to flow directly to communities who wished to establish their own schools.  In 1983 the people of Chu Chua began responding to this initiative.

 

Establishment of Neqweyqwelsten School

 

Neqweyqwelsten School, as it operates today, has evolved through a process of learning and adaptation to changes.  The school began as a Nursery/Kindergarten in 1983 and was run in an ad hoc manner, with all in-school decisions being made by school staff and financial administration done by the band office.  Over time, with the development of a well-grounded philosophy and constant reflection on developments in and outside the community, the school has taken on a greater role in the community at large and serves as a focal point for educational and cultural activity in the community.

 

Prior to 1983 Chu Chua students attended the public schools in Barriere and Chu Chua. In the winter of 1982/83 several parents of three and four year olds began meeting at the gym on a weekly basis to provide educational and recreational activities for their children.  By the spring of 1983 the parents had decided to establish a Nursery/Kindergarten for their children. The band acquired a portable double-wide trailer and in September, 1983, the school opened with seven students attending.  Although there was no written philosophy to guide the operation of the school, it was generally felt that the initiative had been taken to supply educational opportunities to the young children and to introduce them to their heritage and language. Marie Matthew was hired to teach, Bernita Eustache was the teaching assistant and Ida Matthew was invited to teach the Shuswap language one morning a week.

 

In subsequent years the Nursery/Kindergarten operated in much the same manner, with Verna MacDonald teaching in 1984/85 and Judy Matthew taking over these duties from September 1985 to June 1987.  Teachers were relieved from transporting students in their own vehicles after the band purchased a seven passenger van.  The van was driven by the teacher and parents assisted with transportation on field trips.  During this time the elders were consulted to assist in the naming of the school.  Their suggestions resulted in the school being named Neqweyqwelsten, which is the Shuswap word used to describe the area in which the village is located.

 

With the encouragement and support of the band Education Coordinator, Brian Matthew, meetings were held with parents which indicated sufficient support for the opening of a school for grades one to four.  Since no funding was in place for the school, the parents went to a general band meeting where fifteen thousand dollars was granted to support the operation of the school.  The band offered the empty band office, a double-wide trailer, to be used as a classroom.  During the last weeks of August, 1987, parents took saws and hammers into the old office building and removed a wall to create a more open space.  A window was installed in another wall to facilitate room to room viewing within the building.  On Tuesday, September 8, 1987, eleven elementary age students began attending and Neqweyqwelsten became a two room school.

 

Process of Goal and Philosophy Development

 

In the spring of 1987 Education Coordinator Brian Matthew circulated a proposal to community members for the establishment of a primary school. In it he outlined a set of goals that the school could address:

 

1.  To develop a whole language based reading and writing program tailored to our children's needs.

 

2.  Provide our children with an environment that is designed to encourage critical and creative thinking.

 

3.  Provide for individual attention to student needs.

 

4.  Promote within our children the development of a positive self-concept.

 

5.  Provide on-going assessment of academic skill  development.

 

6.  Provide computer-assisted skill development.

 

7.  Ensure mastery of basic skills through individual programming.

 

8.  Meet or exceed provincial standards for skill development.

 

9.  Provide an education facility that is a pleasant learning environment for our children.

 

10.  Integrate Shuswap language, culture and history into the curriculum.

 

11.  Utilize community resource persons in the school.

 

12.  Involve parents in all aspects of the school operation.

 

13.  Employ, wherever possible, band members.

 

The goals above represent the philosophy of the school at the time of its opening.  These goals stood for the first two years that the school operated, as the guiding philosophy for the school.  In fact, during the first year of its operation the school had little formal management in the way of regular meetings.  Parent support for activities was high, however and monthly letters from the school to the parents indicate that there was a high degree of parental involvement and visitations to the school by all parents.  In the following year, the parents began meeting on a regular basis to make decisions about the school.  By the fall of 1989 the parents had established regular monthly meetings and begun developing a school handbook and re-working their goals and philosophy.  To ensure this process was ongoing they built in a yearly planning meeting which was slated to review goals and philosophy and to update the School Handbook.  Through this process they created the following goals and philosophy, which are posted in each classroom:

 

 

PHILOSOPHY OF NEQWEYQWELSTEN SCHOOL

 

WE BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION IS THE PROCESS OF BECOMING KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT ONESELF AND THE WORLD.  EDUCATION IS AN HOLISTIC, LIFE-LONG ENDEAVOR, WHICH SUPPORTS STUDENTS' INTELLECTUAL, SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL, SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT.  WE BELIEVE THAT LEARNING COMES MOST EASILY TO CHILDREN WHO HAVE PRIDE IN THEMSELVES, THEIR CULTURE AND THEIR COMMUNITY, AND THEREFORE SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN IN BECOMING SELF-AWARE AND INDEPENDENTLY ABLE.

 

 

WE BELIEVE THAT THIS EDUCATION WILL DEVELOP POSITIVE ATTITUDES AND WELL GROUNDED UNDERSTANDINGS WHICH WILL ENABLE OUR CHILDREN TO ACT IN WAYS THAT STRENGTHEN THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEMSELVES AND THE WORLD AND ENCOURAGE THEM TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE PRESERVATION OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT AND WELL-BEING OF ALL PEOPLE.

 

Revised January 1991