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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 3, November/December 2004

Aboriginal education conference

The Aboriginal education conference, jointly sponsored by the BCTF Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, the BCTF’s First Nations Education Association, and UBC’s Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP), was held October 21 to 23, 2004. Close to 400 participants and facilitators attended the conference at the Longhouse, University of B.C.

BCTF President Jinny Sims kicked off the conference with an official acknowledgement of the Musqueam territory. She gave the opening welcome from the BCTF and raised her hands to NITEP for its leadership in Aboriginal teacher education. She congratulated NITEP on 30 years of perseverance and dedication to Aboriginal education.

A student panel of three generations of NITEP graduates gave their impressions of their lives since graduation and of being teachers.

David Rattray opened the conference with a keynote that engaged all participants to break out of their comfort zones. He asked the participants to speak to one another about why they were here and about what they were passionate about. Rattray set the tone for the conference and left participants feeling good about what they have been doing in Aboriginal education.

The various workshops ranged from Aboriginal history and culture, students’ experiences in public school, literacy for young children, and how to take care of new Aboriginal teachers.

In the evening we had a banquet for all the participants to attend and feast and marvel in the festivity celebration for NITEP’s 30-year-old program.

Saturday featured more workshops and a luncheon for local presidents and their designates at which enhancement agreements were discussed. Designates were picked because of their willingness and or commitment to Aboriginal education as well as to bring back information on enhancement agreements. Comments ranged from "I would never have gone to an Aboriginal Education conference, because I am not Aboriginal" to "I feel so very lucky to have learned so much. I found out I know so little and this experience has changed my perceptions about Aboriginal education."

After the panel discussion, lots of questions were raised regarding education funding for Aboriginal students in both the public and band systems, why unions?, employment equity, and more. Our panelists did a fantastic job answering the questions.

Our ending keynote was Rita Bouvier, here from the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. Her presentation spoke to us all about the importance of anti-oppressive education. She spoke about the nature of oppression and implications for bringing about change. Rita Bouvier infused her own experience within the context of teaching for social justice.

The weekend was a great success, despite having to move among three buildings. The conference feedback was uplifting and very positive.

– Chris Stewart