All cultures should be encouraged in the education system, but no student should feel pressured to participate in any one of them, says Deb Foxcroft, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
The NTC released a statement on Thursday following the revelation that a Port Alberni parent is taking School District 70 to court, claiming her child was forced to participate in an Indigenous smudging or cleansing ceremony.
Candice Servatius filed a petition earlier in November with the BC Supreme Court saying her children were required to take part in what she says were religious practices at John Howitt Elementary School in September 2015.
She alleges there was also a second incident in January 2016 involving a First Nations prayer at an assembly.
According to the petition, Servatius claims school officials have refused to honour the School Act and the Charter of Rights provisions respecting religious neutrality.
Foxcroft said the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is disappointed to learn that a resolution has not been found between the mother and the school district.
“While the NTC seeks to have Nuu-chah-nulth culture, in particular our language, alive and present throughout the schools in the district, we do not want any student or staff to feel pressured to participate in our culture,” Foxcroft noted in a prepared statement.
“Nuu-chah-nulth is not a religion. We are a group of Indigenous people who have been here on the West Coast of Vancouver Island since time immemorial. Our language and culture is what makes us unique.
“Although residential schools attempted to strip every piece of who we are and where we come from, our culture has survived. From songs, dances, artwork, regalia, ceremonies and much more, the act of “praying” is only a small sample of our culture, not our ‘religion’.
“It is important to encourage all cultures throughout our education system. With regard to Indigenous or First Nations culture, the practices of each individual First Nations are unique and many students in the district come from other First Nations.
“This incident could be a window of opportunity for SD 70 to share not only the culture of people whose territories the school reside on, but all Canadians and their distinct cultural backgrounds. Reconciliation is a two-way street which the Nuu-chah-nulth are committed to,” she said.