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Racial violence prompts band to open on-reserve school.

SHUBENACADIE, N.S.

The Indian Brook First Nation has hired four teachers and has gone ahead with plans to set up an alternative school for 30 members of the band. This is the latest step in a three-month drama which began when the First Nation pulled students out of East Hants Rural High School after an outbreak of race-based violence directed against Native students on Nov. 21, 1996.

In one of the incidents, a student was taken to hospital and charges were laid by the RCMP.

"It wasn't the whole Native population that withdrew in the end," said Novelle Crosby, communications officer for the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board. "It was about 30 of the 130 Native students in the school."

East Hants had a total student population of 1,164 before the start of the conflict. The school is in Milford, N.S., some 50 km north of Halifax.

In the days after the violence, most of the Native students at East Hants had returned to the school amid assurances that staff would be vigilant and intolerant of violence and racist behavior.

About 30 students did not return, however, and were taught in a makeshift facility on the reserve by substitute teachers provided by the school board. That arrangement ended at the Christmas break, and students were all expected to be in their integrated places at the start of the new year.

The First Nation, however, had other ideas. It placed advertisements for teachers in the newspapers and formally requested renegotiation of the tuition agreements with the school board. The Indian Brook school will offer instruction in Grades 7 through 12.

"The band has hired four teachers as of Jan. 13," confirmed Crosby. "They have adopted a curriculum already in use at the Wycocomagh First Nation and are planning to incorporate adults into the student population."

Crosby also confirmed that negotiations are going on between the school board and both Indian Brook and Millbrook First Nations over the funding that the school board receives to teach the Native students.

"We have no further comment on the negotiations," Crosby said," except to say that the band has a tuition agreement with the school board to supply teachers and education for their students, and that is under negotiation."

Funding for the school is still up in the air, but the band hopes to get some of the $4,000 per student that it pays to the school board, according to Indian Brook Chief Reginald Maloney. It also plans to approach Indian Affairs for assistance and to contribute money directly from video lottery terminal revenues.

"We had racial problems" at the school for a long time, Maloney said. The November violence merely acted as a catalyst for action.

"We just believe we can do a lot better by having our own school," he said. Few Indian Brook students graduate from high school and most find it difficult to get an education away from their homes.

Instruction on the reserve would also include some instruction in the Mi'kmaw language.

When most students had returned to their classes on Nov. 27 last year, the Hants East school issued a statement that read, in part: "Our school is not unique. Violence has become a part of many school cultures as it has become a part of society's culture. In recent days we have seen the unfortunate impact of violence in our school. As a result of violence we have seen an increase in racial tension. Together we need to create a peaceful school environment in which there is zero tolerance for violence and for racist behaviors including name-calling, harassment, and violent acts."

East Hants has added staff to deal with the issues, which continue to some extent in the large school.

"I think that the students who are here are here because they choose to be here," said John Wheelock, principal at East Hants, of the 100 Native students who have returned. "We needed a break, and now people are looking forward instead of back.

"Obviously something was wrong," he continued. "There were two probably unrelated incidents in one day, and a third carried over from the day before. We are a big school and crowded, and that as well is a contributing factor."

East Hants has tried to develop positive programs to deal with any problems, and has implemented a zero-tolerance policy, which Wheelock said will, he expects, decrease violence because it will deal with confrontations before they can escalate to the point of turning violent.

"There is a perception that these issues pertain to the younger students -- those in Grades 7 and 8," he said. "By the older grades the students have learned how to deal with each other in a more acceptable way." Last November's incidents involved students from the two youngest grades at the junior-senior high school.

The school and school board also reached outside the school in an attempt to promote wider harmony in the community, but the First Nation has gone ahead with its own school as its own solution.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hayes, R. John
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Feb 1, 1997
Words:840
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