Two weeks after the approval of a new employment contract with the La Conner Education Association, members of the La Conner School District Board of Directors rolled up their sleeves and got down to business on several key tasks marking the start. of the 2021-2022 school year.
The first of these at their September 27 meeting was to unanimously approve a proclamation designating September 30 as Orange Shirt and Residential School Awareness Day during their 90-minute hybrid public session.
The council’s action follows a presentation by district community and cultural liaison Clarissa James, who said the proclamation is designed in part to address the historic trauma rooted in the atrocities resulting from decades of forced Indigenous students. to attend and undergo assimilation in boarding schools.
“It’s a difficult subject to discuss,” said James, who noted, however, that doing so in a positive and productive way can help bring healing to those affected by the residential school experience.
“It is important for educators to understand that the effects are still present in our students today,” she said.
James hoped September 30 would be recognized as Orange Shirt and Residential School Awareness Day every year. That date was chosen, she said, because September is the time of year when buses traditionally transported Indigenous students from their homes to what she called their “hard new realities.”
James credited Phyllis Webstad of the Dog Creek Reservation in British Columbia with starting the movement. She said orange was chosen as the color to symbolize the event based on a traumatic episode from Webstad’s childhood.
According to James, when Webstad arrived at a boarding school, she was stripped of her favorite orange shirt that she had worn on this campus.
Board members thanked James.
“Thank you for bringing this forward,” said JJ Wilbur, who also sits on the Senate of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “Most of my great-grandparents were forced to go to these schools. There is a historical trauma that results from it and that is something we need to recognize. ”
Coincidentally, it was a graduate of La Conner High School, Dr. Kisha Supernant, an archaeologist at the University of Alberta, who was instrumental in finding anonymous graves of students who have attended residential schools in Canada.
The Board of Trustees also passed a formal resolution at the request of Swinomish management and in accordance with new state law, which retains the Braves team name for La Conner Schools while implementing a plan to develop a new mascot logo appropriate for the Coast Salish culture.
The school district has received an inventory of existing images on campuses here that have been approved or disapproved by the Swinomish Tribe for continued use. A new logo must be chosen by Dec. 31, and images depicting Native American culture deemed inappropriate – such as Plains Indian headdresses – must be phased out, said Superintendent Will Nelson, a member of the Blackfeet Indian Nation.
As part of the process, the district will conduct a survey and launch an art competition to create a new logo.
Wilbur, who abstained from voting on the resolution, praised last year’s Acting Superintendent Rich Stewart for starting a dialogue with Swinomish after the mass passage of the Native American mascot legislation sponsored by the Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D.-Bow, earlier this year.
“I want to thank Rich Stewart for discussing these important issues with the Tribal Senate,” Wilbur said.
The board also approved a contract with Northwest Educational Services District 189 to provide training regarding student threat assessments.
Students of all levels gave presentations on behalf of the district’s Highly Capable Academic Program (H-CAP), which provides participants with meaningful and stimulating academic opportunities.
“It really helped me,” said second student Samuel Williams. “H-CAP allowed me to do math at my level. I like to do things that give me a challenge.
High school student Juna Swanson echoed the sentiment, recalling her participation in H-CAP from grades four to eight.
“It was my favorite part of those years,” she said. “I was with people I could connect with academically.”