Cowichan Valley School District trustee Joe Thorne is taking his experience and wisdom to the B.C. School Trustees Association’s Indigenous Education Committee.
The Cowichan Tribes elder had submitted a request to be a regular committee member but later received a call from its president, Stephanie Higginson to say they’d created a new role for him: First Elder and Knowledge Keeper.
“They created a seat just for me because I’ve been very vocal, over the last five years, of our needs for First Nations students,” he said. “They were impressed with me voicing my concerns. I was just being me.”
A second-term school board trustee, Thorne joins committee members from school districts around the province.
From his five years as a trustee, he’s already got a long list of tasks he’d like to see progress on.
“There’s a lot to do with language, there’s a lot to do with making independent programs for a lot of the schools and looking at how the curriculum can fit, and elimination of several things we consider indigent,” he explained.
Higginson said the committee is keen to work with Thorne.
“We’re really looking forward to learning from Joe,” she said. “I’m excited that he’ll get to use the knowledge and experience that he has,” she said. “I think we’ll all benefit from it.”
Higginson also said Thorne will be able to help guide the committee with things around protocol and ceremony.
“The BCSTA has had the committee for a number of years and the board has been working in recent years to incorporate truth and reconciliation in our work and to provide learning opportunities to our members,” she said. “Joe has such a deep knowledge of the Cowichan ways and history and an understanding of the Hul’qumi’num’ language. He’s taken on a real leadership role on his own throughout the organization. He’s just a really good fit for the committee.”
Among Thorne’s priorities are getting more Indigenous parents involved in their children’s education.
“Parents, they, are the key. They can’t just blame the teacher,” he explained. “Local education agreements for First Nations have to be in place so they can direct the board on the direction they would like to see their kids go as far as what they’re learning.”
Thorne encourages all parents to sit down and decide what’s best education wise for their kids and then advocate for them.
“You’re the governor of your children. You need to tell us what your child needs. The teacher may have an idea but as parents we have to step up to promote their child and to ensure we’re pushing for what we think needs to be done,” he said.
Thorne is ready to get started.
“I will do my best to keep my head and my heart together to help make proper decisions,” he said.