By Bryan Meadows
Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal
The Rainy River District School Board is taking steps to provide a safe and caring learning environment for students that respects and values all cultures within its system.
In response to the “racist” video incident last week, school board officials said Friday that they are working with the Fort Frances area Chief‘s Secretariat “to seek a resolution to this situation.”
The board came under pressure from aboriginal leaders to acknowledge problems of racism in the area schools after the two-minute video showed up on the Internet. It depicts six non-native female Fort Frances high school students dancing to the sounds of a powwow while acting drunk and holding liquor and wine bottles.
All six students were “disciplined” by school administrators and have been kicked off the Muskies girls hockey team. They have since issued a public apology regarding their “inexcusable” behaviour.
Provincial police are not considering criminal charges in the case.
First Nations leaders, like Bob Goulais, want the ugly aspects of racism revealed for what they are and for people to take the necessary steps to create awareness and understanding of First Nations culture.
“In this case, it‘s important for First Nations and others to see what racism looks like and to talk about it,” Goulais told The Chronicle-Journal.
“I definitely don‘t agree that this is about the people of Fort Frances, or that specific school system. This is caused by ignoring the problems – instead of talking about this.”
Goulais, who is chief of staff of the Anishinabek Nation, stated on his online “Anishinawbe blog” that he is “deeply concerned over this entire matter.”
“I have strong feelings about this because powwow is a part of my lifestyle . . . (and) important to me and many of my friends and family,” he said.
The Rainy River District School Board states in a press release that it wants to reassure students, parents, and community members that a safe and respectful learning and teaching environment is paramount.
“The board is very concerned about the respect and value of all cultures within its system,” the release states.
Meetings with First Nations students, parents, and community leaders have taken place throughout the week, and high school students and staff are continuing to discuss ways to provide support and a voice for all students, such as the re-establishment of the Aboriginal Youth Council.
As well, Fort Frances high school, with the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police, Treaty Three Police and community agencies, are working together to provide a safe and supported learning environment for all students.
Education director Jack McMaster added that the board is committed to working with aboriginal partners to move forward to ensure that all students, staff, and stakeholders are respected.