By Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Trustees with the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division board plan to encourage more Indigenous candidates to run in the next school board election.

Board members began discussing the issue of Indigenous representation after receiving a report from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) at Monday’s regular meeting. Trustees also got a look at the report during their meeting on Aug. 29, and returned to the subject on Monday.

“This has been a conversation around our board table for a long time,” education director Robert Bratvold said. “It has been a more rigorous, intense, and thorough conversation, I would say, in the last year or so.”

The SSBA also submitted the report to province for a follow up with the Ministry of Government Relations on Aug. 29. Bratvold said there are a lot of potential ideas for ways to increase the number of Indigenous voices at the school board table. However, the SSBA report finds many options limited by the Local Government Act.

“There might be some ways that we can encourage some adjustment or change so that we can strengthen Indigenous voice at the board table,” Bratvold said.

“All of those options have some strengths and they all have some challenges. Many of them wouldn’t be legal within the current legislation.”

Bratvold said they have a large number Indigenous students and families in the division, and it’s important for their voices to be heard at the board table.

“We have got lots of strong relationships, but we have room to grow and work to do to make sure there is that voice and vote at the board table,” he said.

Bratvold added that building relationships with Indigenous families and encouraging potential candidates to run is an important part of that strategy.

There were Indigenous candidates who ran in the last school board election, including Conrad Burns who finished seventh in a competitive in city election.

Former Indigenous trustees include Muskoday Chief Ava Bear, who served from 1998-2000 as a legacy after amalgamation, and Lawrence Joseph who served on the board for Prince Albert before amalgamation.

On Monday, the board also met with their Elder’s Council, where board chair Barry Hollick discussed the idea with elders.

Bratvold said the idea was a preliminary discussion about how best to convince more Indigenous trustees to run.

“(We asked them to) do some reflection around this, (and) do some reaching out into your communities,” Bratvold said. “We will have a more thorough discussion with the Elders Advisory Council around this representation topic at our next meeting probably in November.”

They also set the work plan for the next year, including what topics will be discussed with the Elders Advisory Council.

“We talked about meeting schedules and time. We talked about relationships and good work that is happening in schools. We had some conversations about the pipe ceremonies that we have seasonally and the Indigenous Day that Carlton hosted last Friday and positive feedback around that,” Bratvold said.

“That was sort of a ‘setting the year out in front of us’ with the Elders and the board and then getting into a few conversations around the terms of reference and how we will operate together,” he explained.