The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division board of education held their first meeting with Indigenous representatives at an Indigenous Partners Gathering on April 24 at the Education Centre.

Sask. Rivers Education Director Robert Bratvold said the meeting was very productive, and will likely lead to more meetings in the future.

“We had a really open and engaging and some good conversations around sharing their celebrations together around education. We had representatives I think we had seven or eight folks from around the First Nations communities,” Bratvold said.

Invitations were sent out to Chief and Council or Education representatives in surrounding First Nations.

The meeting was reviewed in an oral report by board Chair Darlene Rowden during the regular meeting on Monday.

Bratvold said representatives from Montreal Lake, Ahtahkakoop and Little Red River First Nation among others were in attendance.

“We had good conversations around some of the successes that we are having either on First Nations schools or in provincial schools, and the shared some common interests in improvements, enhancements and things going forward,” Bratvold said.

They discussed items such as land-based learning and sharing expertise to help strengthen that experience for all students.

“(We also talked about) Supporting Indigenous languages so we have got Cree Language and Michif language in some rural areas and several of our First Nations schools and we also have some strength in languages there. We have got some shared opportunities there,” he said.

They also discussed attendance issues and what can be done to improve attendance.

“In both provincial schools and First Nations schools shared concerns over the rise in truancy and in absenteeism particularly since COVID,” Bratvold said.

“That’s a provincial school thing and a First Nation school thing. And there are some strategies that are helping but some work that we can do together and helping families see the importance and the joy of education,” Bratvold said.

Saskatchewan Rivers began their own efforts to improve attendance with a social media campaign following concerns about falling rates in February. Bratvold explained that administration has reported some improvements in that area to the board.

“We took baseline data from the start of the school year until September and then we took another snapshot from Jan. 1 to March 15 and showed many schools showed improvements and that was before the end of winter and spring comes along, so that means something for us,” Bratvold said.

He said there are promising improvements in that area, but there is still some work to be done.

“We were actually really quite excited to be able to share that we have allocated two full time staff positions who are going to help reconnect students and families that haven’t been fully engaged with the school despite the best efforts of school staff,” Bratvold said.

The position began on May 1 and are trying to help connects students back to their schools to finish this school year and be in position to reconnect in the fall.

Along with the representatives from various First Nations, there were also representatives from Western Region 2 of the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan

The success of the initial meeting has the board looking towards another one.

“We are looking forward to another meeting and expanding the partnership and the numbers who are connected,” Bratvold said. “It really was a genuine conversation. It wasn’t like we were just shallow and cursorily going over successes and challenges. It was a good, deep meaningful conversation.

“We might be, in the future, a participant but not necessarily the host, if some of our First Nations invite us,” he added. “We are all in the area and we are all doing schools and we all have our own things to take care of. (There is) lots of joint interest and there is some potential there to gather.”

By: Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald