Ken Clement: Advocacy, reconciliation, and public education

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      By Ken Clement

      To begin, I would like to honour the unceded territory of Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam Nations.

      I believe public education must be adequately funded to support students, parents, teachers, and stakeholders in the Vancouver school district. The meaningful and respectful engagement of diverse communities and cultural groups is necessary to support healthy and successful children, families, and communities.

      Of Ktunaxa First Nation, I was the first Aboriginal trustee to serve on the Vancouver School Board, holding that position from 2008–14. I have lived in Vancouver for 35 years and am a graduate of the UBC School of Social Work.

      As a board member, I would advocate for the interests of our public education system which includes key issues such as creating safe schools through specialized programs, Aboriginal education and LGBTQ2S policies, addressing poverty, and seismic upgrading. I hold values of good governance, leadership, and accountability. Throughout my career, I have been a strong advocate for social justice, education, health, and housing for children and Aboriginal people in Metro Vancouver, as well as on the provincial, national and international levels.

      My introduction to formal education began with a decade spent in residential schools. My experiences within this education system led to strengthening and resiliency of character, which is the foundation for my passion and commitment to social justice issues.

      In the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a holistic approach to education for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Vancouver must be responsive their unique cultures, language, and geography. I see this as the new beginning of our collective conversation and movement towards reconciliation. Steps towards these needed changes include:

      • dialogue toward reconciliation which includes key stakeholders such as Aboriginal communities, political leadership, school systems;
      • inclusion of Aboriginal history, current realities, and languages in curricula;
      • and reinvigoration of current Aboriginal education programming in Vancouver.

      I was instrumental in the policy direction of the Aboriginal focus school, laying the groundwork for acknowledging the contributions of Aboriginal people in education. There is a need for new infrastructure for the school, and I will advocate to seek federal funds to rebuild. This could contribute to reconciliation and should serve as a Centre of Excellence for Aboriginal Education, acknowledging the legacy and contributions of Indigenous people, and providing a collective learning space for students across the city.

      As chair of the student and education services committee in 2011, I had the pleasure of acknowledging the diversity of students and with my Vision colleagues, were able to guide the acceptance and implementation of the LGBTQ2S Policy (the policy can be found on the VSB website). We are proud that this policy has been emulated throughout the province. As the first LGBTQ2S Policy to be approved in B.C., it is recognized as a historic and progressive educational policy which respects diversity and inclusion and creates real change in the lives of LGBTQ2S children and youth.

      B.C. has among the highest rates of poverty among children. Meanwhile, B.C. is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan. As board members, we would be advocating for a provincial poverty reduction plan, as well as work collaboratively with the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health, and communities to develop a Vancouver Poverty Reduction Plan. Addressing root causes of poverty through systemic change will improve the lives and educational outcomes of students.

      Current challenges facing young people include the overdose crisis in Vancouver. By providing harm reduction through education, prevention, policy changes, and services to people who use drugs, we can increase healthy lives for children and youth.

      I am honoured to be part of the diverse Vision Vancouver team which is running in the by-election. I am confident that the committed team will work tirelessly, collaboratively, and cooperatively in the best interest of students, parents, teachers, and stakeholders. As a Vision Vancouver team board member focusing on good governance, leadership, and accountability, I will put my efforts toward:

      • specialized programs;
      • Aboriginal education;
      • LGBTQ2S policies;
      • addressing poverty;
      • harm reduction (provide services and education to communities and people who use drugs to prevent harm);
      • seismic upgrading.

      I envision a strong public school system that provides opportunities for success for every student, regardless of where they live in the city, income level, or cultural background, particularly among Aboriginal students. Regardless of background, parents and children deserve equity, a strong sense of belonging, connection to culture and community, and the opportunity to develop skills and realize their potential.

      In closing, please support the Vision Vancouver team, which includes Mike Lombardi, Theodora Lamb, Allan Wong, Joy Alexander, and myself, Ken Clement.

      Ken Clement is the CEO of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. He's also a Vision Vancouver candidate for the Vancouver school board.