Raising the profile of Indigenous issues

Elaine Johnston

Raise the profile: that’s the overall goal of Elaine Johnston, Ontario’s Indigenous Trustees Council chair and OPSBA’s First Nations director.

And for Johnston now entering her second term as director, that means building on the work she and her colleagues have already done, with several key priorities.

Johnston has helped lead the push to get more Ontario school boards to appoint Indigenous trustees, which she notes is required for boards which have tuition agreements with First Nations.

While there’s still more work to do, Johnston says there’s been some real successes, such as the Toronto District School Board appointing a trustee, even though it doesn’t even have a tuition agreement.

“When you hear those kinds of things, you say wow that’s great, right on and it was the same with Thunder Bay,” she said. “That’s above and beyond because they said this is not working, they need to have this trustee, how do we make it work?”

She says growing the number of trustees directly relates to the concerns of Indigenous students.

She notes in her own board at the Algoma District School Board, Indigenous trustees were able to highlight specific student concerns regarding online learning, such as Internet connectivity and mental health, resulting in a unique mental health toolkit for students.

Johnston advocates for more Indigenous student trustees and proper inclusion of Indigenous history in provincial curriculum.

“It’s trying to influence those policy changes from a school board level, from the public level, but also the ministry, because we’re also educating the minister and the ministry in regards to what our needs are.”

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