Graduation rates key priority

NANAIMO – Natasha Bob says she wants to see elders present in schools for all students to benefit.

First Nations will have a voice for education, as Nanoose band councillor Natasha Bob joins the Nanaimo school board sworn in Monday (Dec. 8).

Like former Snuneymuxw councillor Bill Yoachim on Nanaimo city council, Bob will sit on the school board for the next four years. She garnered more than 7,200 votes in the civic election and has long been drawn to politics, with band council service that will continue.

There is a divide between Nanaimo and First Nations, but it is small and closing, according to Bob.

“I think Nanaimo actually takes the lead in many ways because there are so many protocol agreements and other agreements that really enrich the relationship between First Nations people and Nanaimo,” Bob said.

She said the school district has greatly improved representing First Nations issues over the last 20 years. Still, according to current numbers, only 56.2 per cent of aboriginal students graduated in 2012-13, lagging behind the 72.3 per cent of other graduates. Bob said she will work to improve that.

“Just being able to talk about [aboriginal graduation rates] at the table, looking at some of the trends and the statistics and making sure that we’re honouring the success of the students that are graduating and if there are programs that could be implemented that further prepare students for university planning, that would be tremendous,” said Bob.

She said the school district has come a long way with aboriginal education but it can still improve. There are things that can add value to the educational experience.

“For myself personally, I’d like to see the presence of aboriginal mentors or elders present at some level in a way to support all students. I find that even at the university, there are aboriginal elders in residence, but they’re there for everybody, not just for the aboriginal students. It’s a value that’s part of our culture that is very important,” Bob said.

She said her father, aboriginal artist Brian Bob, experienced racism when he was once brought to the outskirts of town by police and left in the cold. Attitudes toward aboriginal people in Nanaimo have changed, she said.

“We’ve made leaps and bounds,” said Bob. “From the stories that I heard, even from my father’s generation, the level of racism that existed at that time, we’re at a point where we should really be celebrating our success and in our ability to build bridges and to break down some of those barriers.”