Kwantlen elder and education coordinator Cheryl Gabriel (right) and mother of two D.W. Poppy students Carrie Mitchell (left) said their arms are open to the possibility of “true consultation” with the Langley School District. (Sarah Grochowski photo)

Kwantlen First Nations ‘overlooked’ in middle school plans

Majority of IR 6 residents sign petition against D.W. Poppy becoming a middle school

The Kwantlen First Nations community is upset over the possibility of D.W. Poppy Secondary becoming a middle school, an idea first proposed by the Langley School District in September.

Carrie Mitchell, a Kwantlen resident and mother of two high schoolers, has circulated a paper petition that has garnered 90 signatures, out of the 150 residents who live as well as work on Kwantlen’s IR 6 reserve on McMillan Island in Fort Langley.

Most of the reserve’s teenagers attend the school, just around 10 kilometres away from the reserve.

Currently, six Kwantlen teenagers are enrolled at D.W. Poppy – among them is Mitchell’s two daughters Madeline and Abigail.

Mitchell is concerned that students will spend an exhausting amount of time commuting to Aldergrove Community Secondary, the chosen feeder high school, if the plan goes through.

“It concerns me how early they would have to start busing,” Mitchell said, noting the struggles families already have getting their kids to-and-from school without vehicles of their own.

“We’re already far enough away from Poppy. We shouldn’t have to go any further,” Mitchell emphasized.

Cheryl Gabriel, a Kwantlen elder and education coordinator, was angered after attending the district’s latest input meeting at Fort Langley Elementary on Oct. 16.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” the elder said.

The transition committee had no indigenous people represented among its 23 members.

READ MORE: D.W. Poppy students rally against middle school

As an educator, Gabriel referred to the 2015-20 Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement (EA), which acknowledges that Langley School District resides in the traditional territories of the Matsqui, Kwantlen, and Katzie First Nations land.

In the Langley EA, it states that any changes that might take place “must be done in consultation with Aboriginal representatives.”

“They overlooked talking to us,” Gabriel said. “They said they did consultation… but one or two people cannot make a decision unless the community does.”

Gabriel alleges a few of the school district’s Aboriginal program educators were talked to, but none of Kwantlen’s leadership or families.

Carmen Back, a foster mother with a son that attends Poppy, did not know about the possible changes to the school until Mitchell came by with the petition.

Back worries that her child with autism, will face more complications moving to a school further away.

“We have to think of the children,” she said, many of whom are gearing up to start high school next year.

RELATED: D.W. Poppy middle school plans raise parent concerns

“I’m encouraging our people to speak up and use their voice,” Mitchell said.

The mother wants see option one go through, with portables placed on Poppy’s campus to accommodate middle school grades, until the school district is able to acquire $4.5-million in capital funding needed to renovate the facility for Grades 6 to 12.

Kwantlen’s community coordinator Donna Leon said she’s “been fighting to knock down barriers in local education and not create them – but that’s what I see happening here.”

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