Canada's first Indigenous student trustee wants more of his culture in the classroom

Canada's first Indigenous student trustee, Tehatsistahawi (Tsista) Kennedy wants to see more of his culture incorporated into the provincial school system.

Tsista Kennedy wants to help Indigenous students reconnect with their roots

Tsista Kennedy, Canada's first student Indigenous trustee. He was elected to the Thames Valley District School Board last week. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Canada's first Indigenous student trustee wants to see more of his culture incorporated into the education system "to help move our people forward."

Tehatsistahawi (Tsista) Kennedy was elected to the Thames Valley District School board last week.

The grade eleven student at Saunders Secondary in London said he was "overwhelmed with emotion" when he learned he had been chosen from a field of seven Indigenous students, each representing a different Thames Valley school.

Kennedy was a guest on CBC's London Morning on Monday. He told host Rebecca Zandbergen he wants to help Indigenous students re-connect with their culture.

"I'd like to see a lot more land-based learning, because I feel that being connected with the land is a big part of our culture. So to incorporate that would improve our cultural learning a lot," he said.

The chair of the Thames  Valley board, Matt Reid, said the idea of having an Indigenous student trustee was first suggested by last year's student trustees.

"We have … two other student trustees and they thought that having a dedicated role for an Indigenous student on the board was an important voice we needed to promote and make sure was present at the board…They were very smart," he said.

Opportunity to shape school policies

It's a position that other school boards are now looking to emulate,  "to make sure that voice is present at the table," Reid added.

Like the two other student trustee positions, the Indigenous position is a non-voting role on the board.

"But they do have the ability to help shape the policies and discussions  that we are talking about, whatever the issue is, from school closings to policies that affect the students ," said Reid.

Kennedy said since moving to London last year, he has noticed a definite improvement in opportunities for Indigenous students with the Thames board. "And there's a lot more involvement in the culture. However, I feel there's a lot more that can be done."

Kennedy said he's noticed many high school students in the Thames system are open to learning about Indigenous culture. He noted that history classes and language classes are quite full.  And, he said, Indigenous students need to feel that support.

"It's who we are, it's what our history is," said Kennedy, adding that it the support will help Indigenous students succeed in their education.

Reid said the success of the new trustee position will depend on whether other trustees listen to student leaders and reflect their concerns in their decisions.

"That's really the litmus test," said Reid.

Kennedy said he plans to listen to others as he embarks on his new role, including the candidates he competed against for the job.

"I want to keep my focus on not just Indigenous students but everyone as a whole. However, my main focus will definitely be Indigenous students," he said.