School's handling of altercation may heighten racial tension, says Sipekne'katik mother

The mother of a 17-year-old Indigenous student who went into convulsions after being punched in the face at Hants East Rural High School says the school's treatment of the incident may be heightening racial tensions at the school.

Indigenous students made out to be 'bad guys' after student knocked unconscious, mother says

School officials are being criticized for their handling of an incident in which an Indigenous student was knocked unconscious. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The mother of a 17-year-old Indigenous student who suffered convulsions after being punched in the face at Hants East Rural High School says the school's handling of the incident may be heightening racial tensions.

Grade 12 student Cody Julian said he can't recall what happened after he was punched by a non-Indigenous student during lunch period on Wednesday, but the scrape on his chin means he hit the floor hard.

Julian said the attack was because of a disagreement the other student had with a friend of his in the summer, and did not have anything to do with race. 

Indigenous students 'singled out'

An ambulance and the local RCMP detachment were called. Indigenous students were also invited to discuss the incident in the library by the school's First Nations liaison officer, an employee of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board. 

The "singling out" of the Indigenous students is what Julian's mother, Cherie Brooks, said school officials need to change. 

"It wasn't a racial issue with my son and the non-Native until they gathered all the Natives [in the library]," she said. "They should have an assembly with all students. Stop singling the Native children out … It's making them very upset." 

Brooks said racial tension has been simmering in the community for decades, and that by not including the entire student body in a discussion about an Indigenous student being attacked, it's making the Indigenous students into "the bad guys." 

Cody Julian of Sipekne'katik First Nation had convulsions after being punched by a non-Indigenous student at Hants East Rural High School. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Shaznay Greer, another Grade 12 student at the school, said she felt alienated by the meeting. 

"We were excluded from all the non-Natives and we were held in the library. They made us talk about how we could've handled it and what we should do."

Greer said she was frustrated the non-Indigenous students weren't talked to about the incident, even after school officials said an assembly would be held. 

What's worse, said Greer, is that Indigenous students were subjected to racial slurs after the incident.

"One of my friends who was wearing regalia was spit on and called a 'dirty Indian.'" 

Shaznay Greer says she felt alienated by school officials' reaction to the incident. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Brooks said while the liaison officer's meeting with students is reasonable, she wants the school board to change its policies on dealing with altercations. She said the cultural background of a student shouldn't be a factor when dealing with non-racial violence.

"Deal with everyone in the whole school," said Brooks. "We need to address the problem, talk about it and then we can move forward."

School officials followed protocol

In an emailed statement, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board said school officials followed "the procedures in place for such an incident" within the provincial code of conduct policy.

School principal Mike Smith met with Sipekne'katik Chief Michael Sack and both leaders agreed "that this began as an isolated, non-racial incident that has the potential to be perceived as racial in nature."

The board did not provide an explanation for the Indigenous students being spoken to separately from the student body. 

RCMP officers were at the school on Friday. RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said an 18-year-old man is facing a charge of assault causing bodily harm.

Julian has a mild concussion but said he'll "turn the other cheek" and return to school without a worry about racial tensions or any further altercations.

With files from Paul Palmeter