Ann Whiteaker was voted in as new Greater Victoria School District board chair on Aug. 9, after former chair Jordan Watters resigned at the urging of four local Indigenous communities. (Ann Whiteaker/Facebook)

Ann Whiteaker was voted in as new Greater Victoria School District board chair on Aug. 9, after former chair Jordan Watters resigned at the urging of four local Indigenous communities. (Ann Whiteaker/Facebook)

New Greater Victoria School District board chair promises better Indigenous engagement

Ann Whiteaker takes over as chair, Rob Paynter as vice-chair

A new Greater Victoria School District board chair and vice-chair were elected Monday night after the former chair was asked to step down by four Indigenous communities.

Ann Whiteaker has taken over as chair from Jordan Watters, and Rob Paynter as vice-chair from Elaine Leonard. Trustees Diane McNally and Nicole Duncan turned down nominations for both chair and vice-chair roles and Paynter declined a chair nomination before accepting his vice-chair position.

The election was announced Aug. 3 when Watters revealed her resignation over Twitter, noting the board’s challenging year facing hard truths about its commitment to reconciliation and that the Four Houses (Songhees Nation, Esquimalt Nation, Metis and urban Indigenous community) had asked her to step aside. Leonard later resigned as well.

Rob Paynter was elected as the new Greater Victoria School Board vice-chair Aug. 9 after Elaine Leonard resigned. (Greater Victoria School District)

The board and district have been accused of systemic racism and have faced serious criticism for their approach to Indigenous communities and students.

READ ALSO: Greater Victoria School District board chair answers Indigenous call to resign

Whiteaker has over 20 years of education advocacy experience, including seven as an SD61 trustee. She said she understands the board has a lot to learn.

“This is not going to be easy. But, you know, we’re in education and we know that learning is not always easy. Sometimes it’s very hard, but that’s how we emerge transformed,” she said.

No clear solution exists yet for how the board will address issues of anti-Indigenous racism, Whiteaker said, but her focus will be on engaging with the Four Houses and Indigenous students and families.

“We’re going to ask big questions and, I think most importantly, we’re going to listen very intently to those answers.”

READ ALSO: School district’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

During Monday’s meeting, a public caller asked the new chair to commit the board to a third-party investigation of the district. Whiteaker said she wasn’t sure yet what approach the board would take, but that they want to learn from the past and acknowledge their mistakes.

Ultimately, she said, her commitment is to take the time necessary to engage with the community and find solutions.

“My bottom line is we’ll be slowing down a little bit. We’ve gone too fast and they’re not feeling heard.”

Paynter agreed, saying his focus will be on developing deep and meaningful long term relationships with the Four Houses. Going in to fix something from the outside is destined for failure, he said, so it’s vital the board truly takes the time to understand what Indigenous communities’ perspectives are.

In May, he was one of three trustees who added his name in support to an open letter by artist Carey Newman, when the latter resigned from the Indigenous ad hoc committee and called for change.

READ ALSO: ‘Pattern of systemic racism’: SD61 Indigenous committee member resigns, calls for change


Do you have a story tip? Email: jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Greater Victoria School Districtsd61