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'Proud Indigenous woman' furious about 'segregation' of students at BC elementary school

A “proud Canadian Indigenous woman” has spoken out about what she considers “segregation” and “bullying” at a British Columbia elementary school.

Emily Duggan, 37, said she is appalled that Indigenous students were taken to another room in the school and given pizza while they completed the annual Equity Scan survey.

She said her daughter, who is eight and attends the school, came home after the Feb. 21 event and asked her: “Was I not invited because I’m not brown like Grandpa?”

Duggan said she chose not to register her daughter as Indigenous at the school – Brent Kennedy Elementary in Crescent Valley – “because we’re so mixed it seemed to make no sense.”

But the event, she said, has created “turmoil, jealousy and resentment” in the Kootenays community, with children’s friendship groups affected by the apparent “special” treatment given to Indigenous students.

<who> Photo credit: Emily Duggan </who> Emily Duggan.

One child even said they “don’t like the Indigenous anymore because they got pizza,” Duggan, who said she is part-Cree and part-Oglala, claimed. Similar claims have been made on social media in response to the incident.

Duggan also said two siblings – an Indigenous boy and a non-Indigenous girl – were both in the room for the survey, but only the boy was given pizza.

The superintendent of School District 8, which oversees Brent Kennedy, told NowMedia the event was concerned with the Kootenay Lake Aboriginal Education Equity Scan.

“While students completed their individual surveys on the topic of Indigenous experiences at school, they ate pizza provided by their Aboriginal Education teacher,” Trish Smillie said.

The pizza was selected by the Indigenous students at the school, Smillie added, and handed out “to encourage community and fun” among the children while they filled out the survey.

“The pizza was paid for through funding provided by the Ministry of Education and Child Care earmarked for the Aboriginal Education program,” Smillie explained.

<who> Photo credit: RCMP </who> Brent Kennedy Elementary.

“Brent Kennedy Elementary holds many events and celebrations for students and their families throughout the year. Those events sometimes include pizza or other food.”

But Duggan – who is a trustee candidate in a by-election in neighbouring School District 20, and who has previously been at the centre of controversy because of her strong opposition to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in BC schools – said she was not satisfied by the superintendent's explanation.

After she learned about what had happened, she attempted to arrange what she called an “inclusive pizza party” at the school.

She first spoke with Brent Kennedy’s principal, Jenn Kooznetsoff, who, according to emails seen by NowMedia, agreed the party could go ahead.

Duggan said she then told a nearby Domino’s Pizza branch about her plans and worked out how much it would cost to provide every student at the school two slices of pizza. The price was about $900, she said, and she was willing to pay for it herself.

When she told other parents, she said, some volunteered to help, and even chip in to pay for the food.

But Kooznetsoff later emailed her to cancel the party, adding that she had approved it “prematurely.”

The principal said that, “after further consideration, reflection and discussions,” she had determined that the party could “create division and convey an endorsement of the viewpoint that the Indigenous equity scan day, coupled with a pizza celebration, lacked inclusiveness.”

<who> Photo credit: SD8 </who> Trish Smillie.

She added: “It is essential to clarify that we do not share this perspective.”

Duggan, however, said that was a “weak excuse” and ignores the central concern – that children were separated according to their ethnic identity.

She claims Kooznetsoff has stopped responding to her attempts at further communication.

“It’s 2024,” she said. “We know better now.

“When are we going to stop trying to get even with dead people? I say that as a proud Canadian Indigenous woman."

She added: “Members of my family are horrified. It’s not what our ancestors would have wanted.”

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