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On June 11, representatives from CUPE 606 and the Cowichan Valley School District gathered in Duncan, B.C., with members of the Cowichan Tribes Band, to finalize a historic agreement bringing aboriginal workers into the school district and into CUPE

Cowichan Cultural Teaching Assistant Stuart Pagaduan said, “I can say without hesitation our membership in CUPE is a huge celebration!  We raise our hands in thanks to those involved in the negotiations. We see the value in becoming CUPE and we can relate it to our cultural teachings. In simple terms we help one another and treat people with dignity and respect. We look forward to unity and consistency in our workplaces. This is a new era in Cowichan. Huych’ qu (thank you),” said Pagaduan.

CUPE 606 president Rob Zver expressed pride and thanks at the signing ceremony. “In every person’s career there comes a time when you are most proud of your achievements. The signing of this agreement, which brings the Cowichan Aboriginal workers into the house of labour, is one of those.  Thank you for the trust you have shown, I raise my hands to you. Huych’ qu.”

The terms of the June 2010 agreement will see Cultural Teaching Assistants and Aboriginal Student Support Workers continuing under their current contract, with an appendix outlining a transfer process.  The agreement recognizes ancestral rights such as extended Bereavement Leave or Cultural Leave for initiation into Long House.

Ayn Cargill, CUPE 606 general vice president for the Cowichan Region, was active in the negotiations. “As we bring Cowichan Tribes members into CUPE, we open the door for other aboriginal workers to be a part of our union.  Hopefully other locals will follow our lead and ultimately we will welcome all aboriginal school workers into CUPE,” said Cargill.

The agreement, which covers ten workers, comes as CUPE is strengthening ties with First Nations’ organizations and preparing to mark National Aboriginal Day on June 21.  CUPE local 606 anticipates further agreements to cover school workers who are Métis and Halalt Nation members.