This summer, an agreement in principle was signed between the federal and British Columbia governments to create a professional, First Nations-run school district to manage on-reserve schools.
“This represents a major organizing opportunity for CUPE,” says Richard Gauthier, a member of CUPE 3523 (Central Okanagan School District) who recently completed an Aboriginal mapping project for CUPE National.
Gauthier, drawing from an employee list representing more than a third of all bands in B.C., reached nearly every corner of the province in a quest to identify potential union members among First Nations employees. The project ran from mid- October 2005 to the end of March 2006.
The bulk of Gauthier’s work was to research where Aboriginal people live and work in B.C., determine who their employers are, and identify potential organizing opportunities.
“The government’s announcement is very timely,” he says. “There could be provincial school districts where you have only one employer, which from a union perspective could be a good thing, instead of dealing with little districts with eight staff. If they do move to forming a provincial school district, it will make it easier to negotiate contracts.”
Meanwhile, CUPE BC plans a follow-up to its successful Aboriginal gathering held in Kelowna two years ago. The second province-wide gathering will be held in Victoria Oct. 13-15.
“We’re really excited that this is happening,” says CUPE BC diversity vice-president John Thompson. “There have been so many positive outcomes from the first gathering in Kelowna, like the [B.C.] Aboriginal council being formed and the mapping project, to name just two. I’m sure the energy will be very high.”