I am in Terrace as I write this column, sitting in my hotel room during “homework time” as a group drama enthusiasts from GidGalang Kuuyas Naay complete their daily homework. The students are missing regular classes to take part in an off-island drama festival. Amanda Buchan, a science and math teacher at the high school, is shuttling between student rooms as I write — my first alone time since we left Tuesday morning (today is Friday). In a couple of hours, we’ll be on stage for our first performance.
Last night, students opened the festival by performing theatre sports, leading sessions and watching plays from high schools in Terrace and Kitimat. Karl Argue performed in a debut performance of “Tom’s Space Suit” to great acclaim. Today the GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Drama Club will perform for the first time on a professional stage in a rehearsed reading of the play (later a full version will be performed at the high school for the community back home in Haida Gwaii). But it’s not all work. On Saturday, there’s a dance and students were busy shopping all week for the perfect “retro” dance gear.
Haida Gwaii youth are here because of you. The club raised over $8,000 to pay the travel costs to get to Terrace and take part in the festival. Parents, community members, the school’s PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) and Gwaii Trust all contributed. Gwaii Trust alone contributed nearly $4,000 to make this trip possible, an investment in youth, culture and community that will pay back in social dividends for generations. School District 50, through the high school, contributed an additional $2,000 to support the educational components of the trip. (That brings the total raised or contributed to over $10,000, reflecting the much higher travel cost for Haida Gwaii youth taking part in educational programs throughout the province.)
As everyone in Haida Gwaii already knows, traveling on and off island creates a barrier. But this barrier is more about government priorities than the depth of the Hecate Strait. Government policies determine the cost and timing of the ferry and the number of airlines who serve us. Government priorities are also reflected in how access to things like theatre and sports are either provided or denied to our community. I thought of this on the first day of the festival as our students walked on foot (without a word of complaint) from the hotel to the theatre venue as other schools’ busses passed by us. We were walking because van rentals would have pushed expenses out of reach. We took a bus to Terrace, making it hard to bring a set, props and other gear for our play. Mainland schools can easily take it for granted that all that’s needed is a school bus and a trailer. Add to that three additional travel days (with hotel costs for each day) and it’s no wonder that our school is the only one that will be sleeping in the gym of our host school over the final weekend of the festival.
Like I said, our students don’t complain. Be it trudging through the snow while other students drive by in busses, sleeping in the gym while other students sleep at the hotel, or working every day to keep up for extra missed days while other students only miss a half day of school to get here, our students seem to appreciate most the opportunity that they, with the community’s support, have made possible through hard work and effort. I appreciate the ‘can do’ attitude of Haida Gwaii youth. It’s a big reason why I choose to teach in School District 50. But the province should do more to support all students in remote and rural schools. Every student in British Columbia deserves equal access to clubs and sports, regardless of how far from festivals and tournaments their school happens to be. We’re fortunate to have Gwaii Trust to help cover the extra costs, but not every remote community has a Gwaii Trust. And even for our youth, it’s not enough to remove all the barriers. Haida Gwaii already does more than most communities to provide for its youth. It’s time for the province to contribute more, such as in providing remote school travel grants for school trips, so every student in British Columbia has equal access to education and well-being.