Indigenous needs aren’t ‘static,’ says student school board trustee

Ezio De Stefano, 16, ‘excited’ to be first Indigenous student trustee of Ottawa school board

Grade 11 student Ezio De Stefano says Indigenous perspectives are “crucial” when discussing Indigenous issues in school and education. De Stefano, an urban Inuk, is the first-ever Indigenous student trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

An Ottawa school board’s new Indigenous student trustee says she’s ready to advocate for her fellow Indigenous students.

Ezio De Stefano, 16, is in Grade 11 at John McCrae Secondary School in the city’s Barrhaven neighbourhood.

In September, she’ll take on the newly created position at Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. It’s a first of its kind in Ottawa, according to school board spokesperson Darcy Knoll.

“I was very surprised but I was very excited,” De Stefano said when Nunatsiaq News caught up with her between classes on Wednesday.

“It’s really my thing. I’m excited to fill this position and hopefully help other Indigenous students thrive in their classes.”

The trustee role specifically for an Indigenous student was created to amplify Indigenous voices in educational decision-making processes, Knoll said in February.

Approximately 1,500 students, or two per cent of the student population of the Ottawa-Carleton board, have self-identified as First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

De Stefano considers herself an urban Inuk. She’s always lived in the south, but has family roots on Baffin Island.

In 2019, she moved to Ottawa from Edmonton, skipping a grade in the process. The experience of that cross-country move inspired her to run for the position.

“Moving here from Alberta, it was a bit of a complicated process. Because of my age, they wanted me to skip a grade,” she said.

“That was a very difficult transition for me, both academically and socially, and I received very bare minimum support for that, especially as an Indigenous student.”

When she learned a trustee position had been formed specifically for an Indigenous student, De Stefano jumped at the opportunity to help represent her fellow Indigenous classmates across the city.

“My first thought was, this is the position for me,” she said.

“I have a meaningful experience to contribute and hopefully [can] use that to help bring more Indigenous students to a place like where I am right now.”

She said she believes her experience gives her empathy for other Indigenous students’ experiences, as well as the capacity to ask critical questions about Indigenous issues in the school system.

De Stefano submitted a video and written application that was added to the ballot. She won against two other candidates in the election, held Feb. 28.

As part of her duties, De Stefano will attend conferences at the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association and attend student senate meetings and board meetings along with two other student trustees for the Ottawa-Carleton board.

While she won’t have an official vote on the board, she’ll be able to consult with other trustees, share opinions and advocate for Indigenous students.

“There’s a lot of responsibilities that come with the role. It’s going to be hard to keep up with, but I think I’m up to the task,” she said.

Having an Indigenous perspective on the board is crucial when addressing Indigenous issues, De Stefano said, and could help ensure Indigenous students receive equitable access to resources, mental health support and more.

“Our needs aren’t static,” she said.

Her favourite subjects at school are English and history. When she’s not learning about computers, studying with friends and keeping up with current events, De Stefano likes to study languages, particularly French and Spanish.

She welcomes Indigenous students in the school board to reach out to her if they have something on their mind.

“I’m an open book,” she said.

“Never be afraid to shoot me an email, contact me and advocate for your community. You should never be ashamed of trying to do better for your community and trying to improve your standard of school.”

 

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by Moving Targets on

    Has this Urban Inuk been raised by Inuit parents?
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    What exactly is meant by, “I received very bare minimum support for that, especially as an Indigenous student”? I believe as somebody that has been raised in the South, the experience of advancing a grade while moving from Edmonton to Ottawa, although potentially difficult, is really no different than a person of any other race/culture doing the same thing. What additional supports should an urban Indigenous person have for this experience that somebody else should not?

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    • Posted by iThink™ on

      In this context “as an indigenous person” is an utterance meant to advertise distinct sociological status, and to expect a particular kind of reception from the world. It is a way to remind us that one is member of a unique class of that has endured unique hardship. It is an identity marker that says “I am a victim because my ancestors were victims.” Therefore, any experience of hardship is an injustice, to be met with pity, outrage and quick redress from the world around me. That world, after all, has victimized me.

      Of course, we all suffer hardship is life. The ‘narzissmus der kleinen differenzen’ (narcissism of small differences) tells us ours is unique and informs and marks a distinct identity which must be emphasized lest that identity be lost.

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    • Posted by anonymous on

      this is a very bad question, obviously the support would be from an indigenous student support coordinator, and they would help the student integrate and feel welcomed into a new environment. this could be inviting the student to community events with other indigenous students from ottawa, counselling, arranging tutoring, helping to acquire funding for their education needs from indigenous organizations and MANY more. use your brain for something other than writing elaborate bad questions and you’ll find the answer is right in front of you 🙂

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  2. Posted by Colin on

    Skipping a grade on arrival in Ottawa from Edmonton is not all that surprising. Alberta schools do a significantly better job than most schools in Ontario. That said, a parent told me of her son moving from Rankin Inlet to Ottawa expecting him to go into Grade 7. But his level of schooling to that point rated at Ontario’s Grade 3 level.

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  3. Posted by Karen Orser on

    As an Urban Indigenous parent, I feel your comments are a little off base considering none of you have met Ezio or endured a school system that just sees you as Indigenous. But I respect your views and I neither Ezio are surprised at yet more unfounded criticisms lol

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    • Posted by Strong Similarities I See on

      So, kind of like Nunavut where the system that just sees you as ‘white’ and doesn’t care if you are Anglo/Franco/Canadian or a recent immigrant?

      Good to know of the similarities of our systems and how non-dominant ethnic groups are seen.

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      • Posted by Karen Orser on

        I guess so, that’s the thing about participating in public schools! If you’re the minority, it can be a tough go of it! Which I find frustrating as often adults are telling kids to celebrate diversity and differences! But not always so great at putting it to practice

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        • Posted by iWonder on

          What makes being in a minority (when, increasingly, our schools are the place of pluralities) a difficulty?

          I also wonder what you mean when you say there are problems putting ‘diversity’ into practice?

          Maybe a problem with the growing fanaticism around ‘diversity’ is the expectation it creates among everyone with an identity that their ‘voice’ fill the room. Anything less is a failure somehow.

          This kind of narcissism seems inevitable when we place collections of fantasy and fiction at the center of a childs being in the world (adults too, for that matter).

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