Gilbert Thrasher Sr. hasn’t allowed the residential school experience to sever his connection to the education system.
Thrasher Sr. was born and raised in Paulatuk, except for his years in Inuvik to attend residential school. He said he chooses to reflect on the positive aspects of that period of his life.
“All the public has been hearing for a long time is the bad side of it. There was a lot of good side of it that hasn’t been mentioned,” he said of residential school. “For a lot of us, it made us a much better person, if you just kind of do a lot of forgiving and don’t let that drive you down. There’s a future for yourself and for your children and your grandchildren.”
Thrasher Sr. has been serving with the Paulatuk District Education Authority (DEA) for close to 13 years and has been chair for the vast majority of that time.
He said he decided to get involved when he and his wife raised their granddaughter.
“When she turned 17 she was the lone grad here in Paulatuk,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Although his granddaughter completed high in 2016, Thrasher Sr. continues to chair the DEA.
“I always believed that my passion is the community. I would like to see a lot of grads coming out of here one day,” he said. “On the horizon, there’s a lot of activity coming our way. One of the big ones is the self-government process. I would like to make sure that we have a number of people that can fill in and work with the self-government process one day.”
Thrasher Sr.’s longstanding work with the Paulatuk DEA inspired his son to get involved with education board.
“My father had spoken to me and being one of the few graduates in the community (I decided) that I would try and get on the board and work with the DEA and the school to make things better for the children,” said Gilbert Thrasher Jr.
They served together during Thrasher Jr.’s six-year term, which ended last year.
“The big (goal) for me was to have the school be a safe and fun environment for children so they can be interested in getting back to school,” said Thrasher Jr., who added that he’s a supporter of trades options. “If you reach Grade 12 then you’ll be able to get in any trade you want.”
His father said he was happy to have his son at the DEA table.
“He’s very vocal and very helpful and I’m going to miss him for that (at the DEA level),” he said of Thrasher Jr.
Improving attendance; cultural relevance
To improve school attendance, a part-time community support worker was hired in Paulatuk, through sponsorship from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.
“(The community support worker is) the person who is building a bridge, (making) contact with the parents when the students are not in school, and checking to see why they’re not attending and encouraging the parents to please send their kids to school,” Thrasher Sr. said. “We’re hoping that will help big time with our attendance.”
In addition, Paulatuk’s Angik School has adopted attendance incentives such as offering monthly rewards to students who exceed 80 per cent attendance or better.
Thrasher Sr. said he grew up learning about American history at residential school, so he’s glad Northern culture and traditions have become commonplace for contemporary young students in Paulatuk.
“Like every other community, we are very rich with history,” he said.
An Elders at School program invites local seniors to come in and tell stories from yesteryear. Some elders offer sewing lessons while others share carving skills with the youth.
“We’re using a lot of local people that can bring in some very rich teaching with the school kids,” Thrasher Sr. said.