It was a historic day for the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation on Wednesday, as they celebrated the official opening of the first ever Canadian Indigenous school system.
1,700 students from ten area schools will form the new Manitoba First Nations School System, a system that will be completely operated by the First Nations community.
It’s a massive step forward for education at Sargent Tommy Prince School, which is one of the schools effected by the changes. They’ll now be receiving funding per student that is on par with provincial levels — which means they’ll be able to decide on how they can teach.
“We can add a First Nations lens and culture-driven programs for our children that fits their needs,” Kevin Kipling, Director of Education in Brokenhead Ojibway Nation said.
“When we do that kind of stuff and add culture and history of our people to our children, it builds their self esteem, their self worth, and their confidence.”
At Sargent Tommy Prince, the funding increase announced today means new programs that address mental health, new staffing, and renovations to their buildings. That will also means a more hands-on learning approach that will involve hunting, trapping, and gathering, as the faculty instills traditional Indigenous methods into the minds of their young students.
They’ll also be able to reintroduce their students to their native Ojibway language.
“It’s a historic day,” said Kipling.
Rhonda Mischaud, who is the principal at Sergeant Tommy Prince School, said Wednesday is a day she’ll be talking about for decades.
“This is a vision we had for years,” said Mischaud. “To be a part of the history that happened today is going to be something our kids remember.”
The funding and school division was officially announced last December, but those involved say it has been in the works for six years.
It made national headlines last week when some of the students made a video extending an invite to Wednesday’s ceremony to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While he turned down due to scheduling, he sent a message back to the students thanking them and telling them to reach for the sky.
But while Wednesday’s announcement is a massive step towards equality for many of these Indigenous students, Kipling said it’s just the beginning of a long road ahead for Canada.
“It was education that put us in this mess as far as residential schools and the sixties scoop and all that,” said Kipling. “But it’s going to be education that’s going to pull us out.”
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