A new provincial pilot project designed to promote the inclusion of Indigenous histories, cultures, traditional values and knowledge in the classroom, will soon launch in some Westman schools.
On Dec. 14, Education Minister Cliff Cullen announced the province will invest $275,000 in the program. School divisions tapped to receive funding include Flin Flon, Fort La Bosse, Frontier, Hanover, Lord Selkirk, Mountain View, Pembina Trails, Portage la Prairie, Prairie Rose, Mystery Lake and St. James-Assiniboia.
“Including First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledge and teachings in schools across the province will create space for our children to understand and celebrate the rich histories of Indigenous peoples in Manitoba,” Cullen stated in a press release. “This pilot project affirms our government’s commitment to truth and reconciliation at all levels by increasing school divisions’ capacity to develop and strengthen respectful partnerships with elders and knowledge keepers.”
Funding for the pilot program will help build Indigenous programming in the Mountain View School Division, said Supt. Dan Ward. The division will receive around $23,000 in two instalments provided in January and March 2022.
Three schools in Dauphin have been identified in the division for the project: Dauphin Regional Comprehensive Secondary School, MacKenzie Middle School and Whitmore School.
These three schools were chosen to host the pilot project based on criteria set by the province. This included identifying schools in the division partly based on self-identified Indigenous students and school-level socioeconomic factors.
“One of the most important measures of success for us is how many students and families we can engage in this process,” Ward said. “We already have elders in the school program. But with this, [what] we’re hoping to see through the pilot, that will continue into the spring, is just an increased number of students and families — whether it’s working with an elder in groups, or learning about corrective history; whether it’s learning about cultural practices and traditional values.”
He noted an Indigenous education facilitator has been working with the Mountain View School Division and an elder-in-school program has existed for a number of years.
The funding from the province will enhance established programs in Mountain View.
“It’s a short pilot project, but it provides more dollars for us to bring in more elders and the elders we’re working with more frequently,” Ward said. “Even before this pilot, one of the primary goals within our Indigenous education plan, we recognized that we have a lot of work to do in terms of reconciliation. A big part of that is to create schools that are welcoming to all children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, but to really emphasize the importance of reconciliation with the Indigenous communities.”
The division brought in an Indigenous education lead and launched an elders program prior to the funding in pursuit of this goal. Ward said the hope was to build and strengthen relationships with Indigenous families and communities in the Dauphin area.
The division is working to identify individuals who can help with the pilot, and planning is taking place on how resources will be used. The funding will likely double the capacity of programming in the three selected schools based on the funding already provided by Mountain View School Division.
The pilot project began with professional development for teachers before the holidays, and they are also communicating with students and families about initiatives taking place.
Programming will partially happen in the classroom, while other parts of the project will consist of working with groups as an extracurricular activity or outside regular classroom time.
Other aspects of the pilot project will be embedded directly into the curriculum and throughout the school day.
“Our plans are to look at what we have learned from this pilot project. Being that it is a pilot, there is certainly optimism that there will be some components that will continue. But even if we weren’t to receive additional grant money, we fully intend to learn from this pilot project and use the information and what we have learned to help guide us forward.”
Fort La Bosse Supt. Barry Pitz said the provincial funding will support elders and knowledge keepers coming to school and working with students and staff, and provide overall aid to the division’s continuous improvement plan.
Three schools — Virden Collegiate Institute, Goulter School and Virden Junior High — were identified by the province for $22,000 in funding.
“It’s important because one of our priorities in the school division is Indigenous education,” Pitz said. “We have an Indigenous education framework that forms part of our continuous improvement plan … stories and knowledge for all of our kids and staff in terms of Indigenous perspective is very important so that we become a very inclusive school and community for all of our kids.”
Pitz added the division has a close relationship with neighbouring Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation, located south of Virden. Canupawakpa is a feeder community for Virden schools, Pitz said, and has people who have helped facilitate events and talks with Fort la Bosse.
It has been invigorating knowing the division will be able to bring in more elders and knowledge keepers to work with students, Pitz said, in support of the strong local Indigenous education framework developed by members of the school community, including Canupawakpa.
“We have been quite progressive in our school division around infusing Indigenous perspectives into our curriculum as well as celebrating the culture. All this is going to be an extra boost to our schools and to our students.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun