Indigenous Education Expands at FMPSD
Indigenous Education Expands at FMPSD
Indigenous Education is not an after-thought, or a slogan at Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD). It is a priority we do not take lightly, and as a result the initiative is growing across the Division with enrollment increasing every year. We have an estimated 599 Indigenous students, which is a 10.7% increase from the last five years and all our 16 schools have First Nation, Métis and Inuit liaisons. In addition, all four high schools have Cultural Gathering Areas, where Indigenous and all students can come together to participate in cultural activities and smudge.
Our students and staff participate and volunteer for annual Indigenous events such as Orange Shirt Day, Rock Your Mocs, Louis Riel Day, and the newly launched Athabasca Tribal Council Culture Days (photo below). Staff also sit on the Regional Aboriginal Recognition Awards (RARA) committee, and have strong relationships with many local Elders, and Indigenous organizations such as the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre, and Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA) - to name a few.
In October, we hosted Phyllis Webstad, the author of The Orange Shirt Story, which inspired the Orange Shirt Day campaign across the nation. The initiative raises awareness about the plight of residential schools. Melissa Purcell, a Dene member of Smith's Landing First Nation in Treaty 8 territory was our guest at December’s professional learning day, which saw 600 staff in attendance.
Purcell, who is an Executive Staff Officer, Professional Development, Indigenous Education with the Alberta Teachers’ Association in Edmonton (photo below) raised insightful points on how to improve Indigenous education in schools.
“Land Acknowledgment is an entry point, not an end point. It’s meant to start conversations. Reconciliation is a process. It’s fundamentally based on people, land and relationships. It is not “through learning about” Indigenous peoples, but alongside Indigenous peoples. Shift your perspectives,” she emphasized.
Purcell also advised everyone to avoid the FNMI acronym.
“Please take the time to say First Nation, Métis and Inuit to avoid generalizing. We need to uncover the truth and learn about our past to start reconciliation. The learning then moves towards understanding and seeing the positive contributions of the Indigenous peoples. Start with a place of strength, not a place of deficit. We have to be balanced.”
This balance is what Pollyanna McBain, FMPSD’s FNMI Cultural Navigator helps students attain. She also assists with organizing monthly Elder luncheons for Indigenous students at Composite High School, and cultural activities in schools.
“Indigenous Education is crucial for the development of strong leaders. As an Indigenous woman, for me, it is all about the next seven generations. Education is the base for success in all areas of life. I truly enjoy my connection to the Indigenous youth as a Cultural Navigator. I've been with FMPSD for nearly three years and each year adds more knowledge as I connect to both educational and Indigenous student needs.”
Angela Woods, FMPSD’s Indigenous Education Lead notes “Pollyanna has created and supported our cultural rooms for our Indigenous students to gather, share and study which helps improve their academics and attendance.”
“We have also created a professional learning group for staff, which gathers several times during the school year, in order to help build their foundational knowledge, and daily teaching practice which will assist our teachers in building their capacity with their Indigenous culture, history and traditions,” adds Woods, who is also the Vice Principal at Dr. Clark Public School.
This year FMPSD has initiated a land-based learning team of teachers who will take students out onto the land, along with Elders and Knowledge Keepers, to experience Indigenous teachings of trapping, fishing, canoeing, and many more outdoor, land-based Indigenous projects.
Annalee Nutter, FMPSD’s Assistant Superintendent, Education and Administration is excited for these developments.
“We are looking forward to launching land-based learning, which is about the culture of living on the land. Culture is the medicine to help these students become more resilient, building their self-esteem and helping them develop a well-lived life where they feel connected and empowered through meaningful Indigenous activities,” explained Nutter.
All in all, the future of Indigenous Education at FMPSD remains bright. We are working diligently to strengthen the initiative for our students, staff and community.
Orange Shirt Day at Christina Gordon Public School