New Initiative Will Boost Alberta Aboriginal Education

By Clint Buehler

EDMONTON – A new collaboration between the Alberta government and Alberta First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) in creating Education Partnership Council has established a First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Partnership Council to guide the future direction of FNMI education in Alberta.

The Partnership Council’s mandate is designed to identify and complement the work already being done in FNMI education in the province and is Alberta’s next step stemming from discussions at the Summit on Aboriginal Education hosted by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) earlier this year.

“First Nations, Métis and Inuit children and youth are integral members of Alberta society and are critical to Alberta’s future. They must have access to all the opportunities available to other Albertans,” says Alberta Education Minister Dave Hancock. “This Partnership Council will work to foster in every FNMI community a belief in education as a foundational value necessary for the success of their people. As leaders in our province, we commit to instilling in our communities the importance of education, and we will strive to close the achievement gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners.”

The Partnership Council’s membership will include the Alberta Ministers of Education, Aboriginal Relations and Advanced Education and Technology; Grand Chiefs of Treaties 6, 7 and 8; and the presidents of the Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Settlements General Council. The ministers and the Aboriginal leaders have invited eight community representatives with knowledge of and experience in First Nations, Métis and Inuit education to participate on the Council.

“The FNMI Education Partnership Council fully supports our Treaty 7 education and cultural goals of improving and achieving higher educational success for all First Nation learners,” says Treaty 7 Grand Chief Charles Weasel Head.

Council members will work together to identify and co-ordinate strategic actions to which the partners can commit, individually and collectively, to align programs and services to meet the needs and unleash the full potential of FNMI learners in the province.

“We look forward to working with the FNMI Partnership Council,” says Gerald Cunningham, president of the Métis Settlement General Council. “This is a positive direction that will support our strategies in improving education initiatives and goals for our Métis learners.”

Hancock and Gene Zwozdesky, Alberta minister of Aboriginal Relations, along with Alberta’s Aboriginal leaders, attended the Summit on Aboriginal Education, hosted by CMEC in February. CMEC and FNMI leaders agreed that although some educational improvements have been made, there is still a significant gap in education achievement between FNMI and non-FNMI students across the country.

“Addressing barriers to education is a critical part of achieving broader successes for Aboriginal students,” says Gene Zwozdesky, Alberta minister of Aboriginal Relations. “Creating this Council is a very positive step toward developing even stronger relations with our Aboriginal partners.”

The CMEC Summit participants also raised issues such as the need to focus on early learning opportunities, the education funding gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners, the limited participation of FNMI peoples in postsecondary education, and the shortage of quality school infrastructure on reserves. Participants also underlined the need to ensure that curricula reflect Aboriginal perspectives.

“Access for all Albertans to quality post-secondary education is a priority for this government,” says Doug Horner, minister of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. “The Council will give us a forum to focus on the common goals that unite us, such as strengthening student achievement, improving graduation rates, and ensuring smooth career transitions.”

This initiative supports Alberta Education’s goal to ensure Success for First Nation, Métis and Inuit Students. Alberta has the third-largest FNMI population in Canada, and the Alberta government recognizes the need to develop specific strategies to meet the education needs of FNMI students.

In addition to the Ministers of Education, Aboriginal Relations and Advanced Education and Technology; Grand Chiefs of Treaties 6, 7 and 8; and the Presidents of the Métis Nation of Alberta and Métis Settlements General Council, the following community representatives were selected to participate on the Education Partnership Council, based on their knowledge of and experience in First Nations, Métis and Inuit education.

Elmer Ghostkeeper Elmer Ghostkeeper is a member of the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement. He has participated in various provincial education boards in Alberta. He was Regional Manager of Aboriginal Health Services for the Capital Health Authority in Edmonton where he developed a unique program to help people live with and manage diabetes. His formal post-secondary education includes a diploma in Civil Engineering Technology from NAIT, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta, Department of Anthropology, and studies for a Masters of Arts Degree in Anthropology at the University of Alberta. He was also a Native scholar for Aboriginal awareness on subjects taught through McGill University (1998).

Mike Beaver

Mike Beaver is member of the Bigstone Cree Nation. He is a former chief and was most recently elected as a council member. He was an Elder member of the Native Education Policy Review Advisory Committee which assisted in the development of the FNMI Education Policy Framework. Mike is also a Traditional Land Use Study liaison for Bigstone Cree Nation.

Lewis Cardinal

Lewis Cardinal is a Cree from Northern Alberta. Currently he is the Vice President of the Board of Directors for Aboriginal Voices Radio (AVR), Canada’s first and only national Aboriginal radio network. He is a PhD candidate in Indigenous People’s Education at the University of Alberta. He was a 2007 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Award for Public Service as well as the recipient of the Alberta Centennial Medal for his work in the area of Human Rights and Diversity. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, he also holds the position of Chair of the Circle Alberta Project. He has worked on various committees and been involved with the City of Edmonton Urban Aboriginal Accord.

Thomas Erasmus

Thomas Erasmus is originally from Lac La Biche and has strong ties to Alberta’s north and to the province’s Aboriginal community. He currently works as an Aboriginal affairs consultant liaising between Aboriginal stakeholders, government and corporations. His previous experience focused on offering support services and assistance to Aboriginal youth and Aboriginal communities in the areas of health, public education, and adult education. He has served as Chair of Portage College Board of Governors and on the Campus Alberta Committee Board of Chairs. He was also a representative on Alberta’s Commission on Learning.

Inier Cardinal

Inier Cardinal is a member of the Gift Lake Métis Settlement. He is currently Chair of the locally-elected school board and is a member of council and part of their education committee. Inier also serves as a Trustee of Northland School Division #61. His formal post-secondary education is a Bachelor of Education degree in 2004 from the University of Alberta. He is a proud father who is passionate about improving the quality of education for the Aboriginal community.

Jeannette Hansen

Jeannette Hansen is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta and currently sits on the Board of the Métis Nation of Alberta Local Council #8 as President; Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3 as Secretary; and the Medicine Hat Métis Trading Company Society as Treasurer. She has been the Executive Director of the Miywasin Society of Aboriginal Services in Medicine Hat Alberta since 1997. Jeannette has been working, volunteering on various boards in the Aboriginal community for the past 18 years.

Evelyn Good Striker

Evelyn Good Striker is of Lakota/Dakota ancestry. She was born at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan and raised on the Standing Buffalo Reserve. Evelyn received her early education on reserve and in the public school system. Her formal post secondary education included a Bachelor and Master of Education from the University of Lethbridge. Evelyn recently retired from her position as director of Alberta Education’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Services Branch where she helped build strong relations, supports and services for FNMI children in Alberta.

Dr. Leona Makokis

Leona Makokis is a member of the Kehewin Cree Nation and has been president of the Blue Quills First Nations College since 1992. With her doctorate in Educational Leadership, Dr. Makokis has dedicated herself to supporting the growth of programs that balance traditional indigenous knowledge and language with contemporary experience. She has received several awards recognizing her contribution and commitment to advancing indigenous education, most recently being honoured by the University of Alberta Alumni Association and Athabasca University.