Lorne C. Keeper – Executive Director

Lorne C. Keeper was raised by his grandparents in Norway House, Manitoba. It was a time when people still lived off the land and the freedom and independence of that way of life was highly valued. “My grandfather stressed the importance of being educated because things were going to change. He started seeing people getting more dependent on things like the welfare vouchers, which of course he never took.”
Lorne learned from his grandfather that there was nothing that First Nations people couldn’t do. Joe Keeper had seen the world as a soldier and had represented Canada as a long distance runner in the 1912 Olympic Games in Sweden. Like most people did in those days, Lorne had to leave home in order to complete his secondary education. He graduated from high school in Winnipeg and when he left he couldn’t see himself ever going back to school. “Of course, when you leave school, you’re feeling rambunctious and at the time had little use for your teachers and you figure that’s the last thing I want to do with my life is be a teacher.”
As fate would have it, Lorne found the desire to be an educator in a roundabout way. He was out on his own after graduation and ended up in The Pas working at a local bar. One day he bumped into an acquaintance who asked if he wanted to work as a camp counselor with First Nations youth. “I just loved the kids and the kids loved me and I said this is what I want to do. I started teaching in 1975; I got a job in Nelson House and then moved on to Alberta. Over the years, I’ve worked in different education sectors. I moved up to Thompson and worked with Keewatin Community College, I was the executive director. The last twenty-two years of my education career has been with the Nelson House Education Authority and MFNERC, where I’ve been for the last 12 years. I’ve been in the education field for a long time.”
Lorne joined the MFNERC team soon after the organization started and has seen the centre grow and evolve year after year. The staff has grown from a handful of specialists to a staff of over 120. Lorne takes great pride in the high level of experience, education and professionalism that the staff exhibits. “All our specialists, those who work in the field and those that work in the office, all have special gifts. We are very fortunate.”
This is not by accident, he says. “We feel we have to attract teachers with a lot of experience in order to build that capacity in the skills that we serve. Many of our First Nations communities have a high turnover rate, many of the teachers are inexperienced. Our specialists work with the teachers to help build that capacity.”
Lorne connects the growth of the resource centre to the ongoing movement among First Nations to take back control of education. This is a testament of our leaders of the past. Particularly with ‘WABUNG: Our Tomorrows’, a position paper put forward by the chiefs of Manitoba in the early 1970’s. In the 1990s as Director of Education, in Nelson House Lorne sat on the committee that developed the Education Framework Agreement. “The EFA process did four rounds of workshops in the First Nation communities over a period of four years. They were on the road steady, asking people in the communities, ‘if you could have control over your own school system, what would it look like?’
At the end of the day, our people wanted something that was traditional and at the same time conventional. Parents want their children to know where they come from, who they are and where they are going. At that time they were starting to talk about turning over jurisdiction. It could have happened at that time, but I believe that things happen for a reason. I believe that we are headed in the right direction and this organization is leading that change.”
Lorne has seen the Resource Centre grow from a service on demand organization to one which takes on the role as a quasi-school board for the First Nations schools in the province. He believes the key to the Centre’s success is that it has not become a top down organization. “Our work is grassroots, we don’t go into the communities and say this is what you have to do. You tell us what you want to do and we will help you. In any system the focus of control has to lie within the community. The way we provide service is we build capacity. In order to control our own destiny we need to prepare for it.”


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