Video games and online interactions are so much a part of children’s lives that students now distinguish between what happens IRL (in real life) and what happens in the digital world. It is logical for educators to want to venture into this new digital world and harness its potential to reach and teach today’s students.

Karl Hildebrandt recognizes the importance of digital and technological advancement in First Nations schools to keep pace with the modern world. He hopes to educate teachers and students about the benefits of learning through scholastic electronic sports, or e-sports, and becoming a part of a digital community that is diverse and inclusive and can adjust to the way students learn.

Hildebrandt is an education technology facilitator within the Manitoba First Nations Schools System (MFNSS), but he is also the director of Northern and Rural Esports for the Manitoba School Esports Association (MSEA). He helps MFNSS schools and teachers connect to online communities and use online platforms so they can work on lessons, but also to stimulate interactions between students who wouldn’t likely participate.

“With the growth of online communities, there are no limits to what students can accomplish. Teachers can better understand the way each student learns, maybe, help improve students’ mental health. When students realize their potential and learn to appreciate their abilities, their skills flourish,”

– Karl Hildebrandt,

One of the education sites that Hildebrandt likes to share with First Nations school staff and students’ families is Minecraft Education, a game-based learning platform that promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. While it is obvious how effective online tools can be for most students, these tools can also provide a means of teaching and communicating with students with individual and/or special needs.

Hildebrandt tells a story about a student with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) who thrived using Minecraft Education. Through Minecraft Education, he was better able to showcase his unique talents. Hildebrandt gives kudos to the student’s parents for understanding the barriers that make it difficult for their son to learn within normal settings and taking advantage of online gaming as a teaching tool. Through Minecraft Education, this student was able to build, create, and demonstrate concepts in French, such as directions, verbs in the present tense, and structures in French communities. The student even gave his teacher and classmates a virtual field trip of his replica of France’s Louvre Museum. The online environment allowed the student to use a range of audio-, visual-, and text-based options that made it easier for his skills to shine. Hildebrandt believes, with the support of the student’s parents and the use of the online learning environment, there are no bounds to this student’s learning capabilities.

“You do not need to be a gamer, an expert, or even interested in video games to start up an esports team at your school. If teachers want a new tool for creating a better student connection to school and a better way to relate to those students who may benefit from the digital environment, esports can provide this for them,” Hildebrandt says.

Improving mental health in First Nations schools is the main reason that Hildebrandt believes student connections to online communities are important. The online environment can help a student express thoughts, feelings, and goals, while gaining confidence by having social connections and participating in something they are good at. Through cooperative and competitive gaming, students can also better connect to their school and find motivation and encouragement to participate. The four C’s—communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking—are major factors in restoring confidence in students. Problem solving through authentic experiences in-game can give students the learning opportunity to create solutions to their everyday problems. Through these connections in online gaming, students can see things from different perspectives and learn how to give and gain acceptance from others.

Hildebrandt believes that ancient traditions can also be taught using new technology. “Old and new technology will always be passed down to the next generation, like the way teachings and life lessons are passed down by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. Students will thrive in upholding their roots and build better relationships with their teachers and peers by connecting the Seven Teachings to activities that are familiar to them, like online gaming,” Hildebrandt says.

Online educational gaming platforms can open doors for students, allowing them to create global connections and communities. By using online gaming in their classrooms, teachers can better understand how to use them for their advantage and, potentially, find a new way of addressing students’ mental health needs. Hildebrandt is excited to be a part of making that connection between online gaming and the Resource Centre and MFNSS schools.

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Educational panel gathered in semi-circle for document signing
MFNERC’s Executive Director, Charles Cochrane, attends the re-signing ceremony for the Manitoba Collaborative Indigenous Education Blueprint, along with government and education stakeholders representatives.

On April 14, 2023, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) was pleased to sign on to the Manitoba Collaborative Indigenous Education Blueprint (the Blueprint) and its efforts to engage and enact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action that mention First Nations education and the needs of First Nations students.

MFNERC’s Executive Director, Charles Cochrane, says First Nations youth are one of the fastest growing populations in the country and crucial to Canada’s long-term prosperity.

“First Nation young people are a rapidly growing population. Canada needs them to fill the roles being created as the baby boomers leave the workforce. Ensuring that First Nations students have brighter futures ensures that Canada will have the workers, professionals, and entrepreneurs to support the Canada of tomorrow,” Cochrane says. “The TRC’s Calls to Action lay out a path to a better education system, not just for First Nations students, but all students, as they gain a better understanding of what this country was and what it has the potential to become. The quest for education should not make students feel threatened or unwelcome, it should not be filled with unnecessary hurdles and challenges, it should not be narrowed to the point that it becomes a barrier to diversity. With that in mind, we are honoured to sign on to the Blueprint, with its goal of increasing the success of First Nation students at all levels of the education system.

Established in 1998 by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. (MFNERC) provides the province’s leading education, administration, clinical, technology, and language and culture services to First Nations schools in Manitoba. MFNERC also provides coordinated second and third level education services to Manitoba’s First Nations schools, including 42 First Nations schools from 38 Manitoba First Nations.

For more information:

Michael Hutchinson,

MFNERC Communications Manager


Cell: 204-228-0457

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Imagine seeing the world in two different ways at the same time—one vision of the past and one of the future. The term “Two-Eyed Seeing” is often used in research, health, and teachings within First Nations. The idea is to understand the strengths within two worldviews—Western science and Indigenous knowledge—and then bring them together to better navigate the modern world, maintain a positive sense of self, and build a foundation based in culture.

Brenda Daniels has worked with the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (the Resource Centre) as the First Nation language program researcher/developer since February 2022. A big part of her job is to meet with Elders to hear their perspectives on the best way to learn and teach a First Nations language. With their knowledge and advice, Daniels develops a language program to produce conversational speakers. An inherited passion for learning and sharing knowledge helps Daniels carry on the ways of her ancestors. She loves working with First Nations languages and seeing the impact on students learning their history, culture, and mother tongue.

Seeing how language can impact students is amazing because our language is so beautiful … it’s a living spirit and a gift,” Daniels says. “Back in the day, traditions were shared through the language, and before colonialism, that was how the majority of First Nations people were taught…”

“…I think if we can bring the languages back, hopefully, make fluent speakers, we will build strong youth and strong children, because that’s who we are as Indigenous people.”

– Brenda Daniels

Learning and acknowledging First Nations ways of knowing is important to understanding how the two worldviews contrast and how they can work together, which can then give learners better tools for looking at their own lives. Students learn about the differences between the two worldviews by comparing certain elements. For example, some are taught that the land is a resource to benefit from, rather than a relation that can teach.

“Being First Nations and understanding these perspectives means acknowledging and learning your traditional belief system. This has always been here, but because of colonialism, it can easily get lost,” Daniels says. “Our Elders spoke of the mino-bimaadiziwin, or the good life. First Nations’ Oral Histories and traditions can contribute to making a good way of life for all of us. With First Nation philosophies already in their minds, our students also have to learn the Western perspective, and utilize both to maintain a balance in life.”

For Daniels, Two-Eyed Seeing allows First Nations to honor traditional ways and adapt to the ever-changing world. When traditions and teachings are shared, it enables students to contribute their ideas and expand the conversation. First Nations people have always been adaptable and, in the past, have selected certain Western ways of doing things to integrate into their culture and communities so they could build a good life using the economy of the day.

Daniels believes that teaching Indigenous ways of knowing and being in a First Nations language shares a deep message because there are teachings within the language. Although learning a language can have challenges, she has seen students learn phrases and words quickly when hearing the language regularly. She believes storytelling and songs are a great way to start teaching traditions, language, and introducing these worldviews.

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Richard Keeper learned how to use the stars as guides when he went out on the land to hunt and fish. Now, he teaches his star knowledge within First Nations schools using an inflatable planetarium. Keeper hopes the teachings will help First Nations students find their way back to their culture.

As a member of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Keeper grew up on the land looking up to the sky for direction and knowledge. Now, working within the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (the Resource Centre), he facilitates a workshop called Cree Night Sky Stories. Keeper is honored to be learning more about different First Nations perspectives on constellations, and he is working with Resource Centre staff from other First Nations cultures to expand the star teachings available.

“It is wonderful speaking to the Elders. I was speaking to an Elder and he was telling me his stories that went with Pleiades, the constellation, and then he spoke about how he got lost once and used the stars to find his way home, and that led into a Creation Story,” Keeper says. “He’s a fisherman, and we spoke about moons and how they relate to the food he needs to catch—the white fish, the jack fish. And he wants to invite me back to the community because he has remembered more.”

Keeper thinks it is important to hand down such knowledge to today’s young First Nations people— to teach them that their people looked up to the sky and created a worldview that explained what they saw above.

“When we looked up at the stars at a young age, we may have often wondered how they got up there, and those questions always led to more questions. And it left us wondering about the creation of the world and how we all fit in it. Most youth have learned about space and all it entails through Western teachings in school, and it’s even carried on over to university and so on. But, there are some who may wonder, and even seek out, how Indigenous Peoples see the night skies,” Keeper says.

Keeper has travelled to three of the Resource Centre’s member First Nations since he started and has facilitated this workshop many times for First Nations youth. Keeper’s vision is to see more youth and students brought out to the land to listen to these stories and traditions while observing the night sky. Keeper’s workshops have received a huge amount of positive feedback from both students and schools.

“The kids can certainly be star-struck by the presentation. There are always a lot of oohs and aahs. We change the presentation based on the age of the students. We’ll use puppets for the younger ones, but when they get older, teenagers, we can use, say, the lessons of the moon to teach the deeper values of our Peoples. These teachings have been passed down through the generations for years and years,” Keeper says.

In the workshop, the stories of each constellation appear as visuals in the planetarium creating a better understanding of the star teachings. Through storytelling and songs, the students learn about First Nations stories and names for stars and constellations. Keeper says it is important that these views are valued the same as Western views on the night skies.

Indigenous stories of the stars, and even creation and human existence, are told by Indigenous Peoples all over the world, and Keeper believes that all nations under the stars have their own interpretation of the night skies. Western knowledge has been embedded into today’s educational curricula, but the goal of Keeper’s workshop is to pass on local Elders’ knowledge and teachings to local youth so they can learn and pass along their own culture’s perspective of the night sky.

For more information or educational resources check out Atchaksuk, First Nations Astronomy course.

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Some Elder’s say “You are the land your people live on.” The land’s influence touches everything from chores to etiquette to prayers. Even on the physical level, foods that mothers eat, harvested from around their homes, form the bodies of their children.

When people move onto land, they develop a lifestyle as they collect the resources needed to live. After a few generations, this lifestyle and the interaction with the other nations that live around their landscape become the foundation of the people’s culture and history. And as the people live on their land, as they reach up and the stars reach down, this becomes their deeper teachings about life, the Universe, and everything. This relationship to the land they live on is what makes a culture, or in Cree, ininiw pimatisiwin (a way of life). This relationship to the land they live on is what makes a culture “Indigenous.” It also explains why the peoples of the prairies live a different life than the peoples who live on the coasts, or in the forests, or near a volcano. The very lessons within the land are different.

Having grown up on the land as a Misipawistik Cree First Nation member, First Nations educator Norbert Mercredi now works as an expert on land-based teaching and First Nations games and entertainment. His people are connected to a river and were known in traditional times as the Namew Inniwak, or Sturgeon Cree. He remembers a time when all the toys came from the land.

“When I was young, we made all our toys. There was no plastic. We made our toys. When we went out, we would stay out all day. We didn’t go home to eat. We ate the fruit of the forest around us. The boys, we’d have contests to see who could swim the fastest up the river. The river was strong, moved fast, so it meant something to be the best. I don’t remember fights in those days. We competed against the river, and if you could be the best at something, everyone was happy for you for that,” Mercredi says.

Mercredi says the land was used extensively as a teaching tool during traditional times. For example, traditional place names often mention an area’s history or potential resources. To journey out to those places, to walk trails that First Nations ancestors walked, meant to learn the history and stories that went with the landscape. This connection to the land also explains why different First Nations cultures may name the geographical points in a landscape differently, as they may view the history that happened there from a different, and sometimes opposing, perspective. The alternate place names may highlight contrary perspectives on a battle, a meeting of people, or even the relative safety of an area. By walking through their traditional territory with their Elders, local youth learn their culture’s history and perspective on the land and the events that impacted their nation. Mercredi says this linking of the landscape and teaching doesn’t just exist in the realm of history but ventures into deeper beliefs.

“When we sat around the campfire at night, it was the stars that inspired the Creation Stories. Some stories were only told in the winter. Some lessons were only taught in the spring when the land was coming alive. Everything had its time and place. There were places and times for everything to be taught. There are sacred sites throughout what is now known as Manitoba that people would visit to learn certain teachings, where they would do ceremony. Teachings were often delivered through the ceremony itself,” Mercredi says. He adds, when it came to play, because everything was built from the land, the higher teachings of history, culture, and worldview were mixed with the bread-andbutter teachings of how and when to harvest materials for building toys and sports equipment, how to prepare an area and make it safe, and when certain games and teachings were appropriate.

“How do you clear the ice in winter? Well, you learn when you prepare for the kona kinepik or, as it is known in English, the snow snake toss. In this game, a stick is slid across the ice, and whoever can get their stick to travel farthest is the winner. To get through the snow to the ice, they would drag a log, tied to ropes, over the snow, which would clear a path for the sliding sticks.” Mercredi points out that this game improved hand-eye coordination for things like hunting. “Just by preparing and playing snow snake, a child would learn a bunch of different skills and tactics that would be relevant in their adult life,” Mercredi says.

Of course, the lessons learned through toys and play are just a sliver of the teachings available through landbased learning. Elder Florence Paynter believes revitalizing First Nations languages is crucial to carrying First Nations philosophies into the future.

“Language is so important to who we are. Our beliefs and values can be found in the language. When we take our children out on to the land, and we teach them how to survive, we can do it in our languages. In that way, we’ll teach them, not only general conversation, but the more in-depth and subject-specific language, like anatomy,” Elder Paynter says.

Elder Paynter was born and raised on the Sandy Bay First Nation and says everything she learned as a child was connected to the land. “We harvested our foods and medicines from the environment. This is what we are calling land-based learning today because many of our people are not thinking about the critical skills our children and their children will need in order to survive. It was through helping their Elders pick medicine, harvest plants for food and shelter, and hunt for food and resources that they were taught the knowledge and skills that supported their culture and survival.”

Harvesting materials often means harvesting them at a particular time so the properties of the item are suitable for the assigned use. For example, a medicinal plant may be harvested at different times in its life stages, depending on the treatment and the properties needed. A seedling may have different medicinal uses than the fruit of the adult plant.

“Some of these deeper, more specific teachings can’t be found in a book. You need to be out on the land to find the plant you want to teach about, to show the youth where it grows and why, how it is harvested and used, and to tell them why the relationship with that plant is important to their people. It is through those teachings that we will be able to make the youth, not only fluent in their culture and traditional skills, but also in their language, as they learn the more intricate and in-depth lessons,” Elder Paynter says.

Putting together something like a birchbark canoe involves a range of materials that all need to be harvested when the properties are best for the canoe. This required experimentation and knowledge of plants and their properties, rivalling modern biologists.

“Land-based learning is often about learning by doing. And this goes for language too. Learn it by using it. This philosophy of learning can happen in the home too. If you want to learn your language, wash dishes with your auntie and have her speak in your language while you both do it. You’ll be learning something, your auntie will feel valued and appreciated, and you’ll both have fun doing it. Most times, at the end of land-based learning, a lesson has been taught, a lot of fun was had, and a chore was accomplished,” Elder Paynter says.

Land-based learning offers many learning opportunities, and being close to nature has proven to have a calming and positive effect on hearts and minds. Recent studies have found that spending time within nature can improve memory and mental flexibility and increase attention span and control. While theories abound as to why this occurs, it is generally thought that being in nature triggers a physiological response that reduces stress. For teachers, this may result in students who are more interested in what is being taught and better able to retain the lessons.

Educator Mercredi says that being on the land, within a forest, or out on the lake has a calming effect that helps students learn. This is just one of the reasons he feels land-based learning is so important to revitalizing First Nations cultures and languages.

“Nature touches our hearts and minds. Mother Nature can help us calm down. I’ve seen students who went crazy in the classroom become calm and interested when outside. Going out on the land has an effect on our emotions. It’s hard to stay angry when you are out on the land. Even, just working on, you know, the nervous energy of students through physical labor has an impact and makes them more ready to learn. It’s so important that we reconnect all students to nature, but especially First Nations students. The very culture, history, and language of the First Nations students come from these lands.”

Davin Dumas, the Resource Centre’s director of Languages and Cultures, supported the development and completion of the Land-Based Education Support Document for Educators, a recent publication by the Resource Centre. “Within our newest teaching tool are lessons and strategies meant to promote mino-bimaadiziwin, or a good life, for First Nation students. The First Nation philosophies within the Support Document are based on the knowledge shared by the working group participants, who were representative of the Ininowak, Anishinaabe, Anisiniwak, Denesuline, and Dakota nations. The resource begins with foundational lessons, but then each unit delves into the activities and teachings that go with specific times of the year and the most appropriate activities for that season or moon. These lessons are then narrowed down to reflect each of the First Nation cultures so the lessons can speak to students’ local regions. The revitalization of First Nation languages, beliefs, knowledge, and skills is the focal point of the Support Document.”

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