This article came from MFNERC’s magazine.

By Tamara Eaker Content Development

Last updated | Monday, July 3, 2023

Having First Nations school psychologists working with youth in the schools affiliated with the Resource Centre provides a deeper understanding of shared experiences and cultural differences. Modern psychology, built around a European perspective, often lacks room for First Nation’s cultural insights and has a narrow focus on diagnosing flaws and shortcomings. A Resource Centre in-house school psychologist, Patricia Petti, participated in a Master of Education in School and Applied Child Psychology program designed to address a shortage of First Nations school psychologists in Manitoba. This education opportunity was created in 2016 when the Resource Centre partnered with the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education to create a unique cohort for First Nations students. This graduate program centered on academic robustness and First Nations’ ways of knowing and practices, as Western educational systems have historically caused hurdles for First Nation students.

During her previous work as a social worker, Petti noticed gaps and misunderstandings between Westernized testing measures and First Nations perspectives. Preconceived biases often lead to overgeneralized and simplified assessments of students’ needs and behaviors, which do not accurately reflect fundamental aspects of their identity. For example, as a mother of three, two of whom are on the autism spectrum, Petti has seen the impact of individualized support on her children’s abilities. “My two youngest kids are on the autism spectrum, so they need much support. My middle child, up until two years ago, was non-verbal. The positive change in him was due to the support that acknowledged and met him on his level of ability, and that has helped his abilities. There is a lot of potential there, we just must work with the students’ individual needs and meet them in a way that creates positive results,” Petti says.

Valuable Research Study on Working with Indigenous Students

She points to a recent study she took part in, called, “A Qualitative Report of the Experiences of Indigenous School Psychology Trainees Working with Indigenous Students,” which discusses the hurdles First Nations clients often face when experiencing Western psychology methods and philosophies. Petti sees behaviors and reactions in her students that she can personally relate to due to the long-term effects of intergenerational trauma.

She points to a recent study she took part in, called, “A Qualitative Report of the Experiences of Indigenous School Psychology Trainees Working with Indigenous Students,” which discusses the hurdles First Nations clients often face when experiencing Western psychology methods and philosophies. Petti sees behaviors and reactions in her students that she can personally relate to due to the long-term effects of intergenerational trauma.

“There are so many gifts that are often forgotten or overlooked in these assessments. Most outsiders only see the exhibited behaviors and do not realize that they are representative of an unmet need,” Petti says. “You don’t want to reward bad behavior, so the opposite is usually implemented. However, when there are a lot of traumas, punishments do not cultivate the desired behaviors. Instead, they create only feelings of wrongness in the child. These students need praise, one-on-one attention, and a safe connection with an adult. When students feel good about themselves, they not only treat others better but then can do their best.”

One of the report’s significant findings is that there should be a provincial board of regulation for school psychologists. The Manitoba Association of School Psychologists (MASP) has been trying to acquire a regulatory body for 40 years. Regulation would mean appropriate oversight, review, standardized training, and cultural inclusivity to serve the diverse body of students.

Petti believes that all these changes can come about. School psychologists should use their training to create an inclusive learning environment that recognizes and values Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, benefiting individual students and the First Nations. She is also honored to work alongside educational staff on the ground, who are working towards creating a healthier change in the First Nations.

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This article came from MFNERC’s magazine.

If you found part two first, please go back and read part one here

By Tamara Eaker Content Development

Last updated | Monday, July 3, 2023

The 1969 White Paper and Wahbung

In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, unveiled a policy paper that suggested Canada would end the special legal relationship it had with First Nations peoples, including the dismantling of the Indian Act. For First Nations, while the Indian Act was a racist piece of Canadian legislation, it did recognize their separate history and their relationship with the land Canada sat on. The changes within the “White Paper” meant that First Nations would never be treated like Europeans treat themselves in their homelands. Instead, First Nations would be treated as individuals who immigrated to either the English or French parts of Canada. This was unacceptable for First Nations.

Premier Harry Strom, Harold Cardinal and Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs, 18 December 1970.

The announcement of the “White Paper” gave First Nations across the country something to stand up against. The National Indian Brotherhood was founded in 1970, and it immediately presented the “Red Paper” written by Cree leader Harold Cardinal. In Manitoba, the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood produced Wahbung: Our Tomor- rows in response to Trudeau’s suggested changes. The main assertion within Wah-bung was that First Nations had a right to self-determination.

Elder Ross was inspired by the unity she saw as First Nations in Manitoba and across the country began to protest, push back, and propose new ways of doing things that put First Nations people at the centre of their own governance and education.

Wahbung was created by all the Chiefs back in the day when the association was called the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says. “All the Chiefs were involved, and many educators were also involved in responding to that “White Paper.” And the document that came out was Wahbung. The people said we want control of our lives. We want control of our education system. We want to teach our traditional ways of living. We want to teach our languages. We want First Nations educators.”

Within Wahbung, the Chiefs of Manitoba stated: Education as a program of government has fallen tragically short of its objectives of Indian advancement. As a tool to develop the capability to participate equally with the rest of society, the education process has been notably narrow in its concept and rigid in its approach. The time has come for a drastic change in the orientation of education in order to pursue a program of education in its broadest context, a program designed to include all aspects of the community so as to ensure that all people have adequate opportunities to improve their knowledge and expand their options. The provision in the treaties for schools on reserves must be interpreted in a present context to mean comprehensive education for Indian people.

In the early 70s, Knowledge Keeper Arthurson was a teacher, trying to put her beliefs about educating First Nation students into action. But she remembers the leadership within Manitoba coming together and standing behind Wahbung.

“When it came to Wahbung, what I remember is that we as First Nation people have a right, we have a right to teach our children what they should learn,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says. “And the second part of that was, we have the responsibility to do so. That was the big takeaway I got from Wahbung. They made a strong statement that we have a right to teach our children what they need to learn, and we have a responsibility.”

Replanting the Seeds of First Nations Control of First Nations Education

Due to the protests and political pressure, the “White Paper” was withdrawn; however, the government continued to explore ways to redefine Canada’s relationship with First Nations. This process was again

impacted by the differing relationships First Nations had with the federal government, its departments, and the province they were in. This led to a hodgepodge of situations across the country, from the absorption of residential schools into a new Indian Affairs schools system to schools being folded into provincial systems, to First Nations taking over a few schools, mostly under the direction of the federal government and forced to use the provincial curriculum.

In the late 1980s, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) (formerly the National Indian Brotherhood) did a study on the situation experienced by First Nations across the country, including in the area of education. This included a look at the different education issues, shortfalls, and solutions that had been found.

It was at this time that Knowledge Keeper Arthurson moved from behind the desk in the classroom to involvement in political and policy push for First Nations control of First Nations education. She was hired by the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) (formerly the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood) to carry out a similar study, including a comprehensive community consultation on the subject of education with First Nations throughout the province.

“Grand Chief Phil Fontaine asked me to look at all the documents and the position papers and the proposals that had been written in Manitoba on First Nation education. The late Shirley Fontaine was hired to help me carry out the community consultations. It was an interesting experience. We went throughout the province, and we heard the complaints, concerns, and recommendations of First Nation leadership and families on the subject of education,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says.

Unfortunately, the previous 20 years of a scatter-shot philosophy for education on the part of Canada resulted in little forward movement. The system was still, in- credibly underfunded, which made it impossible to resolve long-standing concerns, create equality with the Canadian student experience, or deal with new demands due to changes in technology, the environment, and the economy.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says, “What I found was all the same issues were there. Everything that First Nations had been raising in terms of what was wrong with education, and what needed to change 20 years earlier, was still there. With the exception of two things: by starting local control, now, they had labor issues that they never had to deal with before, because Indian Affairs did that. And now, they had technical issues because they had to start using computers.”

The work on education in the late 1980s led to the creation of the Framework Agreement on Indian Education in Manitoba, which was signed in 1990 and included the concerns collected from all the First Nations in Manitoba. The push for better education and the action of First Nation political leaders led to a greater feeling of unity throughout the province. Across Cana- da, the Chiefs from Manitoba were seen as leading the way in education for First Nations children and youth. Elder Ross remembers that time as one of the First Nations people coming together.

“For the Framework Agreement all the communities were involved,” she says. “Hundreds of people were involved. This really woke everyone up and they wanted to be involved. And they put forth their wishes of what should be in the Framework Agreement. They wanted equitable funding. They wanted to teach their languages again. Almost every time they had the chance to ask, they asked to teach their languages, their traditional ways.”

The Political Push for First Nations Control of First Nations Education

The relationship be- tween First Nations and Canada was not working on a number of levels, and

the legal and political powers of First Nations were increasing across the country. This push for change was, in no small part, motivated by the many tragedies that were lived out by First Nations men and women, living in or visiting Canadian cities or towns. In Manitoba, the long-run-resolved murder of Helen Betty Osborne and the police-shooting death of J.J. Harper led to the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry,   which delivered a report in 1991. At the federal level, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (RCAP) was created in 1991. RCAP was commissioned to investigate the relationship between Canada and First Nations. RCAP’s report was delivered in 1996. Both the inquiry and the commission led to recommendations, which included changes that impacted the delivery of First Nations education and the need to address the purposeful erosion of First Nations languages and cultures.

The political push by First Nations leadership within Manitoba by Chiefs at the community level, by AMC, and within AFN led to further discussions with Canada on a new framework for the relationship between the levels of Canadian government and First Nations within Manitoba, and what that would look like. These talks led to the Framework Agreement Initiative (FAI) in 1994. The FAI was a multi-year project that would see First Nations discussing and investigating how they wanted to define and maintain relations, not only between First Nations and Canada, but also among themselves, as they organized into groups that could, possibly, share laws, governance systems, and resources. Due to the importance of future generations to First Nations, this discussion and funding flowed into the area of education and spurred thinking on the creation of a First Nations-controlled, accredited, and supported education system that produced its own teachers and staff, as well as supported and reinvigorated local languages and cultures.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, it took two years for the government to respond to RCAP’s report. In 1998, the government brought in the Gathering Strength Initiative, which they described as, “a long-term, broad-based policy approach designed to increase the quality of life of Aboriginal people and to promote self-sufficiency.”

Elder Ross said that First Nations did not feel they were consulted on Gathering Strength and, while Canada was acting on RCAP’s report, First Nations perceived Canada as acting on only those recommendations that spoke to its priorities.

“The name, Gathering Strength, didn’t come from the Indigenous people. It came from the government,” Elder Ross said. “But we picked up on that and we wanted to strengthen our First Nations schools. And we did that, and we were successful. It was almost like we turned the tables around.”

The resistance by First Nations caused the government to realize that consultation with First Nations as equal partners in the process was the only way to create forward movement and systems that effectively met the needs of the extremely varied First Nations across the country.

Throughout 1998, First Nations leadership and Education Directors within Manitoba held numerous meetings, coming together at their own cost, to create a better understanding of immediate concerns and how to reach the goals outlined within their Education Framework Agreement.

“The Gathering Strength discussion paper, what the government put out for First Nations, did not have much weight, it was only piece-meal funding for all First Nations,” Elder Ross recalls. “But in Manitoba, the First Nations came together. They said we are not going to accept this funding now, like individually. We are going to come together and create a system because we want those services that we were never able to get in our schools. We want more than what this Gathering Strength is going to give us.”

The funding from Gathering Strength was woefully short of what was needed to create a First Nations-controlled education system or create parity of funding with provincial schools. However, it was enough for a start.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says First Nations Education Directors soon realized the funding could also be more effective if it was shared.

“After Gathering Strength, the government came up with $800,000 as a regional allocation for Manitoba. The $800,000 was supposed to spread to all the First Nation communities to share for education,” Knowledge Keep- er Arthurson says. “I think some of those communities were allocated, you know, a few thousand dollars, which was not going to do anything for anyone. So, the first decision was made to, well, let’s work collectively. Let’s look at economies of scale, let’s look at sharing our resources, and let’s purchase things together, so we pay less. All those types of really good ideas started to surface and simmer, and they decided to set up a resource centre and start looking at hiring staff to work together to deliver these types of services and help our communities that couldn’t really afford it on their own.”

The Creation of the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre.

In December 1998, due to a push from First Nations Education Directors and through a resolution of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, First Nations leadership within Manitoba created the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (the Resource Centre). The hope was that the meager seed money could be pooled within the Resource Centre, which would then become a venue for First Nations to access services, specialists, and resources for their schools and students. AMC established the Resource Centre to provide coordinated second and third-level education services to First Nations schools in Manitoba.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says the creation of the Resource Centre is a modern expression of traditional philosophies surrounding the sharing of resources and not taking more than your due. She says it was very uplifting to hear the larger communities that could secure a larger per capita share of the funding decisions to help the smaller First Nations, whose amounts would leave them with little to make change.

“When you think about how our communities survived out on the land, how they had to work together, to bring in the harvest and gather enough food to survive for the winter,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson explains. “To be able to live together in harmony, without getting into the conflict that can happen when in close proximity. Collective thought, collective action, and harmony are very much First Nations teaching. It carries on and can be used, very effectively, in building and working together. So, you take your resources, you share them, and then you end up with more.”

The Resource Centre was asked to provide services and also to work towards the creation of a First Nations school board and the ability to develop and produce teaching materials that are specific to each First Nations language and culture within Manitoba. However, in its beginnings, the Resource Centre was a handful of educators, experts, technicians, and staff dedicated to improving First Nations’ control over First Nations education.

The trailblazing and high professional standards of the Resource Centre’s early staff quickly brought

it to the attention of Canadian and First Nation leaders, and it soon received a commitment for long-term funding. This commitment and funding were further solidified in March 2000, when an agreement was made for multi-year funding based on a five-year strategic plan.

While First Nations within Manitoba now had better tools to work towards the goal of First Nations control of First Nations education, the funding per student, the process of securing funding, and the use of nominal rolls were all significant challenges to parity with the Canadian educational experience. The nominal roll system involves counting students on particular days to define funding. If children are absent on the days of the counts, they will continue to be educated without the school having the proper funds to support them.

While the Resource Centre was being created and growing, many First Nation students were still within the provincial and federal system, which didn’t share the goals of First Nations control of First Nations education or the reinvigorating of First Nations languages and cultures.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says provincial schools fail because they are not focused on the real needs of First Nation students.

“One of the biggest reasons why provincial school divisions and schools fail is because they are teaching our children to be someone else,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says. “Not to be proud of who they are, not to recognize that they have their own rich heritage. The school itself doesn’t recognize these kids have a rich heritage. Our people have to learn to be proud of who they are. It has been taken away through the residential schools and through everything that has happened since colonization.”

A Tug of War—First Nations Education As a Political Football

As First Nations’ demands for self-governance, control of education, and proper government funding and services grew, the rising financial and human resources needed by the Canadian government to meet these demands resulted in greater public scrutiny and the costs used as a negative talking point within Canadian politics.

In 1996, the same year the RCAP report was released, the Canadian government, under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, imposed a two per cent cap on increases in First Nations education. This impediment to the growth of First Nations education was maintained by all Canadian political parties for the next 19 years. Throughout the decade of 2000–2010, the progress towards First Nations control of First Nations education was often defined by the back-and-forth of Canadian politics.

In April 2000, the auditor general delivered a report that looked at First Nations education at both the community and post-secondary levels. Using the number of post-secondary graduations as a baseline, the auditor general found First Nations significantly lagged behind Canadians when it came to successful outcomes in education. The recommendations within the auditor general’s “2000 Annual Report” led to the Onward to Excellence strategy in 2001.

In 2004, Canada’s auditor general once again looked at Indigenous education and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s progress on the recommendations from April 2000. While some progress was reported, many of the same problems persisted. Throughout this time, the Martin government maintained the two per cent cap on First Nations education, even though its funding was still far behind other Canadian education funding. Within Manitoba, in 2004–2005, First Nations political efforts, as well as the work of the Resource Centre and Education Directors, brought Canada to the table to discuss an education plan that would lead to greater curriculum development, the expansion of First Nation resources—including libraries—and greater access to technology for administration and teaching.

Starting in 2004, AFN and the Government of Canada held round-table discussions on improving the quality of life for First Nations, including talks on governance and education. After a year, Prime Minister Paul Martin proposed an agreement that came to be known as the Kelowna Accord, which included $1.8 billion for First Nations education. Soon after, the Liberal government fell and, in 2006, a new prime minister, Stephen Harper, was elected to a minority government. While the Kelowna Accord passed in the House of Commons in 2007, the Liberal defeat ensured it would be defined by the Conservative government which stated it shared the same goals but not the same commitment to the funding or strategy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper secured a ruling that called the Kelowna Accord non-binding.

As soon as the Conservatives had control of the government, the Liberals began to use Indigenous education as a small political hammer. They insisted the fall of the Kelowna Accord was evidence of Conservative apathy for the goal of improving Indigenous lives. In 2008, following the residential school apology, the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) began seven years of listening to residential school survivors and their experiences. However, given any political payoff from the TRC was uncertain and years away, the Harper government was looking for another win in the “Indigenous” column and asked for proposals and suggestions on Indigenous education.

Throughout this time, First Nations in Manitoba had been pushing, using the Resource Centre and other means, for better education funding and the expansion of First Nations education. This work led, in 2006, to the creation and funding of a System Working Group that worked on researching and developing further improvements to education, and the funding of the Education Directors position as a full-time role within the First Nations themselves. In 2008, further funding increases were announced after MFNERC’s “Education in Transformation” proposal.

After an election held in Vancouver in 2009, the Chiefs elected education expert Shawn Atleo as National Chief and gave him the mandate to secure a new agreement on education from Canada. Within the AFN system, the election of a National Chief with experience in a particular area signifies the priority the Chiefs place on that issue or concern within their communities. Shortly after the election of National Chief Atleo, AFN rereleased a report that was originally published in 1972, called “First Nation Control of First Nation Education.” At this time, in Manitoba, AMC and the Resource Centre worked on a concept paper that pro- posed the creation of regional education systems that would bring First Nations control and resource sharing closer to the community level. The political movement on Indigenous issues, and the growing concerns of Canada regarding employment and the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation from the workforce, resulted in Canada and AFN, under National Chief Shawn Atleo, creating a national panel to carry out regional sessions on education. This resulted in a report called “Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nations Students” that promised to put First Nations children and accountability at the center of reform. The report recommended the co-creation of legislation on First Nations education, a national commission, adequate funding, and a commitment to facilitate and support First Nations education through regional organizations.

In May 2011, a Winnipeg Free Press article on the Ro- seau River Anishinaabe First Nation’s (RRAFN) Ginew School blamed its poor quality of education on local leaders. Roseau River’s Chief, Terry Nelson, threatened the closure of the school due to the quality of education that he felt was caused by Canada’s chronic underfunding and lack of proper support for First Nations education. In the resulting discussions between Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and RRAFN, the Resource Centre was brought in to look at ways to address and resolve the issue with the hope of keeping the school open. These efforts led to a proposal submission, approved by AANDC and RRAFN, that would see a partnership agreement with the Resource Centre as a three-year pilot project.

In 2012, the Harper government tabled legislation called the First Nations Education Act (FNEA) that it said flowed from a collaboration with AFN and National Chief Shawn Atleo. For a number of reasons— from legitimate concerns about the legislation to the political ambitions of individuals to the fact the legislation was crafted by a political party that has a bad reputation with First Nations— the FNEA inspired a strong backlash from First Nations leadership and education professionals across the country.

Of course, there were also numerous parties, First Nations and Canadian, that saw the FNEA as a starting point for First Nations education, which included $1.9 billion of much need funding for First Nations schools and systems. In Manitoba, under Grand Chief Derrick Nepinak, AMC came out strongly against the Canadian legislation, fearing it infringed on Treaty Rights, it would erode First Nations’ control of First Nations education, and that it might supersede previous arrangements between Canada and First Nations in Manitoba. Due to the backlash, in 2014, the FNEA legislation, now called, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act, was rejected by the AFN’s Chiefs-in-Assembly, which basically resulted in the death of the bill. The conflict also resulted in the resignation of National Chief Atleo, who hoped his leaving would reduce tension within the organization. As Atleo departed, he encouraged First Nations to continue to pursue the goal of First Nations control of First Nations education.

Also occurring during late 2013 and early 2014, at the request of Chiefs, the Resource Centre went out to various First Nations to provide an overview of the school division concept, now referred to as the Partnership Transition Initiative (PTI). This proposal would see the creation of a First Nations school division, administered by the Resource Centre. Over 20 First Nations requested a presentation resulting in 10 potential partners to start the proposed school division.

The Trudeau Years: Promise and Persuasion

In 2015, Justin Trudeau was elected as prime minister of Canada. Soon after, he was quoted as saying, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples.” Since that time, the Trudeau government has promised much and de- livered some.

Although the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act was never enacted, the topic of First Nation education was still top of mind for First Nations and those Canadians aware of the country’s looming employment concerns. First Nations found a willing partner for reform in Prime Minister Trudeau, if not in the departments that held the purse strings.

In the same month, Trudeau was elected, the TRC delivered its report on the experiences of residential schools, and how to heal from that negative history. The TRC spent six years traveling to all parts of Canada and heard from more than 6,500 witnesses- es. The TRC also hosted seven national events across Canada to engage the Canadian public, educate people about the history and legacy of the residential school system, and share and honour the experiences of former students and their families. The recent TRC report meant many people expected the new prime minister to address the Commission’s recommendations, many of them on the subject of education.

In the few years since the issue on the Roseau River First Nation was resolved, in part, with an addition to their education funding, numerous First Nations who witnessed this funding bump insisted they deserved an increase as a matter of equality. At this time, all the hard work by the Resource Centre and others on the Partnership Transition Initiative (PTI) paid off as the groundwork for a new First Nations school division came to fruition.

In December 2016, the Resource Centre, First Nations leaders, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) (now Indigenous Services Canada, ISC), signed Education Governance and Delegation Agreements, authorizing the brand-new Manitoba First Nations School System (MFNSS) to provide educational programming and enhanced supports to First Nations schools.

Fulfilling the vision of First Nation’s leadership to take back control of First Nations education, MFNSS assumed responsibility for administering and managing elementary and secondary education pro- grams and services for 10 First Nations, with more than 2000 students, in July 2017.

The new school system was designed for First Nations by First Nations. The

Resource Centre, in partnership with First Nations, established MFNSS to support student, staff, and school administration, consistent with a mandate from First Nations leaders through the AMC. While respecting First Nations control and Treaty and Inherent Rights, MFNSS was mandated to support schools to improve the quality of education, improve academic standards, and increase student outcomes, including retention, completion, and graduation rates.

Since that time, both the Resource Centre and MFNSS have continued to grow. This growth includes evolving services to support First Nations in teaching languages and cultures. Two newly organized departments within the Resource Centre have increased efforts in language revitalization and support, control, and care of specialized services for students. These two departments are Languages and Cultures and Inclusive Education Services.

The Languages and Cultures department provides in-school and First Nations services in all school subject areas, including First Nations languages, outdoor education, and cultural-based activities. In addition, the department is developing instructional resources to support the teaching of languages and cultures in this territory’s five First Nations languages. Assisting with the development is a publishing team that completes the graphic design, editing, and printing of all resources created.

The Inclusive Education Services department provides direct, one-on-one (first level), specialized services for students with additional support needs in First Nations schools. The care and oversight of the range of services are important to ensuring students receive quality services. An emphasis is placed on providing services from a First Nations approach and not from Westernized ideologies.

The Future of First Nations Education

Due to the efforts of First Nations leadership within Manitoba and organizations like the Resource Centre, as well as the constant pressure from the First Nations grassroots families who want the best for their future generations, First Nations control of First Nations education has taken hold and continues to grow.

Now retired, Elder Ross says she sees a future where First Nations are accrediting their own teachers and have complete control of their children’s education. She says she has always been honored to be working for First Nations families and students.

“I want to see a system of our own, not only what we have right now, we want total control,” Elder Ross says. “We even talked about a First Nations Ministry of Education. Like, why do we get accreditation from the province? Can’t we do that by ourselves? I hope we’ll be able to go that way and accredit our own teachers. We are now able to offer training to First Nations people that work in the schools: educational assistants, resource teachers, and other specialists in speech and language. And recently, more training is offered for staff attaining their master’s degrees and PhDs. There have been many milestones on this journey.”

Also retired, Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says that even though she has witnessed a lot of struggles in the fight for First Nations’ control of education, she is certain the future is positive. She is proud of the work that First Nation leaders, families, and the Resource Centre have accomplished.

“I always think things are looking up, given where we were and how far we have come,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says. “We need to acknowledge the number of people, many of whom we have lost now, who have put all their passion into building First Nations education systems, into correcting the wrongs that have been done. Those who worked to make First Nations stronger, so they were able to deliver an education system to their children in spite of the lack of money. Despite always having to do a better job, or 10 times more, with less money than mainstream schools get. We need to acknowledge all those people that went on before us, and the passion they put into doing this work, and we have lost so many of them. I was honored to work with many of them, as well as the ones that are still here. Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for all you’ve done for First Nations children and youth.”

In the beginning, the Creator gifted First Nations peoples with children, thereby giving them the right and responsibility to teach their future generations. Despite many, many challenges, the First Nations within Manitoba, their leadership, and their families have worked hard to meet and maintain these Creator-given responsibilities and make the best future possible for the next seven generations.

back to news

This article came from MFNERC’s magazine

By Tamara Eaker Content Development

Last updated | Monday, July 3, 2023

First Nation’s ways of learning

In the beginning, the Creator gifted First Nations peoples
with children, thereby giving them the right and
responsibility to teach their future generations lessons
learned from their experiences on the land.

The path of First Nations education in what is now known as Manitoba is a long and interesting story, which begins with the thousands and thousands of years when First Nations had full control of their children and their lives. The knowledge needed to live in the sometimes-harsh environment of these lands was deep, extensive, intricate, and crucial in both the good times and in the times of scarce resources.

During this time, children learned through oral teachings and a learn-to-do-by-doing philosophy that saw children following and watching the older generations carry out the tasks of living. Other learning tools in- included maps, ceremonies, memory prompts, songs, and birchbark or hide scrolls containing symbols. Historical locations were used as teaching tools, as well as the constant repetition of lessons and stories from the Elders, family, and visitors.

Elder Rebecca Ross says, for First Nations families, teaching their children how to create a good life was an expression of love. When it was safe, the children stayed with their teachers to watch their role models work, chat, and carry out the activities of the day.

“When the parents, the grandparents, were out there on the land, they took the children. They experienced and saw how their parents and grandparents did things. They were right beside them, even the little babies were right there too,” Elder Ross says. “In the warmer weather, let’s say in the spring, summertime, and fall, the land was the classroom. In the wintertime, families lived together. And they shared the teaching of the children. They were actively involved, even the extended family.”

Many Elders say that the lessons of the Creator are found in the land. As people collect the resources for survival (food, shelter, clothing) from the landscape around them, they develop a lifestyle. After several generations, that lifestyle, and the events and stories that occur within the people and with the surrounding peoples, become their culture and history.

This link to the land makes a people and culture “Indigenous.”

It is also the reason why First Nations peoples are not surprised that people from different landscapes have learned different lessons. In this worldview, given the expansiveness of the Creator and the many varied landscapes of Creation, it’s not surprising that people who live on a coast may have different beliefs, lifestyles, worldviews, and values than those who live beside a volcano or on the prairie or in the deep forest. Indigenous cultures and societies are defined by the landscapes they live in. This meant that First Nations education was directly linked to their land. It was their workbook, history book, and blackboard.

Elder Ross says that First Nations teachings were holistic to ensure future generations had all the tools they needed for survival.

Knowledge Keeper Virginia Arthurson, a long-time educator, has done much to contribute to the growth of First Nations education on these lands. She is grateful to have experienced traditional teaching systems when she was out on the land with her family as a young girl. “I was one of the lucky ones. I experienced a lot of that upbringing, as we were being raised in  Misipawistik. As children, we were taken out on the land to learn how to do these things. If our family was gathering roots or picking berries, we were watching what was going on, and being able to see what the adults were doing, hearing them interact in the language, just basically being there with the rest of the group,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says. “A lot of that was the seeing, the hearing, the listening, the watching, and then practicing how to do things, learning through play how to do things that their adults were doing. Many young ladies will remember making little black bannocks. You would practice making a bannock with your mom or your grandma and play with it until it was black. But grandma would still cook it.”

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson believes that student assessments during this time were more stringent as well as more holistic, as they had to consider not only the survival of the individual but the survival of the group. When the student became a working adult, the effectiveness and skill of their contributions became vital to the whole.

“They mastered those skills and that’s when they were recognized as ready to go on to the next level. Schools today, they do a lot of social passing. Kids go on to the next Grade whether they are ready or not. Our way of doing things was mastery, taking in those lessons and understandings so that when you got through those lessons you already had a deep understanding of what was being taught, the philosophy of what was being taught, and the skills to carry out the necessary tasks,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says.

Treaty Times

An alteration of First Nations education occurred after contact with Europeans and their goods. As the access to metal pots, knives, and other trade stuff became more dependable, the lessons surrounding the comparable First Nations technologies eroded. For example, consistent access to metal pots meant lessons surrounding birchbark pot-making was not as vital. Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says First Nations people knew a good thing when they saw it. “Our people evolve. Learning evolves. Our people knew when they saw a good thing. Why would you run around using a bow and arrow? if you have the advantage

of getting a gun? So, one of the things that changed our way of life and our education systems, learning how to do things, was the change in the economy when fur trade goods began to come in. Just being able to survive in an easier manner. When you had better tools to use, education changed.”

First Nations experienced the arrival of European explorers, then traders, then missionaries, and finally government representatives. It was at this time that many First Nations, familiar with the idea of a treaty due to the conflicts, trade, and relations with their Indigenous neighbors from different cultures, began to send letters to Ottawa, petitioning Canada for a mutually beneficial agreement. When the making of the Numbered Treaties started in 1871, the Chiefs of the day had specific requests, and it became obvious that they had their future generations in mind.

Elder Ross says that hundreds of years of trading with and witnessing Europeans and then Canadians meant that First Nations had an idea of what they agreed with in European cultures and what they didn’t see as productive or effective within their environment and society.

“What they wanted was to use some of the tools of the white man, but they still wanted to maintain their traditional ways of life. They still wanted to have their traditional ways of educating their children. And to maintain their languages, their ceremonies, and their songs. And all those things that they had prior to contact,” Elder Ross says.

Elder Ross says First Nations did not view the treaties as giving up anything, but rather as agreements to mutually share in the benefits of the land. “They asked for all those things they had before contact—their economic system, their education system, their health system, and their laws. When Canada made the agreements with First Nations people, they were agreements between the two nations, and these agreements are what our Elders to- day call Eternal Law. It’s a law that means forever and ever, as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the waters flow. And today, all these three things are very much alive, so the treaties are very much alive.”

While First Nations saw that settlers had much to teach, there was also much they saw as not compatible with their worldview. For example, First Nations were often bothered by the way European individuals often valued themselves over the collective good of their people. First Nations are a collective culture and society, and they wanted their children to maintain the wider viewpoint.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says First Nations want- ed to take the best from what they saw, but also keep the best in their cultures, which included the etiquette, values, philosophies, and skills that kept them alive in a harsh environment.

“Of course, they wanted them to keep them. They also held values, sharing, and caring for each other, being kind to each other—all those things that would build harmony in a community. We learned a lot of values that maintained harmony and strength in our communities. Our people knew that lifestyle and they wanted their children to learn that. They knew the philosophy and the teachings were contained in the language. The lessons given to us by the Creator were contained in our language.”

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says that when the Chiefs asked for access to European knowledge, they recognized the idea of elementary-level learning as compared to expert-level learning. For example, First Nations Chiefs were not asking to just learn how to shoot a gun, but also the specialized, expert knowledge that is needed to make a gun. They recognized that there were some higher levels of learning within European cultures, and they wanted access to all of it in a way that allowed them to take what was best for them and leave the rest. “If I remember correctly, they wanted an education system much like the Queen Mother was providing for her children. For me and First Nations people that meant lifelong learning. We’ve had pretty strong pro-tests when Canada stated that post-secondary education is not a Treaty Right because it goes beyond Grade 12. Our belief is that education is lifelong, so when you say you want the same level that the Queen provides her children, it means lifelong,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says.

Imposition of Indian Act, Indian Agents, and Residential Schools

While First Nations saw the treaty-making as an agreement to share, for mutual benefit, the knowledge and resources that each treaty party had, Canada saw the treaty signing as a surrender of land and First Nations agreeing to come under the power of the Canadian government. The Indian Act was passed shortly after the Numbered Treaty process started, which gave Canadian bureaucrats the authority to impose Canadian perspectives on the treaties. Indian agents formed the front line of the enforcement of the Indian Act and the desire to control First Nations and destroy their ability to act as groups. Residential schools and holding on to First Nations children provided the leverage that gave the Indian agents their power.

Elder Ross says it was the desire to control the land and the people that was the real goal of Indian agents and the schools. That meant breaking the link within First Nations families, which then destroyed the thread of cultural teachings.

“I’ll mention my grandfather. My grandfather’s sons went, his children, his daughters, all went to residential school,” Elder Ross says. “The residential school was down the street, and his home was near. So, my grandfather traded with the residential school for food, and he gave them fish. And he had his sons there, and when he wanted to see his son, when he took his fish, he couldn’t find his son, because he was out there in the bush working. And when his son came out, he was dressed in rags. And when the son asked my grandfather, ‘Can I go home with you?’ the response was, ‘Oh no, you are not going home.’ That’s the way it was. That’s the sad part.

Families were broken up.” Elder Ross says that this disconnection from family is the main reason for the many social issues on First Nations today. The shadow of residential schools and the break in the teaching of First Nations family values have hampered later generations, survivors, and their children when it comes to being good parents. “The bond they had with their children was taken away. Even when the children were five and six, they were still taken away, so they lost that relationship with their children. They couldn’t parent their children. They couldn’t love their children. And that’s the intergenerational impact that’s affecting us all as First Nations people.”

In his 1905 and 1906 reports, the Chief medical officer for Indian Affairs, Peter Bryce, found that residential school students were dying at a high rate due to tuberculosis, and he described the schools as “tuberculosis factories.” Not only were the conditions disease prone and unsanitary, Bryce questioned how much the schools were actually teaching. At the time, most teachers in the schools had no training and most students left the schools with little ability to read and write. These facts underline that residential schools were sources of leverage for the Indian agents and government as compared to a real and effective effort to educate.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says First Nations were herded on to reserves be- cause Canada wanted control of the land. To ensure future control, Canada also attacked First Nations worldviews, values, and laws. “So, they put kids in residential schools and started taking the kids away from the parents. And that is basically what the intent was—to kill the Indian in the child. They took the language; they severed the connection—that transmission of knowledge that went from great-grandparent to grandparent to parent to the child. And the biggest impact and intent of the residential school was to separate families.”

It should be noted, throughout much of this time, most rural and small-town Canadians were solving their education needs with close-to-home schoolhouses, usually with locally hired and qualified teachers.

WWII and the Impact on Residential Schools

Shortly after making the treaties, Canada passed a law that, in effect, prevented First Nations from hiring lawyers to address their concerns surrounding treaties and treaty implementation. This included specific claims involving shortfalls in land measurements and the failed delivery of promised farm tools and funding, but it also included the First Nations’ concerns regarding residential schools and Indian agents. This led to decades of ineffective education in the residential schools as well as oppressive social engineering on the part of Indian agents.

During World War II, First Nations, per capita, provided more soldiers for service than any other group in Canada. When these First Nations soldiers returned home, they carried new knowledge of how Europeans treated their own people in their own countries, and they had a better understanding of city-based economies, politics, and human rights. With this information, they immediately began to fight the oppressive systems that held First Nations back from defining their own futures.

Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says, “After the world wars and all that, our people were coming back, they were more knowledgeable. They learned a lot of things while they were out there fighting wars. You know, they brought back knowledge to the communities, and they were able to resist more. They began setting up First Nations political organizations at the local and national level.”

First Nations soldiers became leaders in their communities and then began to demand equal access to Canada’s economy, government services, and legal systems. Due to the lobbying of First Nations, the law that hampered First Nations from hiring lawyers to address their concerns was removed in the early 1950s. First Nations immediately started leveling cases that addressed land claims and other issues. By the mid-1970s, the Indi- agent system was largely dead, and the residential school system was in retreat.

The Children Come Home—The End of Residential Schools

Due to the size of Canada and the varied histories with Indigenous people from coast to coast to coast, the residential School System did not come to a hard end— nor did Canada’s desire to control and assimilate First Nations.

Elder Ross says, “The residential schools have ended, but there is still control by the government on our education systems. We didn’t have complete control of our education systems. But people started to say, let’s take control of our Indian education. It had not happened yet.”

She points out that the experience of residential schools left scars in First Nations families that have been passed down through the generations. Obviously, being raised by paid government employees is not the same as being raised by loving parents. The break in the thread of family teachings and values left generations of First Nations families without the tools that most get from the family experience.

“They put our ancestors, our grandparents, and our parents in residential schools, and they isolated them. They weren’t able to go home but once a year, in the summertime. Even if their home was down the river,

they were not allowed to go home. The Indian residential schools have not ended yet. It had a great impact on the children of those residential school survivors. Intergenerational effects of residential schools still continue to live,” Elder Ross says.

Due to the differing history and relations they had with Canada, First Nations were in different places when it came to their realization that the schools were ending, and what that might mean for the future.

In Manitoba, Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says, First Nations began to realize that the goal of First Nations control of First Nations education had just peeked up over the horizon.

“I don’t think they thought much of residential schools dying other than the kids were coming home,” Knowledge Keeper Arthurson says. “They wanted their kids at home. Having their children taken away inspired a strong desire to be able to run their own schools, in their own communities, so their kids came home at night, after school. They wanted to be able to teach them what they

wanted to teach them, that was the important piece. Local control was—we want to teach our kids what we want to teach them and do it ourselves. We have that right.”

First Nations began to push back against the government, retaking control over their children’s education through the provincial or new Indian Affairs-run school systems. However, a unifying force or event was needed to bring all the First Nations’ efforts together.


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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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The Manitoba First Nations Education Resource (MFNERC) is hosting a technical vocational education
meeting on March 13, 2023 at the Best Western Plus Winnipeg Airport Hotel, 1715 Wellington Avenue,
Winnipeg MB, R3H 0G1.
The purpose of the meeting is to discuss possible technical vocational educational programming for First Nations High Schools. There will be a presentation on technical vocational programming and an
opportunity for you to discuss what is required to advance technical vocational programming.
The MFNERC will reimburse travel, meals and accommodations according to MFNERC travel rates for invited High School Principals and Education Directors. Travel reimbursements will be distributed at time of registration.
If you are able to attend, please fill out registration form and forward to, Brittany Laplante, by fax at 204-
415-0021 or by email:, by March 2, 2023.

Should you have any questions, please contact Susy Komishin at 204-594-1290 ext. 2131 or via email

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The Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre is excited to host the annual MFNERC Schools
Science Fair 2023 on March 7-8, 2023, at the Assiniboia Downs, 3975 Portage Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba. The science fair, organized by the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) is designed to provide extended opportunities for students of First Nations schools to become engaged, and to excel, in science.

The science fair serves to support the networking of First Nations schools in the area of science. It is designed to encourage the schools and students to first develop and participate in their own local science fairs, and then attend the provincial gathering in Winnipeg.

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