Celebrating the Many Minds and Many Voices Who Contributed to First Nations Education

Held from May 8th to 10th, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre’s (the Resource Centre) 2024 Lighting the Fire Conference (#LTF2024) celebrated 25 years of member First Nations controlling their children’s education. Established in 1998 by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Resource Centre has provided first- and second level services to 51 schools from over 40 First Nations.

Executive Director Charles Cochrane acknowledges the political and educational trailblazers who pushed for the creation of the Resource Centre and guided it through its development. He says he is proud to be a part of the organization’s history.

“As I walked in this year’s Grand Entry with the Elders and former National Chief Ovide Mercredi beside me, I couldn’t help but think of all those people dedicated to improving

education opportunities and outcomes for First Nations children across the province. The Resource Centre is mandated to help First Nations youth find a good life and try to find a healthy balance between the old and new teachings,” Cochrane says.

Since its formation, the Resource Centre has remained committed to its Vision to “Support First Nations to develop and implement a comprehensive, holistic education system inclusive of First Nations languages, world views, values, beliefs and traditions with exemplary academic standards, under First Nation jurisdiction.” Fulfilling the Resource Centre’s mandate included creating the Manitoba First Nations School System (MFNSS) in July 2017, a system that provides education delivery for 12 First Nations in Manitoba.

Starting with a handful of First Nations education professionals, the Resource Centre and MFNSS now collectively employ over 700 people devoted to making the education experience for youth a positive and holistic journey. The Resource Centre’s services support students’ dreams for the future and focus on their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

The year’s theme, “25 Years: Many Minds, Many Voices,” acknowledged the people who have contributed to the Resource Centre and its work over the past quarter of a century. The Lighting the Fire Conference has always been a source of professional development, teaching the latest information and skill sets to the administrators, educators, and other staff that support First Nation schools.

Below are just a few examples of the workshops held at #LTF2024.

Getting Started with Treaty Education.

Brenda Delorme and Darcy-Anne Thomas, members of the Resource Centre’s Treaty Education Working Group, spoke on Treaty education and their in-service for training staff at First Nations member schools. The working group travels to train school staff to teach the Numbered Treaties using the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba’s (TRCM) Treaty Education Kit.

At these in-services, the working group involves local Elders and Knowledge Keepers who share their perspectives and knowledge about the First Nation’s own Treaty stories and what needs to be done at the school to teach Treaties. Teachers, educational assistants, and principals from the First Nation attend the in-services.

Why teach about the Treaties? Treaties are everlasting, and students need to know their rights and provisions, say the presenters. Students need to learn First Nations perspectives and Treaty stories. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action #62–65 speak on the necessity of teaching about Treaties in schools.

Half the day of a day-long seminar includes discussions about Treaty stories from the area. Fascinating stories often emerge, including those of family members who attended Treaty signings. The TRCM’s Treaty Education Kit is a valuable resource for teaching about pre-confederation and post-confederation Treaties. Further localized Treaty resources are needed, and the Resource Centre plans to support the development of learning materials based on information shared during these in-services.

To receive this critical training, contact the Director of Languages and Cultures, Davin Dumas, at the Resource Centre.

Left: Brenda Delorme, Right: Darcy-Ann Thomas

Math Manipulatives and Deeper Learning.

Michael Valdez (MFNSS numeracy facilitator) and Christopher Llave (Lake Manitoba high school teacher) presented on enhancing mathematical instruction through the use of manipulatives in the classroom. Presenters shared that manipulatives offer a natural way for children to make sense of the mathematics they are trying to learn. Students can use hands-on manipulatives to sort, count, and classify.

Classrooms can include centres with containers of manipulatives by topic, such as a geometry container. The presenters say manipulatives work for all grade levels. Land-based manipulatives like pine cones, animal hide, leaves, and tree sap (it’s sticky, so “links” things together) work well. The presenters suggest the book Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K–12 by Peter Liljedahl for those who want to learn more about a deeper mathematics than rote learning. Attendees appreciated the Kahoot! quiz along with prizes and samples of manipulatives.

Dawn Flood

Positive Guidance Through a Self-Reg Lens.

Resource Centre staff—Dawn Flood, Jody Naruse, and Susy Komishin—shared how to guide students with challenging behaviours using a self-regulation framework. Presenters say educators must dig deeper to understand children’s behaviour and respond appropriately. Part of this process is understanding the difference between misbehaviour and stress behaviour.

“See a child differently and see a different child,” says self-regulation guru Dr. Stuart Shanker.

Children develop self-regulation when they co-regulate with the important adults in their lives. When they need to address challenging behaviour, educators can support students by choosing connection over compliance and by using the five steps of self-regulation: 1) Reframe the behaviour, 2) Recognize the stressors (across the five domains), 3) Reduce the stress, 4) Reflect to enhance stress awareness, and 5) Restore developing personalized strategies to promote resilience and restoration.

Some examples of restoration strategies include having students go outside or providing a snack when children are hungry. The presenters suggest explaining your strategy to the child. A teacher might say, “You have a lot of energy, so we will take an early recess.” Over time, children will learn to understand their stressors and adopt their own personalized strategies to reduce them. This is how children will learn to self-regulate.

Workshop presenters stress using positive guidance and strength-based approaches in the classroom. By identifying and using a child’s strengths or gifts, educators can help them reach their potential to learn, grow, and develop a positive sense of self.

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