MFNERC’s Training Initiatives provides accredited professional development required to implement innovative programming in schools. These programs are diverse in scope, spanning from physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, educational assistants, and school psychology to remedial literacy.
Our participants are primarily First Nations staff employed at First Nations schools, MFNERC, or MFNSS—they also have an interest and prerequisites needed to complete the training. Ideal participants demonstrate a passion and determination to remain working in First Nations schools for an extended period.
Currently, there is a 5-year initiative that is underway, where we will see specialized professionals graduate in the clinical services field. “It started back in 2016,” says Shirley Myran, Training Initiatives Manager. “MFNERC received new money in special education. That new money was to go towards all the services we could not provide to the children previously because the special education funding had been frozen in Manitoba since 2006. We had a brainstorm; we decided we wanted our own First Nations clinicians. We developed a five-year strategic plan, and in the five-year strategic plan, we named five disciplines we needed immediately to provide services to our children in First Nations communities. These disciplines included physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, remedial literacy, and school psychology.”
Myran continues, “As an organization, we acknowledge the First Nations education directors at the time who decided they wanted the responsibility of clinical training services to go to the MFNERC Training Institute. They graciously said, ‘We want this money set aside to train our people to provide these services in the community.’
The group that decided upon this plan were education directors Donovan Mann (Swan Lake First Nation), Greg Halcrow (Cross Lake First Nation), and Davin Dumas (Fisher River First Nation). I always reflect on that gracious step of them deciding they want that for their young people. So far, we’ve graduated three of them. We have students in physiotherapy, we have 22 people doing their masters in literacy and language, and we have 15 people training to be school psychologists who are doing internships next year. We also have students at Minot State University doing a speech-language pathology program.”
“Reflecting on that five-year plan, we are well on our way,” says Myran. “Believe it or not, when we started negotiating with the universities, one of the universities said, ‘We’ve never graduated First Nations people in this particular discipline.’ I asked, ‘How come?’ And they said, ‘Well, we couldn’t find them.’ And my next question was, ‘Where did you look?’ Because when we put a call out for people to apply, 54 people with the necessary GPA and diplomas applied. It was an awesome turn-out. So, I’m not sure where these universities were looking.”
Myran makes a special mention of a remarkable individual who made this possible—Derek Courchene, Program Liaison Officer of the Training Institute. “He was there front and center negotiating with educational institutions.”
“Wayne Mason was instrumental in starting this,” says Margaret Scott, Director of Special Education. “He worked with Derek Courchene, finding programs and researching and travelling around doing the initial work. I want to mention that a very long time ago, the majority of us were going into education for teaching. I really believe in cohorts; it’s how I came to be where I am today. When I started with MFNERC 20 years ago, I remember saying that we have to go into the specialty fields now. It’s also a competitive area, so those that get in do have to have a very high GPA, and so we found those people.”