It began with a bang, and kept right on going. MFNERC’s 15th Annual Lighting the Fire Education Conference was, once again, a resounding success, full of timely discussions, knowledge sharing, and inspiring stories. With delegates from as far away as Prince George, B.C. and jam-packed workshops overflowing with information, the Conference brimmed with excitement and energy from start to finish.
Day One began with drum songs by Loud Sounding Thunder and welcoming remarks from Grand Chief Nepinak, Grand Chief Harper and Nora Murdock, Education Director from Fisher River Cree Nation. Then, two inspiring young people showed off their writing and presentation skills. Every year, Lighting the Fire holds a student essay contest, and First Nations students from around the province are invited to enter. This year’s topic was: Who in your life has inspired you to become a better student?
Trenton Harper from George Knott School was the first place winner in the Grade 7-9 category. His delightful and humourous description of his Uncle Victor Harper, reminded everyone that teachers don’t only exist in classrooms. “Wherever my Uncle goes he’s a teacher…He taught me to respect myself and others, that you have to work for what you want, and that you can’t achieve anything by being lazy.”
The Grade 10-12 winner was Kailey Arthurson from Charles Sinclair School. With the heart-tugging story she told about her Mother, there was hardly a dry eye in the room. Kailey described how she was “bullied in school, but it was my Mom’s inspiring words that helped me go back. She taught me to stand up for myself, and about the benefits of school…she still reminds me to do my homework.” When Kailey announced her acceptance into the U of M’s School of Science, with the goal of becoming a physician, the room erupted with cheers and applause.
Then, the opening ceremonies of Day One concluded with a Keynote Address by the Reverend Stan McKay. His focus was the importance of Early Childhood Education. “Our First Nations schools have the power to be transformative. We need to nurture all elements in our children, body, mind, spirit, and emotions. I find this is too often missing from schools. We have to make sure our children’s emotions are fed. That they learn through laughter and joy as well as tears.”
After a quick break for lunch and a wander through the buzzing tradeshow, it was time for the workshops to get underway. Everything from e-Learning Options to Math Olympics to Functional Behaviour Assessments was covered. “I’m here to learn about what other provinces are doing in terms of First Nations education,” explained Shelly Niemi from Prince George, B.C. “The more we know about each other, the more we can collaborate and help each other.”
At the Student Transitioning workshop, participants learned the steps to creating a Transition Plan in conjunction with the public school they are moving their students to. When asked for her thoughts on the workshop and conference in general, Nicole Bobick of Chief Charles Audy Memorial School responded, “I’m wearing so many hats at my school right now, Principal, IT Worker, Culture Program Coordinator, so the more information I can gather, the more I can learn about what’s out there to help me, the better off I’ll be!”
With that, it was the end of Day One. And with a grad ceremony, Wab Kinew and more workshops on deck for Day Two, not to mention the Lighting the Fire Banquet in the evening, the excitement was only just beginning.