The Brandon School Division plans to offer courses teaching Cree, Dakota, Anishinabe and Michif languages at its high schools in September.
A report prepared by BSD assistant superintendent Mathew Gustafson for the division’s board of trustees said the pilot project will seek to "connect indigenous students with their language, earn credits toward their graduation, develop students into public speakers within their community, engage students in language and culture education and develop a positive sense of belonging."
The project was spurred by the Manitoba School Boards Association’s commitment to theManitoba Collaborative Indigenous Education Blueprint for Universities, Colleges and Public School Boards — a document signed by the MBSA and Manitoba’suniversitiesand colleges in December 2015 that pledges to celebrate and includeindigenousknowledge and intellectual traditions and approaches to education.
All four languages will be available in the four Brandon high schools, including Neelin’s Off Campus school.
While indigenous language courses have been offered in other divisions, Gustafson isn’t aware of a model similar to BSD’s pilot.
Jason Gobeil, the aboriginal community co-ordinator for the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council, sits on the school division’s Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee, and predicts quick uptake for the pilot.
He recalled talking to indigenous students at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School last year.
"We asked them, ‘Ultimately, what would you want?’ And you’re thinking they’re going to say more jobs or maybe an Xbox or something like that," Gobeil said.
"The one thing they all asked for? Language. And that gives you goosebumps … because it’s youth knowing exactly where things have been lost and where they need to regain some of that cultural standpoint and getting some ground again, planting those roots again."
Gobeil was also pleased that the four languages to be taught are the ones most commonly spoken in this part of the province.
"It’s an art that is lost, but can be regained by our youth."
Gustafson said the division will "utilize the same instructor for each language in the four different schools." Hiring for the positions is in the works.
"We’re ... looking for candidates with fluency in those languages."
Instructors must be certified, either as a teacher or by a limited teaching permit.
The pilot will be evaluated by enrolment numbers and the outcomes of the course’s students, he said.Registration for the courses is expected to open over the summer.
Gustafson said there are likely more than 1,300 students in the division who identify as aboriginal, although because ancestries must be self-declared, it’s hard to better gauge that figure.
Pat Bowslaugh, the trustee who chairs the aboriginal education advisory committee, said the courses are intended to be available to all BSD high schoolers — not just indigenous students.
She warned that the courses will require some uptake to carry on.
"We can’t afford to pay … if there are only one or two students. We would need a class and that’s for sure," she said.
Gobeil is confident support will materialize, and hopes the division will continue to get away from the "native studies" model and favour the incorporation of "regular cultural teaching."
"We’re not asking for a new course in indigenous learning," he said. "We’re asking to use the teachings that we have as indigenous people, the seven teachings, and use that in how you direct your classes, right?
"Like relating math to the number of teepee poles used in setting up a teepee and using those teachings in a regular standing — that’s how it’s going to create a little bit more of education and awareness."
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