Amie Martin is using her own experiences as fuel to help local aboriginal students succeed.
As Brandon School Division’s aboriginal education specialist, Martin remembers having to push her own culture aside while growing up and going to school.
Being brought up the "Christian way" restricted her ability to engage in cultural activities, she said.
"We were not allowed to practise our culture because it was taboo for us to do that," said Martin, who is Cree. "Doing this job makes me more aware and more stronger that I’m going to go ahead and make sure these students learn their cultural identity and where they come from."
Martin’s responsibilities include assisting classroom teachers with the integration of indigenous aboriginal culture, values and history, developing curriculum support materials, as well as co-ordinating professional development activities pertaining to aboriginal education.
An important part of her role is forming partnerships with parents, guardians, outside agencies and local organizations.
Working with the school division’s aboriginal elder, counsellor and various education specialists, Martin said a key to helping aboriginal students achieve is making them feel at home while they’re in school. Meeting with local students, she’s witnessed first-hand how these students require a sense of belonging in order to succeed.
"I can sense something, I can see in their faces that they need to have that feeling that they are part of it," she said. "Sometimes they can’t adapt to school systems, they kind of lose their identity because some students are in care and they come from homes that aren’t stable."
Martin has helped bring into local classrooms indigenous learning kits for teachers, initiated multiple cultural presentations and events, as well as arranged speaking engagements that showcase successful aboriginal peoples in the community.
Infusing bits of aboriginal culture into the curriculum is also beneficial for non-aboriginal students, according to associate Supt. Greg Malazdrewicz.
"Non-aboriginal students need to engage with the aboriginal culture to understand historical perspectives, to understand culture, to understand the needs of the aboriginal community and what makes them a valuable part of this community," he said.
But helping students find that sense of belonging reaches beyond the school division — they also need the keys to connect with local agencies, Malazdrewicz said.
"Part of the goal is to help them rediscover who they are and help stimulate those conversations," he said.
Martin is also working on developing a rapid intervention model to help aboriginal students stay in school. By providing them with positive role models and mentors through speaking engagements, Martin hopes to encourage more students to graduate with their high school diploma.
"A lot of aboriginal students are leaving and we need to try and get them to stay from elementary to high school, so we need a program for that."