First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Initiatives

L - R:  Mary Anne Murphy (BEd '77, MEd '05), Dr. Cathy Campbell, 

Jamie Medicine Crane (BEd '05), and Chris Smeaton

The communities of the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education and the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division are equally blessed. Both are characterized by strong leadership, a desire to understand the current barriers to educational success for First Nations Métis and Inuit (FNMI) students, and a commitment to facilitating necessary change.

With 13 per cent of Holy Spirit’s student population coming from the Kainai and Piikani communities, “it is critical that our classrooms become places where indigenous children feel they belong,” explains Chris Smeaton, Superintendent of Schools. 

In fact, the integration of FNMI content and perspective across curriculum has been under discussion for a decade within the context of Alberta Education’s FNMI Policy Framework (2002) and, most recently, the Memorandum of Agreement For First Nations Education in Alberta (2010).

“Many of us, including indigenous peoples, do not have a firm understanding of First Nations history and culture,” says faculty member, Dr. Cathy Campbell. “For this reason, FNMI content must be included in subjects across all grade levels so that another whole generation of Albertans doesn’t grow up without this knowledge.” 

Under the leadership of Mary Anne Murphy, (MEd ‘05), FNMI division principal and Jamie Medicine Crane (BEd ‘04), lead teacher, Holy Spirit teachers have been actively involved in professional development opportunities enabling them to build relationships with students and families. In addition to learning about the history and culture of the Blackfoot peoples, “we are learning to respond appropriately to the needs of our students,” says Murphy.

During the course of laying the groundwork for these initiatives, Holy Spirit was offered a grant by Alberta Education, enabling them to further explore strategies that would enable teachers to more fully meet the varied needs of FNMI learners. As a result, senior administrators and principals visited the Kainai reserve and toured the schools. “We met with teachers and Kainai Board of Education representatives and spoke about the unique challenges facing our students,” Medicine Crane explains. With the Piikani nation, Holy Spirit collaboratively planned the Building Bridges Conference which took place on the reserve and welcomed parents and educators together as partners in education.

Meanwhile, nine PSIII intern teachers with a focus on Aboriginal Studies Education, were placed in Holy Spirit Schools. They developed lessons and units across curriculum and grades that incorporated FNMI content. They co-lead workshops for PSI students going to Holy Spirit Schools so they could better meet the expectation of including FNMI content in at least five lessons during their practicum. Both initiatives will continue in the Fall of 2011.

View the new Faculty FNMI Curriculum Collection that includes FNMI resources as well as lesson and unit plans.

View the video, FNMI Education created by Holy Spirit School Division as part of the Alberta Education Grant, capturing many of the specific examples of the strategies that teachers are using to help FNMI students achieve success in school.