Celebrating First Nations educators: RISE Program empowers resource teachers

Adults wearing gowns and caps at a graduation ceremony

October 23, 2018

Treaty One Territory, Manitoba


Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs recently attended a graduation event for the Resource Inclusive Special Education (RISE) Program. The students going through the program received a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Education from the University of Manitoba and a Certificate of Indigenous Special Education from the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC). They are now leaders in understanding and practicing special education for First Nations.

People entering the graduation ceremony in a grand entry

Grand Chief Dumas and other dignitaries are part of the grand entry at the RISE graduation ceremony

“It is an honour to share my congratulations on achieving this important milestone,” said Grand Chief Dumas. “This should be a proud moment for each and every one of the teachers who are graduating from the RISE Program.”

Students working in educational roles in First Nations attended this program to learn teaching strategies to identify and help their students address challenges they may be experiencing. They will use strength-based approaches to help students and have the capacity to change curriculum to better meet the needs of students.

The graduation was an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of First Nations educators. The RISE Program provides tools to assist First Nations students with reading, behavioural, and cognitive issues. There are children living with special needs right across the province. A major goal for First Nations leaders is to ensure that education is available for all children in their communities, regardless of their background or abilities.

“It’s empowered us to know how to make decisions for our students and in turn it has empowered our parents. We have always been so passive and been told to wait. We have to empower people to advocate for themselves and their children. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that we have a voice, we have the power to do what we need to do for our children,” says Stephanie Wood, a graduate of the RISE Program. “We learned what having a good life means. All these years we have done what the government says is good for us. It just kind of gives us those tools to be able to determine how we want our special education programs to look.”

Stephanie Wood in her graduation cap and gown

Stephanie Wood is one of the graduates of the RISE Program. She works at the school in St. Theresa Point First Nation.

“I’m now able to do assessments,” explains Wood, who is an Early Years Resource Teacher in the St. Theresa Point First Nation. “At one time only specialists could come to the school to do those. We are more able to design meaningful education plans for students whereas before we would just sit back and just wait to be told how to design things.”

Of the 66 students who started this program in January 2017, 64 graduated on October 17, 2018. This program is clearly a successful investment for improving education in our First Nations. Out of the 64 graduates, 59 were women. Six babies were born during the course. One student, Edith Linklater, passed away during the course. She was honoured at the ceremony.

“It was an incredible opportunity,” says Wood. “One of the reasons I felt so compelled to take the opportunity was because two of my grandfathers signed that Wahbung document (Campbell Wood from St. Theresa Point and Edwin Edwards from Lake Manitoba First Nation), they were among the Chiefs that signed Wahbung. It was like an ode to them. That was meaningful for me. I feel obligated to give back to the people with what MFNERC was able to give me in terms of my education.”

Retaining resource teachers is a major issue in First Nations, which is why this program is so important. The RISE Program provides support services to ensure that students can successfully complete the program while balancing the other aspects of their lives.

Students attended the program over a year and a half, with most courses being delivered in intensive one-week periods. The students gave up their summer breaks, Easter breaks, and weekends. There was a big demand on their time. Each student held their regular job at school, completed assignments, travelled, and balanced the demands that come from home and personal life.

The Grand Chief acknowledged the families and friends who supported the teachers that went through the RISE Program. He also acknowledged the hard work of the graduates:

“I acknowledge each teacher who has travelled here from different parts of Manitoba. You will help children access education in their home communities. The knowledge you have gained will help you educate our future generation of leaders. You have shown that you are dedicated to helping your students feel proud of their rich identity as First Nations people. Furthering your own education will help you contribute to the community in a good and caring way.”

Grand Chief Dumas encouraged the graduates to remain connected to culture. He said that practices such as picking medicines, smudging, dancing in pow wows, learning to speak a First Nations language, and taking part in land-based education are good ways of taking care of oneself and the larger community. He explained that having a connection to First Nations cultures and pursuing learning opportunities expands a teacher’s tool box.

“One of the most important things we learned in that course is to learn about empathy and how we have lost that,” explained Wood. “That one teaching alone could change the face of all of our communities, if each and everyone of us could carry the teaching of empathy. If we carry ourselves with empathy it would change so much. It would make things work so much better for us. We can get it back—that’s one of the most powerful teachings I have ever learned.”

A woman holding a baby on stage

Debbie Harper was one of the valedictorians for the group. She brought her grandson on stage for her address at the ceremony.

“We’ve come to accept exclusion. Inclusion is the exact opposite of what we have been programmed to do. It’s so important we have that in our school structures, our home structures, our government structures. It is changing, I see it. By teaching children empathy we’ll be changing whole generations at a time,” said Wood. “Academically we learned so many things: planning, assessment, analyzing how to make things better, how to design things that will suit our needs, to take considerations for things like how every community has their own unique set of problems.”

“It was also a spiritual journey because we had to look at the states of our communities; issues like lateral violence, historic trauma, residential school, the sixties scoop,” explained Wood. “All these things play a role in why we have the every day problems we have in our schools. We have to be empathetic to that too. We have to heal from that and somehow try to change.”

Grand Chief Dumas had these closing words for the graduates:

“Be thankful for the opportunity you have to receive new knowledge. Take care of it and be proud of your work as a teacher. Remember that all it takes is one person to make a positive difference in the life of a child. Congratulations to all of you.”

The full list of graduates:

  • Shirleymae Anderson
  • Evie Bear
  • Marion Beardy
  • Elaine Beaulieu
  • Anna Bone
  • April Buck
  • Evelyn Cameron
  • Suzette Castel
  • Marlene Castel
  • Marilyn Catcheway
  • Colleen Chubb
  • Eliza Chubb
  • Jodean Colomb
  • Teresa Constant
  • Audrey Courchene
  • Michelle Courchene
  • Jennifer Daniels
  • Yvette Daniels
  • Dorine Denedchezhe-Kemp
  • Wanda Fagnan
  • Lori Flett
  • Marlon Gardner
  • Norma Garson
  • Crystal Genaille
  • Evelyn Guimond
  • Corrine Halcrow
  • Debbie Harper
  • Marilyn Harper
  • Joan Henderson
  • Margaret Houle
  • Crystal Ironstand
  • Edith Lavallee
  • Erica Leask
  • Angela Levasseur
  • Edith Linklater
  • Kristin MacTavish
  • Elaine Malcolm
  • Martin (Richard) Mancheese
  • Mary Mason
  • Paul Mccartan
  • Sherry McKay
  • Brenda Monias
  • Clifford Munroe
  • Louise Osborne
  • Esther Grace Ross
  • Nellie Ross
  • April Roudani
  • Martha St. Paul
  • Ardel Smith
  • Jennifer Soldier
  • Simon Starr
  • Mary Jane Stinson
  • Denise Swampy
  • Tricia Travers
  • Christina Valiquette
  • Jenna Walker
  • Rosita Wasicuna
  • Connie Weenusk
  • Hilda Weenusk
  • Marie Wood
  • Marissa Wood
  • Stephanie Wood
  • Susan Wood
  • Francine Young