OFNIE supports Indigenous student success

Overcoming COVID-19 challenges, 14 Mi’gmaq students earn the first fully in-community B.Ed. K/Elem (First Nations and Inuit Studies) degrees ever awarded by the Faculty of Education  
The 14 Mi’gmaq students who earned a B.Ed. K/Elem (First Nations and Inuit Studies). Top row (l to r): Sarah Isaac, Cassandra Hall, Hank Gromelski, Jonathan Barnaby, Karen Martin. Middle (l to r): Tanya Wysote, Leha Jacques, Carley Wysote, Trisha Caplin. Bottom (l to r): Jennifer-Ann Wilmot, Kristie Lavallée-Methot, Jennifer Morrison, Jimmy Martin, Corey Metallic

The Office of First Nations and Inuit Education (OFNIE) delivers community-based teacher education and professional development programs to Indigenous McGill students across Quebec. McGill academics and staff have formed longstanding partnerships with four partnering Indigenous education authorities, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq (KI); the Cree School Board (CSB); the Kahnawà:ke Education Centre (KEC); the Listuguj Education; Training and Employment Directorate (LETED), and are cultivating new relationships with First Nations school boards all the time.

Just as many in the Montreal-based McGill community have managed to adapt their routines by adopting new online platforms and physical distancing directives, McGillians in Indigenous communities have had to do the same. Partnering communities have struck task forces made up of regional health boards, local Indigenous governments, education authorities, and other bodies depending on the region.

Overcoming adversity

While the COVID-19 health crisis prompted the McGill community to adapt to remote teaching to deliver its on-campus programs, these changes were not always possible in the regions. Stable access to internet and tech support is a luxury taken for granted in the south but not easily accessed in the far north. The lack of stable internet capacity coupled with limits to travel (essential for delivering OFNIE courses) and, for some students, limited access to computers meant that, unfortunately, some courses needed to be postponed.

Despite these hurdles, McGill’s Faculty of Education and the regional OFNIE partners have been working hard to find solutions together to promote student success. OFNIE and the Dean’s Office have hosted one virtual session (to date) and two Town Hall meetings with all partners to plan steps moving forward.

Social distancing and remotely learning

During the final weeks of the Winter 2020 semester, a cohort of students in Eeyou Istchee (Cree territory) also followed a land-based, cultural skills course, which allowed students to fulfill their McGill credits while physically distancing in their camps, along their trap lines, or at home in their communities. The class involved discussions with Elders and other knowledge holders, drew upon a curriculum orientated to springtime cultural events, both past and current, and focused on the acquisition and preservation of the Cree language that is typically only used on the land.

In Kahnawà:ke, OFNIE was able to deliver two Kanien’kéha language courses remotely, given by two very devoted and creative instructors, Tehokwirathe Cross, and Ieronhienhawi McComber.  A third course is currently being delivered by Alex McComber, an experienced McGill academic and respected member of the Kahnawà:ke community. Moving courses online enabled students pursuing their B.Ed. First Nation and Inuit Studies to remain on track to graduate in Fall 2022.

Hard-earned success

The graduating class from Listuguj was able to complete their last course online.  All 14 Mi’gmaq students were successful in both their coursework and fieldwork, earning the first fully in-community B.Ed. K/Elem (First Nations and Inuit Studies) degrees the Faculty of Education has ever awarded. The Faculty will be celebrating their achievements at the Virtual Convocation ceremonies on June 19 and at the bicentennial Convocation ceremony scheduled for next year.

“We’re working closely with our community partners to plan a virtual and ‘physically distant’ Fall semester that will be unlike any we have delivered before,” says Co-Director, Dr. Stephen Peters. Fellow OFNIE Co-Director, Jim Howden, expressed his thanks to OFNIE’s student advisors, administrative coordinator and program directors, explaining that despite the obstacles “we continue to work daily with our community colleagues to make sure that things happen for our students.”