M’CHIGEENG—Funding of nearly $5 million for an Anishinabek education support program is coming to Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute (KTEI), following an announcement by federal Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu.
“Your turn is coming to run this country, and I want to leave it in a better place than where it is right now,” says Minister Hajdu, addressing the Anishinaabe youth ambassadors standing behind her during the announcement. The funding comes from the Skills and Partnership Fund under Employment and Social Development Canada.
Mshiigaade Miikan, or The Path is Clearing, is a program that will enable over 270 Indigenous youth and adults to attend school who might otherwise have difficulty getting an education. Its overall goal is to “increase the employability and labour market readiness for aboriginal/Anishinabek youth and adult members,” according to a KTEI newsletter.
“I see this as going to help out a lot,” says KTEI Elder-in-residence Josh Eshkawkogan. “The program is a stepping stone to whatever that is we need to do to help our people, to understand not only First Nations people, but Manitoulin in general.”
Following the announcement, Elder Eshkawkogan led current students and guests through a lesson on community in the recently built traditional teaching lodge.
The courses within Mshiigaade Miikan are focused on the apprenticeship sectors of skilled trades, hospitality and tourism and early childhood education. KTEI Director of Operations Brenda Francis says the program differs by providing more support outside the classroom.
“The significant difference with this program is the participants will be compensated as they’re trained,” says Ms. Francis.
Minister Hajdu mentioned at length that Indigenous and other marginalized individuals often lack the ability to attend school because, among other barriers, they may have to work to support themselves, may be raising children or struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
The funding is designed to help offset living costs, and provisions will be available for some childcare and transportation allowances.
“We don’t want them to be thinking about the expenses that they have to incur through other avenues like, like Ontario Works,” says Ms. Francis.
Minister Hajdu says programs such as this benefit the country as a whole.
“Canada can’t succeed unless every single person sees themselves as having a pathway,” says Minister Hajdu. “We can’t be a successful country if we leave a whole bunch of people behind.”
Elder Eshkawkogan has been part of the funding application process. He has worked to identify aspects of the curriculum where traditional cultural teachings would best fit into the apprenticeship-focused learning.
He says that while the funding is a positive aspect, the most important part of Mshiigaade Miikan is outreach to promote well-being among the community.
“It will make a big difference about identity, it will make a big difference in regards to understanding the history of who they are and how they can move forward,” he says.
Ms. Francis offers words of encouragement for the youth ambassadors. “You are examples of our people who are learning and are going to make positive impacts in our communities.”
Mshiigaade Miikan is a year-round program that students can complete on their own schedule. KTEI expects to launch it in the fall and will hire four staff positions to support the program. The federal funding will last for three years, and the school hopes to renew the funding in 2021.
KTEI has begun recruiting students for its new program. Anyone interested in enrolling in Mshiigaade Miikan is encouraged to contact Registrar Kevin Fuller at 705-377-4342.