Thursday, 23 February 2017 08:00

Former PM brings good news to school on Piikani Nation

Written by  Nick Kuhl
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Former Prime Minster Paul Martin participates in a learning exercise with Grade 1 students Feb. 13 at Napi's Playground Elementary School in Brocket on the Piikani Nation. The school is one of six participating in the Martin Family Initiative's Model School Literacy Project. Former Prime Minster Paul Martin participates in a learning exercise with Grade 1 students Feb. 13 at Napi's Playground Elementary School in Brocket on the Piikani Nation. The school is one of six participating in the Martin Family Initiative's Model School Literacy Project. Southern Alberta Newspapers photo by Tijana Martin

“There is no excuse for the underfunding for education on reserves.” Words from former Prime Minister Paul Martin on the morning of Feb. 13 as he toured Napi’s Playground Elementary School in Brocket on the Piikani Nation.


Martin was there to co-announce, with members of the Peigan Board of Education, that Napi’s is one of six schools in Canada selected for the inaugural year of the Martin Family Initiative’s Model School Project (MSP).
Designed to help preserve identity, culture and language, the MSP introduces different ideas towards early education, literacy development and providing better assessment tools for teachers, primarily from kindergarten to Grade 3. It had previously gone through a five-year pilot project at two schools in Ontario.
“It worked wonderfully well. As a result of that, we decided that we wanted to do is take this program across the country,” said Martin, 78, who was Canada’s 21st prime minister, serving from December 2003 to February 2006.
The MSP is a partnership with the federal government, and schools were requested to apply. Martin praised the Piikani Chief and Council, the education trustees, the superintendent, the principal and the teachers, saying that proper governance was one of the most important criteria for their approved selection.
“There was no doubt about this school and about the Piikani Nation,” he said. “It was so clear that the leadership was here.”
“I certainly applaud Prime Minister Martin, and the Martin Family Initiative and the stance they’ve taken in terms of bridging the gap in learning and education for First Nations and Indigenous people across this country,” said Piikani Chief Stanley Grier.
“Education is that medium that bridges that gap between misunderstanding and true understanding and tolerance. It gives them a greater start in their education and their career development. I look at this as a tremendous opportunity.”
Following an assembly in the gym Feb. 13, and some time for media questions, Martin visited several classrooms. He interacted with students and teachers, some of whom had prepared activities and readings.
Teachers in each room said they had already seen a difference in their students thanks to the MSP’s concepts.
“Literacy is the foundation of all education,” said Martin, who is now regarded as a global diplomat.
Before succeeding Jean Chrétien as PM, Martin served as Minister of Finance from 1993 to 2002. He was responsible for many changes in the Canadian government’s financial structure, and he took a strong stance on many social services.
Martin recalled working as a deckhand on the Mackenzie River when he was 18. He said he met many FNMI people who gave insights he would have not had otherwise.
“I knew nothing about the residential schools. The great tragedy is that the residential schools were followed by decades of underfunding. Consequently, those people who had the skills and wanted to make education work were consistently underfunded as compared to provincial schools which were 10 kilometres away. I just think that’s morally repugnant,” Martin said.
“I’m just bound and determined that I’m going to make up for lost time. The only answer to that damage is the best education possible. Schools like this make the difference.”

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