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Chinook Board of Education Chair Kimberly Pridmore (at left) and Nekaneet First Nation council member Roberta Francis sign the education services agreement, Sept. 14.

The Chinook School Division has signed a new partnership agreement with Nekaneet First Nation to improve the educational outcomes of First Nation students.

The official signing of the education services agreement took place during a regular Chinook School Division board meeting in Swift Current, Sept. 14.

Nekaneet First Nation was represented by council members Roberta Francis and Shauna Buffalo Calf, and Irene Oakes, the education support for the reserve. They brought greetings on behalf of Chief Alvin Francis and made a presentation about Treaty 4 and the significance of the different symbols on the treaty flag.

The agreement recognizes the Nekaneet First Nation’s authority and responsibility for the education of its members.

“This is further control of our education, because we're going to be responsible for covering the tuition and we'll be able to have more of a bird's eye view of what's going on with our students and our children's education,” Oakes said after the signing of the agreement. “Our parents will become more involved.”

The goal of Nekaneet First Nation is to ensure all First Nation students have access to quality education that respects their unique culture and history.

“I think with this agreement we'll be able to have more dialogue with the school division, with the superintendents, with the principals, with the teachers, and get them to understand where we're coming from, what are some of our challenges that the parents have to face, the children face, and how can we best work together to make sure our students succeed,” she said.

Oakes referred to a long-time educational challenge for students. They will usually do well at the elementary level, but they struggle when they reach the high school level.

“Maybe they're not being engaged, or maybe they don't feel welcome, or maybe they just aren't able to connect to whatever programs are going on in the schools, or maybe they're transient and they're moving back and forth,” she said. “So developing a strategy to keep these students excited about going into the high school level is something that continues to be a challenge, not only in Maple Creek, not only for Nekaneet students, but across Saskatchewan, if not across Canada.”

Nekaneet First Nation and the Chinook School Division are both undertaking to make reconciliation a part of all interactions under this agreement.

Kimberly Pridmore, the chair of the Chinook board of education, said the partnership with Nekaneet First Nation is extremely important to trustees.

“We feel, like they do, that we've worked a long way to get to this point and seeing their kids engaged in the schools and ensuring that they're successful is really important to us,” she mentioned. “So we look forward to maintaining and building on that relationship.”

Chinook School Division makes a commitment in the agreement to provide high quality, linguistically and culturally appropriate education services to Nekaneet First Nation students enrolled in division schools. These education services will be aligned with the provincially approved preK-12 Saskatchewan curriculum and it will be at the same level as the learning provided to all other students.

“In the last three years as educational leaders in Chinook and in the southwest, we have really seen the importance of engaging with Nekaneet as partners to help better engage their students and to continue to meet the learning needs of the students in the Maple Creek area,” Chinook Director of Education Kyle McIntyre said. “And in the spirit of reconciliation we are all treaty people. So we have a responsibility to teach all people about the treaties and especially about the unique relationship that Nekaneet has with the community of Maple Creek and southwest Saskatchewan.”

He noted that a number of elders and elder helpers are already visiting schools throughout the school division to talk to all students about the importance of the treaties, the meaning of the treaty flag, and the history of Nekaneet First Nation.

“That's information and education that is good for all students to know as treaty people,” he said. “So our partnership has been excellent. The elder helpers from Nekaneet have been absolutely outstanding. Every school they go into, the kids want them back more and more, and they've really opened the door for our future generations to learn about the importance of this historical nation to nation relationship.”

According to Chinook Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin the federal government will provide the funding for the educational services offered to First Nation students under the terms of this agreement.

“It would flow through Nekaneet to Chinook,” he said. “It's a per student amount, and it's calculated every year based on what we call Regulation 22 tuition fee rates. There's a head count or a nominal role count of students that are attending at the two schools at Maple Creek once every Sept. 30 and that would be the basis for the payments as it goes on through that school year.”

The new education services agreement is a result of a requirement by the federal government to replace the previous agreement with Indigenous Services Canada, and to have a direct funding agreement between Nekaneet First Nation and the Chinook School Division.

“It's taken a year and half of work to get us to this point today,” Quintin noted. “We've customized the agreement that was given to us as a template to suit our local needs and we've had a number of meetings of consultation with the leadership at Nekaneet to get to this place.”

He felt an important benefit of this agreement will be the creation of an improved channel of communication between the two parties.

“We've got regular communications as necessary as it needs to be at the school level,” he said. “We've got annual communication between senior leaders of Chinook and the board and senior leaders of Nekaneet. I think those are absolutely key to maintaining a good, sound working relationship and I think that it's unique. It's not something that exists in their template agreement for most other agreements, and I think that we've created something here that's a little bit special.”

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