(Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a four-part, web-exclusive series on First Nations colleges and universities in Canada.)
The Province of Ontario stretches for hundreds of miles in all directions, and aside from the population concentration near the Great Lakes, most of it is covered in green, lush forests, wide-open grasslands, and countless crystal-clear lakes. Ontario offers an abundance of diversity, from the 5 million-person metropolis of Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario to the polar-scapes of the Arctic Rim, and it is the largest province in population and second only to Quebec in size. It is not surprising then that Ontario is home to 10 of Canada’s tribal colleges. Two such institutions are the Seven Generations Education Institute in western Ontario, and the First Nations Technical Institute in the eastern part of the province.
The higher learning institution for 10 Ojibwe bands, the Seven Generations Education Institute serves First Nations communities in some of the more remote sections of Ontario. The institute has two campuses, one situated in the Lake of the Woods in beautiful Kenora (close to Manitoba) and another in Fort Frances, just across the border with Minnesota. Seven Generations has a unique history. In 1985, Indigenous people from the Rainy Lake tribal area formed the Rainy Lake Ojibway Education Authority which serves 10 bands—the Big Grassy, Big Island, Couchiching, Lac La Croix, Naicatchewenin, Nicickousemenecaning, Ojibways of Onigaming, Rainy River, Seine River, and Mitaanjigaming First Nations. The union was formed because of a desire to maintain traditional cultural and linguistic values and to improve the economic status of member nations. Although Seven Generations was designed to provide for the education and training needs of the Aboriginal people in their tribal area, it welcomes anyone and everyone.
The Seven Generations Education Institute provides educational services at the secondary, post-secondary, and vocational levels. The school is dedicated to excellence in lifelong learning and empowerment through language and culture by providing community-based and student-centered learning opportunities for all who enter its doors. At the core of the institute are the beliefs and philosophy of the Anishinaabe, which is rooted in a relationship to the total environment. This vision is the basis of their teachings. With a strong identity, learners thrive with attitudes, skills, and knowledge to continue on their path of lifelong learning.
Since 1991, Seven Generations has also operated a secondary school that enables students to earn a high school diploma. The institute’s post-secondary curricula include trades-related programs such as welding and electrical techniques, mental health and addictions training, and Anishinaabemowin language and cultural immersion. There are also community-based programs such as diabetes support worker training and general arts and science certificate programs. The school offers a college readiness program for adults 19 years of age and older.
Seven Generations Education Institute partners with the Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative, the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The institute seeks to honor those who walked ahead, respect those they walk alongside, and prepare for those yet to come.
Approximately two hours’ drive from Toronto, and just 20 miles north of Lake Ontario in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, is another tribally owned and controlled school: the First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI). Established in 1985 to provide access to post-secondary programs for Aboriginal people, FNTI has graduated 2,000 students from its certificate, diploma, and degree programs. Its mission is to share unique educational experiences rooted in Indigenous knowledge to enhance the strength of the learners and communities it reaches. FNTI seeks to nurture healthy, prosperous, and vibrant learners and communities through transformative learning experiences built on a foundation of Indigenous knowledge.
The school offers college diploma and university degree programs, as well as workshops and training to provide services to its students, the community, and local businesses. FNTI’s university degree programs include Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in public administration and governance. The institute has also formed partnerships with numerous Ontario colleges and universities that allow credit to be transferred to other institutions and their programs, such as St. Lawrence College’s Law Clerk, First Nations Policy, Law and Advocacy program and Wilfrid Laurier University’s Master of Social Work program.
FNTI supports a groundbreaking initiative called the Tontakaierine (“it has become right again”) Justice Circle. This Indigenous-centered program brings together victims, offenders, and families in a safe environment to discuss offending events and their effects, as well as to jointly decide how to best right wrongs.
Unique to FNTI among all tribal colleges in North America is the institute’s aviation program. This three-year program is situated at the historic Tyendinaga Aerodrome in Tyendinaga, Ontario, and trains students to become qualified commercial pilots. The program cost averages $5,000 Canadian dollars per year, about half the expense of similar non-Indigenous programs. The First Peoples’ Aviation Technology–Flight Program is the only Indigenous aviation post-secondary program of its kind and is delivered in partnership with Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario. The program includes hands-on flight training both for students who wish to pursue a pilot’s license and for those wanting to work in the aviation industry. Graduates earn a commercial pilot’s license with a rating of their choice (multi-engine or instrument rating, among others).
FNTI is a registered charity and seeks out donations to achieve many of its goals. Donations can be earmarked for, but not limited to, bursaries for students, acquisitions, and community-based programs. It is the hope of FNTI staff that donors will leave a legacy for current students to follow, and will want to set a trend for future learners.
Canada is a vast country full of rich history, as well as wide-open spaces largely unspoiled by those who have no concern for the Earth and her Creator. Canada also has a great need for Indigenous women and men with the special training offered in its numerous Indigenous schools. From the excitement of learning to fly a small aircraft in Ontario, to the rewarding and challenging work of a social work or community support worker in British Columbia, there are many opportunities within Canada’s borders to train for specialized employment while meeting the spiritual, cultural, and tradition-based needs of First Nations students.
Leif Gregersen is an author and public speaker who has a strong connection to the North and runs a blog at: www.edmontonwriter.com.