First Nation control of First Nation Education: The Kapawe’no First Nation School Story

“What do you get when you take the Alberta Program of Studies, mix in First Nation Elder stories and teachings in a land-based context, add an equal amount of First Nation Tradition, Values, and Morals, and mix it all up with a dynamic teaching staff and supportive Chief and Counsel?”

The answer: “You get Kapawe’no First Nation School, a Kindergarten to Grade 12 School, located within Kapawe’no First Nation and a variety of ancillary spaces in their surrounding community, including Northern Lakes College – Grouard Campus!”

The legacy of the program began over two years ago when Kapawe’no First Nation Chief Sydney Lee Halcrow, set a vision in place to protect his Nation during the Covid 19 pandemic by allowing students from his Nation to engage in virtual streaming of classrooms from another Nation close by. The outcome of this program, demonstrated superb results, and as the program’s student numbers climbed from 38 students to 50 over the ensuing year, a decision was made to obtain a school authority code and a school code from Alberta Education. A short time later Alberta Education granted these codes, and Kapawe’no First Nation School Authority (a.0368) and Kapawe’no First Nation School (s.2351) soon were in full operation.

Preparing to become one of Alberta’s newest school programs involved input from school and community members, including Elders who formed a School Advisory Council to help school administration set a three-year plan in place for the school. Offering a robust and rigorous academic program based on the Program of Studies with an emphasis on numeracy and literacy, was placed as a top priority by the Nation. Alongside this, was the development of an innovative and creative School Plan which ensured all requirements of Alberta Education were met while delivering on the community desire for First Nation Education to continue alongside and supporting the education offered by the Alberta curriculum which would be in place.

“First Nation Education begins at birth and is ongoing in the lives of Indigenous People,” said Councillor Debbie Chalifoux, who has Education as one of her Chief and Council Portfolios. “It is only around age 5-6 when the context of education changes for our youth through the addition of the Alberta Education Program of Studies in Grade 1. What sets Kapawe’no First Nation School apart from others is that they continue embedding First Nation Education into all aspects of their school’s curricular outcomes. They like creating “real world” experiences that are meaningful for our Nation’s students. It is one of their highest priorities for teaching and for student learning at the school.”

It was apparent from the start that this school would be different. It would speak First Nation. It would develop First Nation. It would be First Nation. Soon a handpicked group of caring and experienced Alberta-certified teachers were in place, all whom had the same vision, all whom were certificated National Archery Instructors (the school participates in the National Archery in Schools Program), all of whom had complimentary skill and knowledge sets that supported and enhanced First Nation programming and the creation of a school that catered to a “Children First” principle.

Since the school commenced in earnest under the Kapawe’no First Nation School Authority, there has been a focus on the development of skills, knowledge and tradition through a variety of land-based teaching events. Councillor Pamela Halcrow explained, “Teachings will continue this year, as in the past, and include tipi teachings, meat drying and fish smoking, hide making, sewing of ribbon skirts and shirts, trapping, and Indigenous Art (beading and fish scale art). The school’s community members and Elders help to make Kapawe’no First Nation School a leader in Land Based Instruction in Canada. With this Elder support our students immerse themselves in outdoor teachings at our Day Camp and Week-Long Camp locations, both of which are perfect for harvesting traditional medicines and learning how to respectfully protect and be responsible for all that is upon Mother Earth.”

During the last month of September, the school will honor the National Holiday of Truth and Reconciliation (September 30th) with a full week of land-based teachings while recognizing the importance of the National Holiday through a full day of reflection. When asked what sets Kapawe’no First Nation school apart from other schools, Education Manager Bryan Richardson added, “We have incredible opportunities for students who love sports. The Sports Academy prepares students from Grade 4 to Grade 12 for both the Provincial and National Archery NASP competitions held each year.

Students in Junior and Senior High get to compete in tournament play for volleyball, basketball, badminton, team handball, and track and field.

Students with an interest in fitness benefit from the Traditional Body Health & Wellness Program we have in place for students and love working out in our fully equipped cardio and weight room.”

For the artistically inclined, the school has a Fine Arts Academy with programming focuses on Indigenous sketching, drawing, painting, sculpting, soapstone carving and creative writing. All processes that make this a first choice for the students that attend the school. In addition, the Fine Arts Academy has fifteen acoustic guitars ready for the students who wish to learn how to play them.

A third Academy houses the CTR-CTS Program courses which cater to students who prefer an Individualized Student Directed Learning Program model.

Within this academy the school has courses that echo those in any regular school programs at the junior high and high school level such as industrial arts, cooking courses, media courses and more.

Land-based programming, Aboriginal Studies, and a soon to be created Residential School History course at the Grade 10 level are all courses offered by this academy.

At Kapawe’no First Nation School, we are creating an innovative First Nation Educational System that is defined by, and for, First Nation children, as well as, children who desire to learn more about First Nation Education. Because Kapawe’no First Nation School has a virtual classroom streaming program embedded in its programming model the school is capable of registering any Alberta student, on or off reserve, anywhere in Alberta (as long as they have internet access) who wishes to obtain teaching from Alberta Certificated teachers which leads to an Alberta High School diploma.

Call us today if you are interested in becoming part of our school family.

Call or text Bryan at (780) 818.8844 or Leana at (780) 818.7498 for more information.

You can also email [email protected] to obtain more information on this exciting school!

Also please visit us at kfnschool.com or on our Kapawe’no First Nation School Facebook page and find a true example of a First Nation in control of First Nation Education!

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