STAR Catholic building FNMI community partnerships

STAR Catholic is moving forward with collaboration with Maskwacis schools.

Dan Svitich - STAR Catholic Ponoka Trustee

A learning partnership between educational authorities in Maskwacis and St. Thomas Aquinas Roman (STAR) Catholic School Division aims to embrace cultural understanding and improve outcomes for students.

STAR Catholic has forged a partnership with Nipisihkopahk Education Authority in Samson Cree Nation and Miyo Wahkotowin in Ermineskin Cree Nation. STAR Catholic has strong First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) representation in several of our schools, especially in Sacred Heart School in Wetaskiwin and St. Augustine School in Ponoka. The partnership allows for the exploration of Cree culture and creates a positive bond, while providing access to cultural resources such as elders, ceremonies and protocol training.

Staff from Nipisihkopahk Education Authority and Miyo Wahkotowin have joined STAR Catholic administrators for dialogue and shared learning at STAR Catholic’s Central Office in Leduc. This work is part of the initial steps in creating a partnership based around supporting students.

STAR Catholic’s Board of Trustees has made improving educational outcomes for FNMI students and fostering a greater appreciation amongst all stakeholders for FNMI culture among its top priorities. FNMI students are federally funded at a rate lower than provincially funded students. By sharing expertise and resources it is hoped the gap can close between FNMI students and other students.

To aid in closing that gap, STAR Catholic has seen staff attend various professional development training and conferences geared toward FNMI cultures, understanding and reconciliation, including the recent 2016 Indigenous Cultural Awareness Conference. Students also attended a FNMI leadership conference to better create understanding of FNMI culture and create school leaders.

From these conferences staff and students have had the opportunity to connect with First Nations’ elders through a variety of activities. From smudging to dances, from talking circles to historical discussions, the relationships and understanding of FNMI culture strengthen.

There are a lot of similarities between our Catholic faith and Cree traditions. A focus on respect and dignity for others and spirituality creates a true common ground between what is known culturally among our First Nations students and what is practiced and celebrated throughout STAR Catholic Schools.

STAR Catholic may be exploring new ways to foster learning together among First Nations, Métis and Inuit partners, but the collaboration is not new. The partnership with Maskwacis goes back more than a 100 years. Sacred Heart Parish and school in Wetaskiwin started out as a mission church and school from Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Maskwacis.

As we continue on with this relationship, this is an effort important to the Board, one outlined in our Board priorities and one we are proud to see continue to grow and make real impacts on our students.

Dan Svitich dan.svitich@starcatholic.ab.ca is a Ponoka Trustee on the STAR Catholic Schools Division Board. STAR Catholic Schools has more than 3,900 students in 11 schools located in Beaumont, Drayton Valley, Leduc, Lacombe, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin.