Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback speaks to attendees on Friday at the expansion of the Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS), which has now become a K to Grade 12 school. MANS used to be a K to Grade 9 school and has been working on the expansion for several years. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Trades and high school grades expanded to First Nations school north of Ponoka

Mamawi Atosketan Native School is officially a K-12 with new $4.9 million building

A second campus for a private school north of Ponoka means more opportunities for First Nations students.

Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS) serves students from Maskwacis and celebrated the opening of two new buildings that offers full Kindergarten to Grade 12 education, plus trades education, for up to 320 students.

The building, which cost around $4.9 million and broke ground three years ago, was constructed through private donations. The school is designated as an Alberta Education accredited, non-funded private school, making it ineligible for government capital funding.

READ MORE: Mamawi Atoseketan Native School breaks new ground

“This began six years ago when we starting talking about adding a high school and fortunately, there were brave individuals that stood up and said this was possible,” explained Larry Wilkins, the honourary chair of the fundraising campaign, plus a major contributor as owner and CEO of External Affairs Medical Spas.

“We closed our eyes six years ago and imagined what this would be like. Today, we open them and are able touch and feel it. This is far greater than what could ever have been imagined.”

Several dignitaries were on hand for the official ceremonies including Wetaskiwin-Camrose NDP MLA Bruce Hinkley speaking on behalf of the provincial government, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback as well as many executive members of Seventh-day Adventist Church from Alberta and Canada.

Gary Hodder, President of the Alberta Conference (SDA) Church, had a good feeling about the project’s success.

“There was a great passion and desire to see the ministry for these young First Nations people,” he stated

“Lots of people came forward with big donations and tons with small donations. And you know what, a miracle happened.”

The project was completed debt free.

The first two words in the school’s name, Mamawi Atosketan, means ‘working together’ in Cree. The school is closely linked to the four First Nations of Maskwacis and for Saddleback, the ceremony was important for two reasons — the school’s primary population comes from Samson and his son is among the school’s alumni.

“Number one in life is God, number two is to be the best husband and father I can be and number three is being chief of Samson Cree Nation,” he said, adding he chose the school ceremony over being at a western Canada’s largest powwow that day.

“The dad in me said to come here. My son came here and it was good for him. And what I want you all to know is that, for the children of Maskwacis, you do make a difference.”

New facility

Aside from the main junior/senior high building with a modern gymnasium, kitchen, band room, classrooms, library and the Ptarmingan Cree Cultural Centre — named for major donor, the Ptarmigan Foundation — there is a unique addition to the new school building.

The Leon Ingraham Industrial Arts Centre — named in honour of the deceased educator who grew up nearby and founded industrial arts programs in Calgary — will house skilled trades education programs.

This includes welding — courtesy of the financial support from the CWB Welding Foundation, a charity that supports the industry in Canada and assists in addressing the skilled trades shortage across the country — and construction through the donation from Bird Construction, Canada’s oldest publicly traded construction firm.

MANS is part of the Seventh-day Adventist school network around the globe, with the philosophy of a Christ-filled environment and education.

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Larry Wilkins (left), the First Nations owner and CEO of External Affairs Medical Spas was a major contributor in the $4.9 million capital project, putting up $1 million and receives a special gift from 2017 graduate Krista Abt. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS) celebrated its expansion from a K to Grade 9 school to a K to Grade 12 school on Friday afternoon just north of Ponoka. The expansion has been in the works for several years with the junior and senior high school located just south of the primary school. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS) celebrated its expansion from a K to Grade 9 school to a K to Grade 12 school on Friday afternoon just north of Ponoka. The expansion has been in the works for several years with the junior and senior high school located just south of the primary school. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

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