Higher learning – with its goals to advance the skills and competencies of learners and build their capacity to have a positive impact on communities – cannot happen in a vacuum. By working closely with Indigenous communities to identify and meet their specific needs, First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) strives to advance societal transformation.
“The focus is on change – on creating healthy individuals and families, healthy nations and a healthy planet,” says Suzanne Katsi’tsiarihshion Brant, FNTI’s president. “By bringing Indigenous knowledge back into our communities and sharing our ways of doing things, we hope to contribute to solutions to some of the world’s key challenges.”
It starts with empowering Indigenous learners, she explains. “We provide our students with a learning environment and content that is relevant to them. We encourage them to develop pride in their knowledge and their identity as an Indigenous person.”
In order to meet the students’ unique needs, Indigenous instructors use Indigenous teaching methods, and there are cultural advisers and student support facilitators. An intense mode of one-week-per-month delivery ensures that learners don’t lose connection to their community. They are also encouraged to bring their own stories into the classroom. The result? “All our programs have transformative experiences,” says Ms. Brant. “This year, we had a graduation rate of 93 per cent.”
By bringing Indigenous knowledge back into our communities and sharing our ways of doing things, we hope to contribute to solutions to some of the world’s key challenges.— Suzanne Katsi’tsiarihshion Brant, President, First Nations Technical Institute
Due to legislative changes reflected in the Ontario Indigenous Institutes Act, 2017, Ontario’s Indigenous institutes gain full recognition and operational funding, enabling FNTI to begin delivering standalone bachelor’s degrees in 2020. Three programs – the Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work, Bachelor of Health Sciences in Indigenous Midwifery, and Bachelor of Arts and Science in Indigenous Food Systems – have been developed in consultation with community and are pending accreditation by the Indigenous Advanced Education and Skills Council.
The Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work is, in part, a response to an increase in labour market demand within the Indigenous social service sector in Ontario. FNTI can build on its successful social work programs, where “learning is connected to real life experiences, which allows for the unburdening of trauma and the opportunity for change,” says Ms. Brant.
In FNTI’s social work programs, case studies focusing on community issues, for example mental health, are prioritized. “Everyone from a First Nations community can relate to mental health challenges,” she explains. “By bringing personal experiences into the circle, students know they are not alone. They can work through issues together.”
Personal healing provides the foundation for helping others, believes Ms. Brant. “In social work, people have to be able to hear tough stories. They can take a person only as far as they have personally come.”
The midwifery program aims to provide much-needed recognition of the contribution of traditional Onkwehón:we midwives in Indigenous communities and increase access to culturally safe midwifery care, says Ms. Brant. And the Bachelor of Arts and Science in Indigenous Food Systems program will equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to food sovereignty, product development, community growth, economic prosperity and ecological restoration at First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada.
The full recognition as an Indigenous institute boosts FNTI’s ability to “do our own research based on our own knowledge systems without having to worry about appropriation and intellectual property issues,” says Ms. Brant. “It helps us to protect our knowledge and, at the same time, contribute to finding solutions for the world.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.