Dene teacher education program gets $250K from Saskatchewan government

A teacher education program that trains instructors to deliver education in the Dene language in Saskatchewan’s northern communities got a funding boost from the provincial government.

The government is contributing up to $255,000 to the First Nations University of Canada for its Dene teacher education program at educating Saskatchewan students in their first language.

The goal of the program is to improve student participation and rates of graduation by helping teacher recruitment and retention in northern Saskatchewan.

Minister of Advanced Education Gordon Wyant said the partnership is a shared commitment to truth and reconciliation and the calls to action.

“Currently, La Loche and the Clearwater River Dene Nation are the only communities in Canada where Dene students can learn in their first language from elementary school through to post-secondary,” he said.

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Funding covers half the cost of the Dene teacher education program. The remaining cost is covered by Clearwater Dene Nation and Northern Lights School Division. The program is delivered by the First Nations University.

The program was created in 2016 with 30 students enrolled and 21 graduated. It is currently teaching in communities in northern Sakatchewan.

This year’s cohort has 24 students and Wyant said they are hoping to see the same kind of success.

“It has been a great challenge in north Sask. to attract teachers so when we can attract teachers who can teach in Dene, in their native language, in northern Sask., that’s good for the delivery of education programs in northern Saskatchewan,” he said.

Wyant said they will be analyzing the need for more teachers as they go through this cohort in order to ensure they have enough teachers in the region who can teach.

Bob Kayseas, vice-president of academics at First Nations University, said it’s a community-based program in which they go into the community and deliver classes. He said they try to get instructors directly into the field, for example, by finding qualified local people who they support and train.

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“Students are interviewed and selected, sometimes they teach remotely through Zoom, often we send instructors to locations, we offer them in various locations, primarily in Sask. We have been doing this at the university since over 40 years now,” he said.

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Kayseas talked about the challenges student face.

“A young woman that came here, she had three kids, she wanted to quit so many times. After two years she finished her degree and now she has a $38-an-hour job and a house.”

“The outcomes that can be achieved, the success they can achieve is amazing. It changes their families, their little kids, many young people saying, ‘I’m the first in my family that’s here.’”

He added that other family members are going to see their success and want to be there too.

The new funding will go paying towards the cost of instruction.

Kayseas said he wants to continue working on programs like this.

“Many of our people are still struggling with challenges as a result of external forces. Many of our people when they come here and see their peers, they are very happy to see them and study with their community.”

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