Indigenous groups in Fort Chipewyan have signed an agreement with the province of Alberta that will establish a community-based education authority.
Kendrick Cardinal, president of the Fort Chipewyan Métis local, said he expected establishment of the authority to take two years. Cardinal signed the agreement in June with Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and former Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Peter Powder.
“We’re here about the children. We’re about making things better,” said Alberta’s education minister, Adriana LaGrange, who signed the memorandum on behalf of the province in a September 6 ceremony in Fort Chipewyan.
LaGrange described being made aware during a 2019 visit that none of 12 students eligible to graduate that year from the Northland School Division, which operated Athabasca Delta Community School, had achieved that milestone. The K-12 school opened in 1986.
“That is unacceptable. That will never happen again and what we’re doing today will ensure that never ever happens again,” said LaGrange.
Mikisew Cree Deputy Chief Roxanne Marcel said the community had already taken steps to address concerns about education.
In February 2020, the three Indigenous partners started operating the Fort Chipewyan Community High School. Marcel said the school has graduated 75 students in two and a half years.
Partnering to operate that community school and seeing its success demonstrated why the community had “lost hope” in Northland School Division, says Cardinal.
“We just wanted a new start and [to] have more of a say in our curriculum, as well as more of a local representation as to the education authority,” he said.
The memorandum states that “preserving, supporting and revitalizing the language, culture and identity of First Nations and Métis people” is a priority for the community-based educational authority.
In preparation for the new authority, education services for the Athabasca Delta Community School have been temporarily transferred from Northland to the Parkland School Division.
The search for an interim education authority began in 2021. Six public school divisions were approached and Parkland was chosen.
“They made it very clear that they wanted to be part of our community, and reconciliation, and also provide as much Indigenous content as possible,” said Cardinal.
“We just want to make sure our Indigenous peoples speak for themselves. As time goes on, we’re getting more enhanced with education as well. Indigenous people are becoming smarter, they’re taking a [hold of] their lifestyle and culture, as well as their identity.”
LaGrange said the province would provide $150,000 to help the Indigenous partners engage members of their communities in establishing the educational authority.
The 2020 provincial budget included $23 million for a new K-12 school in Fort Chipewyan that can support up to 320 students. The province said work is ongoing to define the project’s scope and identify a school site.
Cardinal expects construction of the school to begin shortly and take three years to complete.