Imagine an intelligent building with interactive elements providing data about its net-zero environmental performance as well as insights into Indigenous knowledge. The First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) envisions its future facility as an educational tool that uses sensors and apps for enhanced learning – while building on the success of existing programs that incorporate new technology. Language revitalization programs, for example, already draw on virtual reality elements, where students can explore a garden or a kitchen and listen to explanations in the Mohawk language about traditional methods for growing, harvesting and preparing food. Another language presentation in Anishinaabe takes viewers on a journey to harvest wild rice.
“We tie in new technology with Indigenous thinking and cultural practices,” says Suzanne Katsi’tsiarihshion Brant, FNTI’s president. “As an Indigenous institute, we have a strong focus on raising awareness about how Indigenous knowledge can contribute to solutions for today’s pressing challenges, such as climate change.” A commitment to sustainability stems from a deep respect for the Earth, which is central to Indigenous identity, she explains.
FNTI’s pedagogy – referred to as Indigegogy – ensures that vocational and individual learning outcomes are paired with Indigenous outcomes, says Ms. Brant. “First Nations communities lost so much due to residential schools and restrictions of cultural practices; for example, using traditional medicines and speaking First Nations languages were once illegal. As a post-secondary institute, FNTI is proud to be part of their revitalization.”
Indigenous ways are deeply integrated into learning methodologies. “For example, we use the circle; we have traditional medicines in the centre of the room, and there are lots of opportunities for drumming, singing and sharing teachings,” says Ms. Brant. “Many of our students come into the classroom and say, ‘This is part of my family.’”
This sense of belonging allows students to present real-life experiences and community challenges. Students in the social service program, for example, would discuss the trauma of having First Nations children removed from their communities, says Ms. Brant. “Because of the statistics, every First Nations person in the class knows someone who has been impacted. They learn about new legislation affecting Indigenous children and about developing capacity for keeping children in the community.
“When students learn to unburden their own traumas, they take these skills back to their communities and places of work,” she adds. Support services contribute to creating a safe environment, and programs are designed to ensure student success. For certain programs, for example, students participate in regular one-week-intensive training and then return to their communities – a format that is effective for many First Nations learners.
The institute’s education results in a profound transformation in learners, which, in turn, impacts their communities and has also been noticed by employers, says Ms. Brant. “We have a 93 per cent employment rate. This speaks of our success in unburdening traumas and developing capacity, strength and identity.”
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