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Governor General visits First Nations grads

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Eleven Univesity of Calgary graduates were honoured with a visit from Governor General Michaëlle Jean Sat., Jan. 26.

The graduates are the first from the U of C's master of teaching Siksika option program. The unique training program is designed to give teachers a deeper understanding of the Siksika language and culture, while keeping mainstream education practices.

The program boasts a 100 per cent student retention rate and immediate job offers upon graduation.

The program is a response to the low performance levels of Aboriginal students in schools on the Siksika Reserve. It was a joint collaboration between the university, Old Sun Community College and Siksika Nation.

"The result is not an Aboriginal 'immersion' program, but an innovative intercultural model for preparing native teachers to work in their communities and lead change," said U of C faculty of education dean Dr. Annette LaGrange.

The visit by the Governor General was part of a reunion for the graduates to celebrate their journey--considered a success story in Canada's education and First Nations communities.

Sitting in an Aboriginal-led discussion circle, Jean listened as the alumni and other program mem- bers shared their experiences working with Siksika children and culture.

Program graduate Marianne Black recounted her struggle studying in an authoritarian school outside her reserve.

"Being a native person­--one of the minorities that really stood out--it was very frightening," said Black. "I really love that there's a cultural aspect now. I like the fact that the program is close [to the reserve] and includes all the tribes."

Jean seemed genuinely moved by the alumni's personal stories.

"When I think of the Aboriginal legacy and culture, we should all be proud of that legacy," said Jean. "The culture, the different languages, the different experiences, the different histories--all of this together makes Canada, the Canadian culture, and the Canadian identity."

The discussion concluded with native singing and a dance circle, which Jean did not hesitate to join.

"What's marvelous about [Jean] is she really connects with the people," said LaGrange. "She cares about Aboriginal issues."

The Governor General's three-day visit to Alberta from Jan. 25-27 emphasized the plight of the Aboriginal community and examined potential solutions. Jean's itinerary also included a trip to the Stoney Nakoda Nation Eagle Nest Family Shelter and a discussion on engaging marginalized youth through art and culture.

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