Aboriginal students looking to become fully qualified teachers will be able to turn to a unique new program this fall offered by Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario that stresses First Nations realities and helps to acclimatize teachers to their students’ needs.

“It is different from other programs because it is geared toward Aboriginal children, Aboriginal learners,” said Dean of Education Dr. John O’Meara.

The Honours B.Ed. (Aboriginal) program includes relevant courses in Social Sciences, Humanities and Sciences and Environmental Studies. There are also Native Language and Culture courses which are a required part of the program – and maybe the most important for communities with few speakers.

“It really is designed in part to provide a strong academics program so that when they go out and teach Aboriginal students whether on reserve or in the public school systems, they will be better prepared to meet the needs of those students,” said Dr. O’Meara.

“When students complete this program they will be fully certified to teach in the primary/junior division, which is up to Grade 8.”

Dr. O’Meara said that parts of the program, like the curriculum and learning strategies, have a strong Aboriginal component that is set up to fully immerse teachers into the reality of their students.

According to the university’s press release, “Upon program completion, students will demonstrate a critical understanding of culturally appropriate and culturally based Aboriginal education – grounded in Aboriginal philosophies and the goal of self-determination.”

The future teachers will also be able to apply learned methods and strategies when dealing with Aboriginal families and use their newly gained knowledge of either the Cree or Ojibwa language and culture in lesson and unit-planning, assessment and student evaluation.

Various pre-requisites are required when applying for the program, but some of those eligible to apply include students with Native Language instructors’ diplomas, mature students and transfer students.

Located in northwestern Ontario, Lakehead University worked with communities and Elders in the area to formulate a relative and pertinent program for Aboriginal students.

Lakehead University worked alongside the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 communities in the Treaty 9 area, and the Matawa First Nations Chiefs Council and their 10 Ojibwa and Cree member communities.

Their goal was to help educate their people by encouraging them to attend this course so they can produce more Aboriginal educators.

The university’s language courses are in Cree and Ojibwa, which many of their members are already familiar with, so it was a natural progression of sorts.

“The idea behind the program is to make certain that Aboriginals have the opportunity to participate fully in education as teachers,” said Dr. O’Meara.

“We think there are many great opportunities for careers and for students to contribute to their own community and society by enhancing what they do through education.”

Once students complete their studies, they are be able to take additional qualifications over the course of a semester that qualifies them to teach high school, known in Ontario as intermediate and senior levels.

Students will conduct their student teaching placement on a reserve or in urban schools with large Aboriginal populations, giving them hands-on experience before teaching an actual class.

Unlike other programs that only allow teachers to teach in Native communities upon completion, the Honours program at Lakehead University qualifies students to teach anywhere in Canada.

The course is only offered to Aboriginal students because it is specifically tailored to their needs. It will be guided by the Advisory Council for Aboriginal Education (ACAE) and supported by Lakehead’s Aboriginal Management Council (AMC).

Lakehead University is home to over 7500 students and 2000 faculty and staff. For more information on the program, visit www.lakeheadu.ca or call 807-343-81 10.