First published in Thunder Bay’s Chronicle-Journal newspaper on Saturday, October 16, 2004 (Page A7) as a Guest Column by Geordi Kakepetum, Keewaytinook Okimakanak’s Executive Director.
As Thunder Bay Telephone adopts a new course ("TbayTel aims to keep up with times" - C-J, Sept 29), it’s important to consider some of the opportunities that information communication technologies (ICTs) offer for community-based development.
Keewaytinook Okimakanak (the Northern Chiefs Council) was created more than 10 years ago to bring support services and other applications including connectivity and ICTs to our member First Nation communities in Ontario’s Far North. Back then, many of our communities did not even have residential telephone service. Our leadership understood that a technological revolution was taking place that we could not afford to miss.
To learn more, our chiefs travelled by bus to witness a demonstration of tele-medicine in Ottawa. They watched as a cardiologist at the Heart Institute diagnosed a patient in the Northwest Territories. Our leadership immediately saw the potential of such a tool to imporove the lives of people in Ontario’s Far North.
Since then, Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) (http://knet.ca) has become a leader in First Nation connectivity and telecommunications. We operate KNet Services (http://smart.knet.ca), a community-based telecommunications network, KO Telehealth (http://telehealth.knet.ca), and KiHS (http://kihs.knet.ca) to name just a few. Each of these applications was developed by our communities to address local needs.
I would like to share with you how education has changed in Ontario’s Far North because of this. Historically, our children had to leave their families and communities after they finished elementary school if they wanted to continue their education at high school in Sioux Lookout, Kenora or Thunder Bay. Not surprising many of these young people ran into trouble as they struggled to deal with the challenges of urban life.
Most of our communities simply could not support a full high school program because populations are small. Those communities with enough students to support a high school program could only afford to hire one or maybe two teachers. Like all rural and remote schools, our programs could not provide the full range of curriculum options that urban students take for granted. Further, it was difficult to hire and retain teachers to work under such conditions.
Keewaytinook Internet High School (http://kihs.knet.ca) was created by our communities to address each of these challenges. KiHS now offers Grade 9 and 10 courses for those who wish to remain home for the first two years of high school.
KiHS is not a "cyber school" where teachers and students can only interact with each other via e-mails and web pages. KiHS is a high school with classrooms located in the thirteen partner First Nation communities across Northwestern Ontario.
KiHS students attend a regular classroom each day under the direction of a teacher accredited by the Ontario College of Teachers. Instead of trying to teach all subjects at every grade level, each teacher is responsible for teaching only two courses, one at the Grade 9 level and the other in Grade 10, in his or her area of specialization. The teacher in Fort Hope, for example, teaches computer science to all of the students across the KiHS network via the Internet and videoconferencing.
How successful is KiHS? This program has been operating for only three years so it has not been objectively evaluated yet. We would like to know if smaller class sizes and the opportunities for on-on-one mentoring better prepares our students for the remaining years of high school. We would like to know how successful our students are when they graduate and move towards college, university and beyond.
Nevertheless, KiHS has achieved a number of its original objectives. It keeps our youth at home under the guidance of their parents and grandparents during those critical early teenage years. Would you want your children to leave home to attend Grade 9? Would you want them to board with strangers?
Many First Nation students who travel south to attend high school drop out shortly after September and return home. Without KiHS, these students would have nothing to do except get into trouble. KiHS allows these students to save their year by achieving at least some of their credits.
Some complete the maximum number of credits available. Many of these young people choose to remain KiHS students for Grade 10. There is pressure from the Chiefs and parents to expand KiHS to include Grade 11 and 12. If the program was not meeting their needs and expectations, our enrolment would not grow every year.
KiHS is just ne of the ICT applications that Keewaytinook Okimakanak has developed to serve the needs of our members. Like KiHS, KO Telehealth links via videoconferencing the sick and injured in 24 First Nations in the Sioux Lookout Zone with physicians and specialists in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Toronto. KNet Services is a community-based telecommunications network that is now supporting "Voice-over-Internet" telephony, videoconferencing, web pages and e-mail to name just a few of the services that we provide to First Nations people.
DFC students celebrate NNEC’s 25 anniversary
Amid the laughter and surprises, Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) High School was in full motion as it celebrated NNEC’s 25 anniversary on October 15. DFC is one of the best schools commented one Wunnimun Lake student Starr Martin, 18. She notes that although it is fully hard “adjusting” to a new environment, she says it’s the “new friends” that make it a fun stay.
One of the reasons, why 19 year old Michael Goodman came to school at DFC was because “they have everything” from sports, to services that are for free he says. Goodman, a first year student at DFC, says that although he has never been to a high school in an urban setting, he says that DFC is a school worth going to because “everybody (is) being nice to everybody” he explained.
Nearly after 25 years of showing educational support to the Nishnawbe Aski-Nation (NAN), Northern Nishnawbe Education Council (NNEC) celebrated 25 years of on going dreams that become a reality. "Our Culture is unique and must be kept alive for our children" the NNEC's website explains. "Education must include knowledge of our language, culture, history, values heritage, and spiritual beliefs."
NNEC which also provides in school support for their students, say that it provides "Educational programs (that) must be culturally relevant with curricula designed, developed, and delivered by First nations people."
Into celebrating the 25th year, the school gathered all the students into the school gym where each one took a cake along with a hot cup of tea and coffee and shared a few laughs as they watched Team DFC playing against the DFC staff. (I figure they hate me now because I was acting like a pysho "di-killing papparazzi" at the gym with the tiny digital that was given to me by the school for me to use that afternoon... )
From communities as far as Fort Severn, to as far west as Sandy Lake - from the east side of Moosonee to the nearest Thunder Bay - each student says that NNEC means a lot to them.
We give it a “4 thumbs up” says students Pamela Chapman, Jenelle Matthews and Cheri Quequish of Kitchenumaykoosib Innuwug, (Big Trout Lake). Chapman, a third year student at DFC, says that the school offers a lot of programs that she thinks students would really like. “They have almost everything” cited Quequish, 16. The trio explained that although the school doesn’t have the sports they play, such as kick-boxing, and baseball, they say that the school remains awesome.
Goodman explains that although his first year experience is rewarding, he says he would recommend others on coming however, it would be “up to them” withier they’d like to or not. NNEC is also collaborated with the Pelican Falls First Nations High School in Sioux Lookout, Northern Eagle in Ear Falls and the Wahsa Distance Education which is a correspondence school delivered via radio.
By James Benson