Since 1999, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. (MFNERC) has provided a range of support services to 56 locally-controlled First Nations schools based on direction, identified needs and input from First Nations Education Directors and local First Nations education staff and community members. The role of MFNERC continues to evolve since it was first established in 1998 based on resolutions from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).

In December 2016, MFNERC signed the Education Governance Agreement with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to establish the Manitoba First Nations School System (MFNSS). Ten Manitoba First Nations signed delegation agreements with MFNERC. The MFNSS was established to address the needs of First Nations students consistent with its mandate from Manitoba First Nations leaders through the AMC.

The Manitoba First Nations School System is a First Nations-designed school system with funding comparable to provincial school divisions and is the first of its kind in Canada. The MFNSS held its Grand Opening ceremony on October 11, 2017 at the Sergeant Tommy Prince School in Brokenhead Ojibway Nation territory; Sergeant Tommy Prince School is one of the ten First Nations schools that are part of the MFNSS.

MFNERC assisted four students from Sergeant Tommy Prince School to create a video which invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the grand opening of the Manitoba First Nations School System. The video went viral towards the end of September 2017 and garnered a video response from the prime minister.

Trudeau responded, “I won’t be able to make it, but [Crown- Indigenous Relations] Minister [Carolyn] Bennett, Indigenous Services Minister [Jane] Philpott and I are so happy that this day has come,” Trudeau said. “You’re the first 2,000 students in Manitoba in a First-Nations designed school system. This is historic.”

Needless to say, the students were quite excited to receive his response, especially in video format, and made it clear that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is welcome to visit anytime he wants.

Since July 2017, the Manitoba First Nations School System has assumed responsibility for administering and managing elementary and secondary education programs and services for ten First Nations (2,000 students and over 350 staff ). Each of the participating First Nations has signed on for an initial five-year term and other First Nations in Manitoba are welcome to join the school system.

Although the MFNSS is funded by the federal government, it is solely designed and operated by Manitoba’s First Nations.

“It’s First Nations managed and First Nations driven,” said Nora Murdock, Director of Instructional Services at the MFNSS. “First Nations have a say in the priorities and how they want their children to be educated.”

The MFNSS is fortunate to provide their students with enhanced resources due to new funding, such as language and cultural programming, special education sensory rooms, hearing and vision testing equipment and resources for Math, Physical Education and IT learning. Clinician services through the MFNERC are also now available to all MFNERC- supported schools, which includes the MFNSS schools. Also, of significance, Rockford McKay, MFNSS Science Facilitator, received certification from the Province of Manitoba for transporting hazardous chemicals. Now MFNSS is one of the only school divisions in Canada able to safely transport and dispose of chemicals from its own schools.

Furthermore, the MFNSS has supported the ten schools with new school buses, bus driver training, new cleaning equipment, new library books and shelving, as well as First Aid and WHMIS training. MFNSS also completed a major upgrade to the gymnasium at Sergeant Tommy Prince School with new lights and sound insulation. These and many other work projects are in progress and will continue.

MFNSS staff are planning more events that will bring together the staff and students of the MFNSS schools, and just recently held their very first basketball tournament in Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation on February 22-23, 2018, and in the spring the school system is planning to participate in the MFNERC science fair.

The MFNSS plans to improve academic achievement with enhanced supports in all subject areas.

The MFNSS is a First Nations-led strategy which aims to provide a quality, holistic and culturally relevant education for First Nations students by nurturing each child’s growth and encouraging their development as lifelong learners. The MFNSS supports First Nations schools to improve the quality and relevance of education, improve academic standards, and increase student outcomes, including retention, completion and graduation rates.