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Triumph in the Face of Adversity: Louis Riel Institute provides second chances for Indigenous Adults

High school can be one of the most difficult times in one’s life. From bullying to learning to socialize, high school is a pivotal moment in the journey toward adulthood. In just four years young adults are expected to “grow up” and learn curriculum so that they can “take that next step” in their lives. Society pressures students to attend university, college or other forms of higher education as a way to find the right jobs.

However, for many indigenous Canadians this prospect is very difficult. Some students choose to live on reserve and pursue their education but approximately 31% of indigenous students pursue education off reserve in big cities where they may feel isolated and out of place. Between 2004-2009, the Assembly of First Nations estimates that only 36% of first nations across Canada graduate secondary school, compared with 72% of non-indigenous Canadians between the ages of 24 and 65. Many first nations people struggle to obtain employment without a secondary school diploma. This is where the Louis Riel Institute helps these students to improve their educational outcomes. While Statistics Canada has indicated these rates have gone up it is only through the hard work of organizations like the Louis Riel Institute and 50 or so other adult education organizations across Manitoba.

Students learn about indigenous culture while obtaining credits towards higher education

Joel Boyce is the director of the Louis Riel Institute and a University of Manitoba Faculty of Education Graduate. The mission of the institute is to help Metis, Indigenous and Inuit clients gain the credits they need to graduate from high school. They also work closely with the Manitoba Metis Federation and its Metis Employment and Training department to place graduates in apprenticeship programs and even help them attain entry into University. Joel started as a high school teacher and taught physics, math and the sciences to students and one day found the Institutes posting for a teaching position. Joel had a strong connection with teaching at the institute as he is Metis and proud of his indigenous heritage. So the institute provided an amazing way for him to help the community while passionately teaching through an indigenous perspective.

Joel took me through his first years teaching and described how the school model works with respect to adult education. He says some of the challenges in adult education lies with the fact that many school models are not flexible or culturally aware. He took me through how some of his students struggled to travel within the city to get to school, some of his students have children so finding daycare programs was a great challenge and moreover some came to school feeling extremely hungry as they had little or no food to eat.

Proud Louis Riel Institute students after receiving their high school diplomas in 2018.

Today Joel wears many hats functioning as the director of the centre while teaching classes on site. The centre provides a warm and caring environment where adult learners can gain the credits they need to graduate within an indigenous context. The Institutes clients come from all walks of life and most struggle with working and finding time to attend classes. The centre tries to provide basic food to clients so they don’t have to learn on an empty stomach, and is working on potential non-profit avenues to bring more nutritious foods their learners.

The centre strives to recognize prior learning in the workplace contextualize learning within an indigenous perspective. As Joel explains, “When you learn you have to have a connection to what you are learning”. Further indigenous perspectives, such as the traditions of the Métis, provided by the institute help learners gain concepts within a cultural context which is what a recent UN report on indigenous education has highlighted for indigenous learners. Teachers at the Institute have years of experience which allows them to adapt to their learners, and as Joel explains “...they must have a full understanding of their subject area and be ready to teach different grade levels with different learners in each class”.

Joel and the hardworking team at the Louis Riel Institute strive to provide their clients with the opportunity to thrive

A great bright point Joel shares with me includes one of his graduates who won a leadership program and has since received training in early childhood education from a local community college while keeping her culture and indigenous traditions alive. Another of his students was able to graduate and is now attending the University of Manitoba with a dream to become a psychologist. This article highlights the great work being done by the Louis Riel Institute and all its hardworking teaching and support staff to make a difference in our community.

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