By Shari Narine
SADDLE LAKE FIRST NATION, Alta.
The educational success of Saddle Lake First Nation members is a success felt by the community at large.
“It’s an honouring for everybody. All the community gets to participate, to celebrate in that success,” said Bernadine Houle-Steinhauer of the 17th Biennial Education Authority Round Dance, to take place Feb. 17.
“It’s not only the honour of one. It’s the honour of all.”
In total, 368 students from the past two years will be honoured for their accomplishments at a variety of levels, both on-reserve and in high schools and post-secondary institutions across the province, the country and the United States.
“The numbers are growing, every year,” said Houle-Steinhauer, post-secondary director for Saddle Lake Education Authority. She attributes that growth to more than First Nations simply being the fastest growing demographic.
“I think (there’s) the realization that education is one of the keys to be able to go out … and get a job.”
Houle-Steinhauer says that there’s a good mix of students getting their education on the reserve and staying there to work, along with those returning to the reserve after getting their education in other communities. But, like most reserves, employment opportunities are limited.
Saddle Lake First Nation offers its members every chance at success when it comes to education. Along with the regular high school program, the school offers an outreach program.
As well, Saddle Lake employment and training, formerly the human resources department, offers trades-related programs that take one year or less for studies.
Under the umbrella of the social development program, Saddle Lake re-investment and training offers upgrading at the Grades 6 to 12 level, and the family literacy enhancement program helps those with low literacy.
The Saddle Lake Education Authority also offers funding through the University and College Entrance Program for one year of upgrading to allow students to get into post-secondary education.
Students receiving their education off-reserve are supported by visits undertaken in October and then again in February and March.
“We hear comments from students who say it’s nice to have somebody from home to come out and touch base,” said Houle-Steinhauer.
And, adding to the educational success of Saddle Lake First Nation members is the Saddle Lake Training Centre, which celebrates its grand opening on Friday as well.
The new location, says Houle-Steinhauer, offers classroom space and will allow more students to receive training.
The round dance will honour 117 high school students, both those who graduated from high school on Saddle Lake First Nation and from Edmonton and area schools; 117 students from Saddle Lake employment and training; 49 graduates from the reinvestment program; 14 from the family literacy enhancement program; and 68 off-reserve post-secondary graduates.
Guest speaker at the round dance is Saddle Lake First Nation member Dr. Rhonda Elser, who recently received her doctorate from the University of British Columbia, and now lives in Calgary.
There are nine master degrees, 12 bachelor degrees and 15 diploma recipients.
“The opportunity for our programs to be working together, to have celebrations like this, inspires people to want to do more, be more,” said Houle-Steinhauer.