Elders Celebrated at Annual Mi’kmaw Education Symposium

This week Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey celebrates 14 years of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw education success at its annual Community Strategic and Operational Planning Symposium. Approximately 100 First Nation education representatives will come together from March 5-7 at the Park Place Ramada in Dartmouth.

This year’s conference highlights and celebrates the importance and significant contributions of Mi’kmaw Elders to their community’s education system. The conference opens Wednesday with a keynote address by Eskasoni Elder Joe B. Marshall, an aboriginal veteran, role model, mentor, and esteemed leader on the leading edge of native rights initiatives for over 40 years.

Marshall was a driving force behind the creation of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians (UNSI) in 1969 in response to the Trudeau government’s White Paper advocating assimilation. He has been executive director of UNSI for nearly two decades and also acts as senior advisor to the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative in negotiations with the Province of Nova Scotia and Ottawa on aboriginal and treaty rights. Mr. Marshall retired as Associate Professor of Mi’kmaq Studies and Political Science from Cape Breton University in 2005. While at the university, he was instrumental in the formation of the Mi’kmaq College Institute and the creation of Mi’kmaq Studies as a disciplinary subject.

Marshall is an Order of Nova Scotia honouree and was presented with the Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr. Memorial Elder Award during the 2013 Halifax annual Treaty Day ceremony.

Delegates will continue to hear from Elders and their work across the province, including Dr. Albert and Dr. Murdena Marshall, a husband and wife team who have devoted their life to the promotion and preservation of Mi’kmaw spirituality, education, and science. The Marshalls are two founding members behind the research model known as “two-eyed seeing”, an approach that combines the strengths of both traditional scientific methods and Aboriginal ways of understanding health. In early December, the Canadian Institute of Health Research announced that a research team, led by Dr. Frederic Wien of Dalhousie University, had been awarded $446,396 over three years for a project called “Building a Social Policy Framework for the Health and Well-Being of Mi’kmaq Communities: A Two-Eyed Seeing Approach.”

“Having our Elders as resource people in our classrooms gives students first hand knowledge of our culture, language and traditions,” says Eleanor Bernard, executive director of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey. “This open communication of students and Elders builds strong relationships and enhances respect for our Elders.”

In October 2013, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey announced that 87% of Mi’kmaw high school pupils graduated in the spring. More than 500 Mi’kmaq students were enrolled in post-secondary schools last year, up 25 per cent over 2011-12. Eighty-four graduated from universities or colleges.