Two Indigenous educators are hoping to use some of the teaching techniques they learned on a recent trip to New Zealand here at home in Saskatchewan.

Irene Oakes and Pauline McKay, who ran a workshop at a First Nations education administrators conference in Saskatoon Wednesday, studied some of the methods New Zealand educators are using to successfully teach Maori students.

Oakes says in this country Aboriginal cultural heritage makes up a big part of the curriculum.

“They don’t leave their culture at the door, they don’t leave their language at the door, they celebrate it,” she says. “The teachers learn the language, I heard teachers and principals actually talk and they didn’t just say a few little phrases like that a lot of us in Saskatchewan will say.”

McKay adds they also learned the difference between positive – or agentic – and negative – or deficit – thinking in the classroom from the New Zealand educators.

“It’s what you do in the classroom with that student, it doesn’t matter if your student is poor, it doesn’t matter if your student is First Nations, it’s all about the relationships,” she says.

Oakes and McKay are currently conducting a research study which tests what they learned in New Zealand at six Saskatchewan schools.

The Tenth Annual Western Canada First Nations Education Administrators conference also heard from the northern teacher education program CEO Herman Michell Wednesday.

He was the keynote speaker in the afternoon.

Michell says it is nice to see the first batch of NORTEP grads from the 1970’s come full circle and into retirement with many new northern students eager to take the program based on its strong reputation.

“We have the early graduates of the NORTEP program that are beginning to retire and we’re getting more and more young people now that are entering the our program,” he says. “And, this is really encouraging because we need our children to have role models in the north and we also want them to have the best education possible.”

He adds with northern Saskatchewan’s changing economy, NORTEP needs to train more math and science teachers to educate students for engineering and technical jobs in the forestry and mining industries.

“We need a science facility desperately in northern Saskatchewan. Every year, we go to the feds and say, ‘Look, we need basic four walls and some labs to be able to do some quality work in the sciences,’ because right now we don’t have that up in the north and our students are not able to compete on an equal footing with their Canadian peers.”

The La Ronge-based NORTEP program has been in existence since 1976.

The conference wrapped up on somewhat of a high note Thursday morning after raising about $8,500 for missing and murdered Aboriginal women at the previous night’s banquet.

Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Vice-Chief Bobby Cameron says the conference provides a forum for educators to share ideas so that they can become better teachers in their home communities.

“After the three-day conference is over that they can go back home and say, ‘Here’s a new initiative that I’m going to bring into our classroom, it’s working over here so let’s give it a shot,’” he says.

Cameron adds throughout the conference the FSIN received feedback on educational techniques that are meeting with success and others that are not.

“For us as leadership it gives us ideas as to what’s working in some communities and what’s not. You hear how White Bear First Nation took control of their situation by taking their First Nations students out of the provincial school and then bringing them back home.”

The conference was hosted by the FSIN and the Prince Albert Grand Council.

This was the tenth year of the event and in 2015 it will be held in Manitoba.