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Famed educator teaching entrepreneurship seminar at Maskwacis

Internationally-known educator Norman Cornett will teach a five-day seminar about creative entrepreneurship at Maskwacis next week.

Cornett, a religious studies course lecturer from Montreal, is a controversial or brilliant figure, depending on point-of-view.

Besides leading lectures on creative vision and artistic development, Cornett is a proponent of ‘dialogic’ philosophy of education — which leans heavily on keeping an ongoing, open dialogue between teachers and students.

The philosophy is being researched at universities in Canada, U.S., France and Germany.

But Cornett was also dismissed after 15 years of teaching religion and the arts at McGill University in 2007, presumably for his unorthodox views, including his refusal to give his students exams or to assign essays (although no reason for his dismissal was ever publicly divulged).

More than 700 students and professors later signed a petition against the university’s actions and a film sympathetic to his career was made by Canadian National Film Board filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin.

Among Cornett’s many supporters are academics, lawyers, filmmakers, and such Canadian luminaries as former prime minister Paul Martin and former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard.

Cornett, who uses the title professor, due to his PhD in religion, said his association with First Nations people began many years ago when he realized, while teaching comparative religions, that most of his students had never met an aboriginal Canadian.

It didn’t make sense, he recalled. “We were just a 30-minute drive from Kahnawake (Mohawk Territory), and 45 minutes drive from Oka” — the site of a 78-day confrontation between the Quebec Police Force and blockading members of the Mohawk nation in 1990.

Cornett said he began inviting native artists to speak in his classroom, and this began the cultural “bridge-building” that he continues to this day.

From Monday to Friday, Cornett will be leading a workshop on using creativity methodology to fuel entrepreneurship at Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema).

His students will range in age from 20 to 42, and include several firefighters as well as prospective retail shop owners and beauticians. Cornett will bring aboriginal writer and former Edmonton poet laureate Anna Marie Sewell into the classroom to speak on the final day.

According to Cornett, artists are the ultimate entrepreneurs, “the epitome of a successful small business person.” They must be self-starters, disciplined and motivated. They have to produce without deadlines, bosses, or nine-to-five workdays.

“Some people think that artists live this sort of ethereal life, but the truth is that if you’re not a self-starter, aren’t self-disciplined or independent, you don’t make it in the arts,” said Cornett, who believes these same principles apply to small business.

“It’s labour-intensive to make it as an entrepreneur. You don’t watch the clock. You have to give it 300 per cent.”

The workshop will be almost a boot camp in creativity, he added.

Sewell’s writing and her experiences will be used as a catalyst to spur thinking and expression. Film excerpts will also be used to illustrate the principles of creativity and the role it plays in entrepreneurship.

More information about the Change it Up! program, which started with the Chipewyan and Montana First Nations, can be found at

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