Red Deer College officials have been working for years to strengthen education opportunities for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students.
On Thursday, they made it official by signing the Indigenous Education Protocol as outlined by Colleges and Institutes Canada.
“This is a very important day for Red Deer College,” said president Joel Ward, who was flanked by members of Red Deer-area First Nations and Metis communities.
He explained that RDC is reaffirming its responsibilities and obligations to Indigenous education in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.
Whereas, the college “wasn’t ready” to sign the protocol five years ago, he said an RDC framework is now in place to support and enhance learning opportunities for aboriginal students.
More tangibly, this means the college will be hiring more Indigenous instructors, technicians and administrators, and maintaining their representation on the board of governors.
The college will be expanding partnerships with First Nations and Metis elders, communities and institutions — such as Maskwacis College. And it will include more aboriginal cultural perspectives in history classes and other courses.
Ward said RDC will continue following a direction already set by its welding program. The course allows First Nations students to start learning virtual welding in their home communities. They are also offered more support after arriving at RDC to finish the program.
So far, RDC is working with all First Nations around central Alberta, including the four Maskwacis-area bands, and the Sunchild and O’Chiese bands near Rocky Mountain House, to offer accessible programs.
Ward said these include heavy equipment operation, licenced practical nursing, health care aide and business management.
The aim is to make all RDC courses relevant and meaningful to Indigenous students so that they can gain better job opportunities, said Ward.
Claudine Louis, president of Maskwachees Cultural College, said she looks forward to building a partnership with RDC that will give students from the Samson, Louis Bull, Montana and Ermineskin First Nations wider training and learning opportunities.
She hopes this partnership will allow students to start a program at Maskwacis College, near their home community, and finish the last half at RDC in Red Deer.
Louis believes the partnership will open a greater array of education options for First Nation students, as Maskwachees college only offers them four program choices now.