ITEP - A Beacon for First Nations Students

by Terry Craig

Since its inception more than 25 years ago, the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan has become a beacon for First Nations students. That first year there were 20 students selected to participate in what was then an innovative new concept. During the past 25 years more than 600 students have graduated from the program.

When talking to students enrolled in the four-year BEd. program, their commitment to education, more often than not, began when they were elementary school students. Fourth year student, Keenan Eyahpaise of Beardy's recalls the efforts of his teacher Dennis Porter. "He made things fun in grades eight and nine, he got students involved and really prompted class discussion,'' Eyahpaise said during a break in class.

Alana Roy, also a fourth year student and from Beardy's agreed, as she praised her teacher Garnet Ebach when Roy was enrolled in an upgrading program. "After being away from school for a number of years I went back for upgrading to become a social worker, but for the first time I had a teacher that treated me like an adult and he suggested I might want to pursue a teaching career. I really didn't think I would like it, but after doing an internship I realized that teaching is a collaborative effort between the student and teacher."

Norlaine Sutherland, also of Beardy's and in her final year in the ITEP program, had a life long ambition to become a teacher. "I like working with kids, watching them discover things,'' Sutherland said. "The ITEP program gives us an extra jump in teaching kids about First Nations culture."

Those students are but three for whom ITEP has provided the means to return to the First Nations community and give back to the community.

Orest Murawsky, ITEP's director, noted that a significant number of graduates have since become administrators at band schools, while others have assumed leadership roles in their communities. "Graduates become role models and students recognize their leadership at the community level," Murawsky said. "The demands of the community are often so great teachers are required to fill roles in different positions."

Murawsky said about 70 percent of the band schools in Saskatchewan have ITEP graduates teaching. And since ITEP has been running for more than 25 years, the director said it's not uncommon for today's students to be children of those from the first graduating classes.

While a good percentage of ITEP graduates take positions with band schools, Murawsky pointed out that graduates are also in place at provincial schools. "We produce good quality graduates," Murawsky said proudly.

During its first 25 years ITEP has focussed on producing teachers for elementary and middle year students. The emphasis in the future will be to train secondary school teachers. "The main focus on years to come is secondary education and the biggest cry is in the area of science," he said of the future.