Stoney Nakoda students can tap into a free virtual tutoring program offered once again this year.
The Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Program has enlisted three volunteer tutors to offer sessions in math, English, social studies and science for Stoney Nakoda students in junior or senior high and for students who are upgrading or enrolled in post-secondary.
Stoney Health Services outreach worker Danielle Lefthand said it's the first program of its kind offered for the community, by the community.
“We believe that education is another way to contribute to a strong community, and we hope to create an environment where culturally aware learning and services can be provided to children and youth," she said. "Other than our tutoring program, I don’t believe there is other tutoring offered here. Outside the community, of course, there’s the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area which is a great organization. We also wanted to do something here."
Lefthand explained that when they were seeking tutors for the program, she stumbled across Tessa Breaker, a member of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and Siksika First Nation, on Facebook.
Breaker is a student of the University of British Columbia's (UBC) National Indigenous Teaching Education Program (NITEP) and was already tutoring on her own time and agreed to take on the volunteer position with the Îyârhe Nakoda program.
“It started from there," Lefthand said. "After we began posting our tutoring program’s posters, we had our other two tutors reach out to our program and now we also have some other volunteers interested as well."
Breaker is offering tutoring sessions in math and said one her goals is to come back to Alberta when she is finished her degree to teach in either Stoney Nakoda or Siksika.
"My teaching philosophy and the things that I value is to help Indigenous students and that's why I am taking NITEP because it's about integrating that culture into your teaching," Breaker said.
"I think the first step in building a community and a Nation is through education. If everyone is educated, we can all make contributions. We can build together because we're not leaving each other behind. We're building up like building blocks and we're building a whole community that's going to be successful with education, and they can do their own things."
Breaker went to school in Exshaw and Canmore for most of her adolescence and has lived in both Siksika and Morley. She said that she used to steer away from Indigenous classes while at school in Canmore and her mainstream classes did not teach much about Indigenous culture.
"We talked about residential schools, we had one week of Indigenous studies and that was it, then we'd never talk about it again," she said.
Her experience at UBC has been much different, Breaker said.
"We've been having Indigenous Peoples' Day here, where the campus is closed for like five days and there's just a whole bunch of Indigenous people celebrations, and that's pretty new to me."
Two other tutors are also assisting students. University of Saskatchewan researcher Cob Stains is tutoring science, and Lenora Jones tutors English and social studies.
Jones was also helping Stoney Nakoda youth and post-secondary students throughout the summer with writing cover letters and resumes for their job searches, Lefthand added.
This year, the youth program reached out to the Morley Community School and to Canadian Rockies Public Schools in Canmore to pitch their program and boost registrations. Currently, they have about 10 students signed up.
The Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Program also hosts monthly virtual Honouring Life cooking sessions, an extension of the Honouring Life Day Camp for kids that was introduced two summers ago.
Honouring Life places a strong emphasis on engaging in traditional cultural practices, encouraging youth to connect with their culture as a method of promoting mental health and healthy lifestyles.
"With Honouring Life, we can execute our traditions in a modern time," said Stoney Health Services outreach worker Earl Makinaw-Labelle.
The summer day camp invited youth to join knowledge-keepers out on the land to collect seasonally appropriate wood poles to make log houses. One youth who acquired his firearms license as part of the camp was able to harvest his first deer, which they celebrated with a feast.
Honouring Life's virtual cooking sessions are open to anyone living in or from the Stoney Nakoda community, from the ages of 12 to 24. Registered participants receive all the ingredients they need to make a traditional meal at home, right at their doorstep.