Samson Cree Chief, Industry Leaders & Deputy Minister to Attend First Nations Private High School Opening in prelude to Maskwacis Orange Shirt Day


Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS), a private K-12 school north of Ponoka that serves the First Nations students of Maskwacis, Alta. exclusively, will open a high school campus on Friday, Sept. 28, at 1:30 pm. Chief Vernon Saddleback (Samson Cree Nation, Maskwacis) along with Deputy Minister of Alberta Education Curtis Clarke and major private sector funding partners including Giles Royer (VP Industrial of Bird Construction), internationally-known eye surgeon Dr. Howard Gimbel (Gimbel Eye Centre, Calgary and Edmonton) and the CWB Welding Foundation will celebrate at the ribbon cutting of the classroom and career and technology studies (CTS) buildings, coinciding with a weekend of Orange Shirt Day events planned for Maskwacis that start this Friday.

By creating a second campus near what has been reputed to be the toughest reserve in Canada, MANS can now accommodate 200 Grade 7-12 students and increase its total enrollment from 200 to 320. MANS, which is classified by Alberta Education as an accredited, non-funded private school, began adding high school classes one grade at a time in the 2012-13 year, despite being filled to capacity, by adding portables. As neither the federal or provincial governments contribute to private capital projects for indigenous education, the entire new campus was built by private donors.

First Nations individuals contributed 25% of the funds for the high school buildings. Larry Wilkins, the First Nations owner and CEO of External Affairs Medical Spas (Edmonton, St. Albert) was a major partner in the $4.9 million capital campaign spearheaded by the Alberta Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which underwrites the school.

Principal Gail Wilton, who is herself indigenous, explains that the decision to expand from a private Kindergarten-Grade 9 school to a K-12 school was made after years of requests from parents and students, who appreciate MANS’ unique atmosphere and incorporation of Cree culture. "By carrying students from Kindergarten through Grade 12," says Wilton, "the school can also provide direction to students for college and higher education opportunities."

Cree culture occupies a prominent place in the new main building where the Ptarmigan Cree Cultural Centre is located. "Cree culture and traditional knowledge is part of the diverse development of the overall human experience and has value to the broader society," observes J. Richard Bird, president of the Ptarmigan Foundation, which funded the Centre. The purpose, Bird notes, is to combine language and culture education with other forms of education.

Other visionary partners include the CWB Welding Foundation, a national registered charity supporting the welding skilled trade, and Bird Construction, Canada’s oldest publicly-traded construction firm. They were key to the evolution of a separate CTS building that allows students to explore the trades as an educational option.

"By sharing knowledge, experience and financial support, CWB Welding Foundation was thrilled to lay the footing for collaboration and the beginning of a welding program for Mamawi Atosketan, which will serve future generations of welders," said Susan Crowley, interim executive director of the foundation.

The Leon Ingraham family provided the lead gift for the CTS building in honour of the deceased educator who grew up near MANS and founded industrial arts programs in Calgary and in Grandview, where he retired as principal.

The current high school completion rate among First Nations youth across Canada is 39% of those who register. MANS supporters believe that by extending this unique learning environment, MANS will exceed national graduation rates and help change expectations.

Mamawi Atosketan Native School, which name means "Working Together" in Cree, is dedicated to providing an excellent academic program that respects and responds to each student’s Cree cultural and academic needs within a safe and caring rural environment.


About the CWB Welding Foundation

The CWB Welding Foundation is a National registered charity that supports the Canadian welding industry by increasing public safety awareness in welding and addressing the welding skilled trade shortage and mismatch in Canada. Through education-based programs and initiatives, we continue to reduce barriers that affect key groups; elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students and educators, indigenous, women, at-risk youth, disabled, New Canadians, and the underrepresented. We envision a future where all individuals are encouraged and provided the support needed to reach their true potential in a career in welding regardless of identity factors, social and financial status, and lived experiences including gender, age, ethnicity, language, literacy, culture, income, and geographical location.

CWB Welding Foundation Contact:

Leanna Baldin

Partnership and Stewardship Officer, CWB Welding Foundation

905 699 0795

About Orange Shirt Day – Sept. 30 (from website)

Now a national movement, Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis' story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually. The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It also gives teachers time to plan events that will include children, as we want to ensure that we are passing the story and learning on to the next generations. Orange Shirt Day is also an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to com