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Double 20th year celebration for Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre

I remember when the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) first started up back in 1999. 

That, by the way, was about the time I started on my career path as a writer / journalist. 

As was explained to me, an isolated First Nations school would not be able to afford a school psychologist but a group of them pooling their resources together might be able to do that and much more. 

Lorne Keeper has been the MFNERC executive director for the last 17 years and he's seen changes. "When we first started off, our job was to support communities," said Keeper. "As we grew, we started hiring staff that were specialized in certain areas. And they were facilitators in all these subject areas who would head out to the communities to support the schools."

And 20 years ago, MFNERC was housed in a small one story building with about 10 staff.

Keeper said currently MFNERC has over 400 staff with 250 on site at their current location in Winnipeg. 

A fairly recent development has been the growth of the Manitoba First Nations School System that currently has 10 member First Nations. 

That represents a Manitoba First Nation school board basically that was signed into existence in December 2017. 

The Lighting the Fire Conference is celebrating its twentieth year as well with the first organized and executed by the fledgling MFNERC 20 years ago. 

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee has been to many Lighting the Fires conferences over the years as a teacher, administrator and now grand chief. 

"I think they (MFNERC) bring a lot of resources to the First Nation communities that are facing challenges in bringing education to their children," said Settee.

While he recognizes the positive work that MFNERC has done, there needs to be more done to improve education and the lives of people in northern First Nation communities said Settee. 

This year's conference focused on language; particularly reclaiming the languages of the Annishnabe, Cree and Dene. 

There were lodges held by representatives from each language group in the province. At the Annishnabe lodge, a group of educators from Minnesota who learned to speak fluent Annishnabe from being non-speakers shared their approach to reclaiming the language with the young people from their community. 

The conference also had seminars on introducing school children to hard subjects like residential school. What age might it be appropriate to bring up sensitive subjects about what happened in those schools. 

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