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Championing Aboriginal Education and Programs in FMPSD Schools

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The monthly Elders’ Luncheons at Composite High School are Jordan Corrigan’s favourite. An important component of Fort McMurray Public School District’s (FMPSD) First Nations, Métis, Inuit (FNMI) programming, the events are beneficial on many levels.

“It’s like family and comforting. I moved back to town last year from southern Alberta, and this lunch helped me find community. It unites us, thanks to Pollyanna,” shares the grade 11 student, who is Métis.

Hazel Derange, affectionately known as Issapaaki, is an Aboriginal elder, who regularly attends these luncheons. They were started in 2015.

“I’m so glad to see the Fort McMurray Public School District continue to bring our Indigenous students together,” she notes.

Indeed, FMPSD  is honoured to champion Aboriginal education and programs in our schools. Composite’s Elders’ Luncheon is a component of the many activities in our schools to promote Indigenous culture for our FNMI students as well as promoting understanding of culture for all students.

Pollyana McBain is our FNMI Cultural Navigator, who meets with students regularly, and organizes events and activities like the Elders’ Luncheon in schools reflecting Indigenous culture. She also invites community groups to speak to students about future career opportunities.

“The luncheons were started by Learning Through the Arts and then we created a partnership with the Nistawayou Friendship Centre and FMPSD, who helped re-launch them after the wildfires,” explains McBain, who has been with FMPSD since 2016.

“The goal of the gathering is to connect youth with the elders, who are the knowledge-keepers. They share their background, and life experiences. For example, Issapaaki is a residential school survivor. Another guest has spoken about when Thickwood was a trapline. Students appreciate it.”

McBain is also in Westwood Community High School, Frank Spragins High School, and Dr. Clark Public School promoting cultural awareness. Speaking of which, Dr. Clark is also home to the Oskayak Drumming Group. It features both indigenous and non-indigenous students, who perform at various community events and at the hospital.

Most recently, FMPSD launched the FNMI Student Advisory Council featuring about 18 students.

Angela Woods has been working closely with the group, and is leading the district’s FNMI program.

“We created the FNMI Student Advisory Council in hopes of hearing suggestions, ideas, questions and concerns from our indigenous students in order to improve student and teacher learning and provide feedback in order to better serve FMPSD.”

“Some of our main priorities for our students and staff are academic achievement, building on Indigenous culture and historical knowledge and making this part of daily student and teacher practices. I attend as many community FNMI functions as possible to learn best practices. The idea is to then share it with our students, schools and parents,” notes Woods.

Merrie-Rae Mitsopoulos, Director of Education, FMPSD, echoes similar sentiments.

“FMPSD offers many programs to promote indigenous cultures for our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, and all students. We recognize the importance of providing learning experiences to ensure they are knowledgeable, understanding and respectful of the rich diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures, and history.”

FMPSD also co-hosts the annual Traditional Ceremony of Achievement featuring Aboriginal graduates. The event is a joint effort of local school districts.


Doing What’s Best for Kids at the Fort McMurray Public School District. For more information on any of our 16 schools, visit: For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD @DougNicholls2 and like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School District. We are also on Instagram @FMPSD.



Left to right: Issapaaki, Pollyanna McBain, Jordan, and Merrie-Rae Mitsopoulos at the Elders’ luncheon

A few members of the FNMI Student Advisory Council with Angela Woods (third from left)


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.