June 14, 2023

Largest Indigenous School in North America Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Mamawi Atosketan Native School is an Adventist institution in Alberta, Canada.

Lynn McDowell, North American Division News
On May 12, at the 20th-anniversary open house of Mamawi Atosketan Native School, parents watched their children doing traditional steps in colorful regalia. [Photo: Mishell Raedeke]

Satisfaction was palpable at the 20th-anniversary open house of Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS) in Maskwacis, Alberta, Canada, as parents watched their children doing traditional steps in colorful regalia. On Friday, May 12, parents came out in force, filling the available seating in the high school gym to witness the showcase of student skills and achievement.

“Game On!” was the theme of the day. The open house featured a volleyball game between the Mamawi Howlers junior and senior high school teams. Notably, each team included a player who will participate in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) this July — Jeresyn Francis, Grade 9, and his brother Jerelus, Grade 11. Cheers erupted from the bleachers as Jeresyn spiked a point in the game’s most memorable play, confirming that he had earned his spot as part of the NAIG volleyball stable in his age group. But in the end, the high schoolers came out on top, led by team captain Jerelus.

Rounding out the event was halftime entertainment by students, including Indigenous drumming, dancing, and a ukulele ensemble. In addition, Kindergarten to Grade 2 students played a mini hockey game against adults, who played on their knees. The extravaganza was appropriate for the landmark 20th anniversary of the school opening its doors and being named by the students, who voted on a name taken from their Cree language under the leadership of then-principal Gail Wilton.

That day’s departure from the usual format of MANS’ weekend open houses was especially critical in focusing the celebration more on the Maskwacis community. The weekday timing gave parents and members of the Maskwacis community a rare chance to see their children in action during a school day — an opportunity many took advantage of. The strong turnout also enabled MANS staff to sell food and merchandise to support its student feeding program.

“It was amazing to see how many people came out to enjoy the festivities. [The] jam-packed crowds helped bring up the energy in the school [so we could] really showcase what we have [to offer],” MANS principal Michael Willing said.

Of all the parents present, no parent was prouder than Chief Vernon Saddleback of Samson Cree Nation as he watched his son Joshua, a MANS alumnus, and Joshua’s eight-year-old daughter, Kiya, a current student, dance with confidence and finesse — a tribute to Joshua’s work as an instructor for the movement section of MANS’ Cultural Studies classes.

“How could I pass up the opportunity to dance with my daughter?” Joshua said in response to the question of why he agreed to help when asked by Cultural Studies teacher Janice Clark.

Joshua’s commitment to giving back to his alma mater is a testament to its impact on a historically marginalized and oppressed community. Presently, MANS offers more than 200 First Nations youth of the four bands of Maskwacis a culturally respectful and Christ-centered K-12 learning environment.

The parent-teacher partnership has given the school a big boost, and at “Game On,” the community was both entertained and excited to see the high level of traditional movement experience their children are exposed to at MANS, along with the “Three Rs” (i.e., reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic) of government curriculum.

The original version of this story was posted on the North-American Division news site.