By Tawnya Plain Eagle

Piikani Nation hosted the Blackfoot Confederacy and the University of Lethbridge as the Mastercard Foundation announced an $15 million-dollar partnership. 

This partnership with Mastercard Foundation will commit $15M over the course of five years to youth from the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Mike Mahon, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Lethbridge, says this opportunity allows the University to work closer with the Blackfoot confederacy in developing programs that will create a positive experience for the Indigenous population. 

“We may not have been providing as much as we could because of the lack of resources,” He said. 

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action (TRC) was released in 2015, Leroy Little Bear, Professor for Native American Studies and special assistant to the president of the U of L, believes that the TRC opened up many doors for institutions like the U of L.  

“We all have dreams about how we can improve things, this partnership gives us the opportunity to achieve those dreams with no excuses,” Little Bear said. 

Mastercard Foundation is a global foundation where majority of the work happens in Africa, however through a commitment made three years ago to work closer with Indigenous people. Mastercard foundation has pushed to address the issue of Indigenous Education. 

Jennifer Brennan, head of the Canada programs at the Mastercard Foundation, said this opportunity began as a listening engagement in several regions of Canada where there are already strong partnerships in place but could use to assistance in pushing it further. 

“We wanted indigenous youth and their success to be at the centre of this initiative and look at how education needs to transform to support indigenous youth and communities,” Brennan said.   

“There needs to be a lot more support [from institutions] that really recognizes and responds to where Indigenous youth are at,” Brennan added   

According to Little Bear, the U of L is a hub for Indigenous programming.

Little Bear envisions a substantial increase in programming that could take place closer to home in which would eliminate the element of transportation for many. 

Other development projects also include childcare, cultural supports, education funding and better transitional programming.  

The initial planning of this partnership began by listening to Indigenous youth and asking them what areas they would like to work in and how they could see themselves working in their communities. 

“We heard ideas like using technology, advancing clean energy, eco-tourism,” she said. 

“We really think this initiative can help create that pathway to get there,” she added.  

This broad commitment will happen over five years to allow the University to adapt and change their programming and approaches. 

The partnership was announced with Chief and Council from Piikani, Siksika, Kainai and the Blackfeet Reservation all in attendance. 

The implementing of this initiative will begin to take place in January 2020.  

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