About half of the funds to build two new buildings at MANS and provide other essentials came from new sources. Among these new friends is Dr. J. Richard Bird, Canada’s CFO of the Year, 2010 – then CFO of Enbridge. Dr. Bird's speech for the September 2018 Grand Opening articulates the spirit of the campaign and MANS, and the importance of the education provided at this unique First Nations school.
First, congratulations to the students, parents, staff, Board and all supporters on a remarkable achievement. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without a tremendous effort from all, but I want to especially note the contribution of the current students and their families to the development of these facilities, not just for their own immediate benefit, but also for the benefit of their fellow students for many years to come.
I would certainly not have been nearly so encouraged to support the project were it not for the positive testimonials from the students about their experience at MANS and their plans for their lives, and the positive environment I observed on my visit to the school.
I have been asked to comment on why I feel that a rejuvenation of the Cree Culture needs to be an important part of the educational experience at MANS. It starts with my belief in the importance of education itself. There is so much to learn and know about the universe that we all live within, and about the development of humanity in all its variations within that small corner of the universe that we occupy, for now. There is the opportunity for personal joy just from the learning of a new thing and the resulting enrichment of one’s life, even if there were no other practical benefits. But of course, there are immense practical benefits. Education provides a broader perspective from which to make choices, and a better chance of making the choice that is best for us. It increases the likelihood of enjoying a successful, creative and fulfilling life.
As to incorporating Cree culture, I think there is a much better understanding now of the importance of language and culture to personal identity, to who we are. That was the terrible failure of the residential school system. For most, the gain in educational benefits was not worth the resulting loss of self.
That’s on the one hand - the First Nations people were deprived of the benefits of being grounded in their own culture. But all of humanity has lost something as well. Cree culture and traditional knowledge is part of the diverse development of the overall human experience and has value to the broader society, including though not limited to, both natural science and art. This too we all stand to lose if language and culture education is not paired with other forms of education. However, there is no reason why it must be one or the other. It can and should be both, and that is the purpose behind the Ptarmigan Cree Cultural Centre.
The Bird Construction Building Technologies Shop is focussed on the very practical career opportunity side of things. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but how will you know that it is or isn’t for you unless you have the opportunity try it out in high school, at least a little? Construction is an industry where there is a strong demand for trained employees, with good wages and lots of opportunity for young men and women, and there always should be, so it’s a good option to have in your pocket.
I’ll close by saying once again, congratulations - make the best of it! And thank you for the opportunity to be involved.
Richard Bird, PhD, MBA
Canada’s CFO of the Year 2010