Seven Generations celebrates 20 years

From its early days as one man using his pickup truck as an office, the Seven Generations Education Institute has come a long way since 1985.
One sure sign of that success is the 50 students who will be getting their diplomas at the SGEI’s graduation coming up June 16—the most yet in a single graduating class during its 20 years.
“It’s appropriate for our 20th anniversary,” SGEI CEO Delbert Horton said during an anniversary celebration last Thursday evening at La Place Rendez-Vous here.
“To me, what we learn from that voice [of the graduating class], that’s what we have to teach in our community,” Horton added, noting SGEI must continue to focus on thinking ahead.
“We have a long way to go,” Horton admitted. “Sometimes, we don’t know what the future should look like. But we’re having a good time figuring it out.
“When I was previewing the Power Point presentation this morning, and it got to the screen about the future, it’s blank. And I think it’s appropriate. Where we want to go is up to our imagination,” he concluded.
Horton noted partnerships have been key to SGEI since its inception, and thanked all the staff, directors, elders, and chiefs who came together to make it possible in the first place.
Horton also thanked staff for organizing the 20th anniversary celebration and all those who came out for the event.
“I’m a fan of Seven Generations,” said guest speaker Gerry Kerr, who has worked as a consultant with SGEI over the years.
He outlined why SGEI has thrived and grown over the past 20 years, noting firstly that its partnerships—with communities, governments, school boards, and colleges and universities—have been key.
“You can’t survive alone,” he stressed.
Kerr also noted SGEI is about “Indian control of an Indian education.”
While numerous studies have shown education for First Nations is lagging behind provincial and federal standards, and could take decades to catch up, “[SGEI] said, ‘We don’t want to wait that long,’” Kerr noted.
Kerr also said the staff at SGEI are “first-rate people” and “understand what Seven Generations is all about.”
He said community support also has been key, and that includes SGEI listening to the needs of the people of the 10 Rainy Lake area First Nations.
SGEI’s graduation rates speak for themselves, Kerr added, noting while some educational institutes might tout enrolment figures over success rates, “the real measure of an educational institution is product, not process.”
“Seven Generations would be glad to be judged by its graduates,” he remarked.
Kerr also said the cultural focus of SGEI has been crucial. “Culture is critical to understanding oneself. To lose culture is to lose who you are,” he warned.
In the past, for instance, the federal government sought to wipe out First Nations’ culture through residential schools.
“This assault on culture didn’t work,” Kerr said. “For this reason, Seven Generations is critically important. [Culture] is germane to their programming.”
Kerr noted SGEI also has high standards, and is dedicated to bringing its students who may not meet those standards when they first enroll up to where they should be by the time they graduate.
He also said the governance model for SGEI (with a CEO and board of directors) has been very effective, with “good continuity” between boards, “exceptional attendance” among board members, and “a willingness to grow.”
“And exceptional leaders are hard to find—and harder to keep,” he added, lauding Horton.
Kerr said Horton surrounded himself with good staff and fostered a team approach, building an organization that was not “personality-dependent” but could continue into the future as people came and went.
He added Horton has “spirit, inquisitiveness” and “a never-take-no-for-an-answer attitude.”
And last but not least, said Kerr, was SGEI’s philosophy, which states SGEI: “honours those who have walked ahead of us, respects those who walk with us, and considers those yet to come”; “blends culture, tradition, information, and technology”; and “takes into account the effects of our decisions and actions on the next seven generations.”
“Education, by its very nature, is future-oriented,” said Kerr. “But this concept is vital to Seven Generations.”
The program also included a Power Point presentation, which traced SGEI’s history, programming, and graduating classes.
Brittany Chambers, constituency office assistant for local MP Ken Boshcoff, was on hand to present Horton with a certificate of congratulations.
Gifts of plaques and leather pouches also were given out to several people who have been involved with SGEI over the years.
Dan Bird, director of Secondary and Vocational Education and principal of the SGEI Secondary School at Nanicost, emceed the event, keeping the mood light with his jokes.
Elder Nancy Jones gave the opening prayer.
The 20th-anniversary celebration opened and closed with traditional songs by the Red Gut Bay Singers.