SGEI launches program supporting Indigenous women with new skills

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

There’s a new program in town aimed at giving Indigenous women in need a helping hand and skills to work towards a better future.

Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI) has recently launched the first session of its brand new Azhmeniinigoziwin (AZH) program, a nine-month women’s empowerment program aimed at providing a whole host of different learning and growth opportunities to young Indigenous women.

The word Azhmeniinigoziwin stands for “gaining strength” according to AZH program manager Denise Audette, and she explained that the program will focus on a number of different areas to provide an all-encompassing learning environment for the 15 women who have registered to take part this year. Each registrant is 18 or older and from one of the local First Nation communities.

“The ladies come full-time, Monday through Friday and they work on a complement of educational goals, life skills training and job prep, as well as cultural teachings,” Audette said.

“They’re getting a wide variety of those things taught to them. Two days a week they’re focusing on their educational component, whether that’s getting their grade 12 or upgrading and getting ready for post-secondary. Another two days are focused on life skills and job prep, where they’ll do all kinds of things from cooking programs to computer training to mental health and WHMIS training. We lump all of that in.”

Audette said the final day of each week is focused solely on cultural teachings, which she said will include a language component and other teachings from local elders and knowledge keepers.

“It’s a powerful program,” Audette said.

“These ladies come in September and they will graduate with our main campus in May. The overall goal of it is to give them the tools they need to go on to our main campus or to work full-time in our community.”

While September 2021 marks the first session of this installment of the AZH program, Audette noted that it’s not the first time the program has been offered by SGEI. Though she wasn’t able to recall when exactly the program first ran, it was some time ago and has been on a hiatus of sorts for years at this point. Audette explained the current social prevalence of Indigenous rights and issues, including those surrounding MMIWG and residential schools, made it a good time to bring the program back to help promote Indigenous women and give them what support they could offer.

“Certainly from seeing all the repetitive issues that are going on, the program was brought back to life in the thought that we needed to do something,” she said.

“The idea of this was just that it happened at Seven Generations before, and it was brought back just with the intention of moving forward from all of the stuff that we do deal with, and really support it to make sure these Indigenous ladies have a good opportunity to move forward. We just feel there is a need to support our ladies and give them opportunities for growth as they move on to their next step, whether that be a job or post-secondary.”

As part of the AZH program, and owing to the fact that SGEI is a large institution with many different knowledgeable individuals in its employ, Audette said she has been able to reach out to different faculty and staff members from within the school to help deliver some of the learning materials that the participating women will be learning. Elders and knowledge keepers from surrounding communities have been invited to help with cultural components of the program.

“Seven Gens has really taken this on as a program that is kind of helping each other within,” Audette said.

While it’s too early to say what the impact will be on the women taking part, Audette said she is hopeful the program will become a yearly offering at SGEI to help empower Indigenous women and give them tools to help them be as successful as possible.

“If I can give them the opportunities that they might not have had, or give them new learnings or teachings, then we’ve done what we’re supposed to do here,” she said.

“I’m so excited to have this program up and running. It’s going to be amazing. I’m really excited for these ladies. We have a lot in store for them. It’s going to be really powerful.”

According to a press release, SGEI plans to run a second cohort for the AZH program in the fall. For more information visit www.7generations.org/azh-program/.

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