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A Manitoba School

Niji Mahkwa School celebrated a quarter-century of helping students connect with their Indigenous culture and language.

The school held a 25th anniversary celebration on May 8, inviting students, teachers and administrators past and present to participate.

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"All schools represent their communities, but Niji Mahkwa is special in that we have families that come to our school from all parts of Winnipeg, rural Manitoba, from up North and all over," said Principal Chris Goring. "Niji Mahkwa is recognized as a place where students are successful and we attract families from far and wide. I think that's something to be celebrated and acknowledged."

Niji Mahkwa opened in September of 1993, at the site of the former Aberdeen School. The new name, meant to reflect the Aboriginal focus of the school, roughly translates to My Friend The Bear.

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Former Principal and WSD Knowledge Keeper Myra Laramee speaks to students at Niji Mahkwa.

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WSD Board Chair Sheri Rollins at 25th anniversary festivities. "You have a school division that stands behind you, that fights for you, and that believes in you."

WSD Chief Superintendent Pauline Clarke said many people worked behind the scenes to make Niji Mahkwa a reality, and the hard work of staff and administrators continues to this day. She said the students played a major part in the school's success.

"Most of all, I am so proud of all of you," she told students during official ceremonies. "We know there are many more years to come, many more celebrations to come at Niji Mahkwa."

Former student Darnell Salwan Mason, who attended the school for six years, said the school helped shape the person he is today.

"Niji has meant a lot to me," he said. "It's taught me a lot about my culture and helped me gain a sense of identity as an Indigenous person.

"I'm really glad that a school like this was created…where we can practise our culture and traditions without bother. We can learn our languages so that they may hopefully be revived and grow."

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To close official ceremonies, students filled a steel drum (crafted by welding students at R.B. Russell Vocational High School) with their predictions of who they will be in 10 years.

"We wanted to students to make a connection to their future," Mr. Goring said.

"We are encouraging our students to take their rightful place in society, as the next generation of teachers, reporters, parents or whatever path they choose to follow."

The drum will be kept at the school's newly refurbished library, to be opened by the students as adults sometime down the road.

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