Our vision is to collaborate and develop, prototype, and measure the impacts of the education to employment system, and how specific contributing factors within those systems pose as a primary barrier to high school graduation rates and employment opportunities for Indigenous youth ages 15-25 years.

Once impacts are determined, it is imperative to focus on providing youth with the guidance and resources necessary to overcome challenges, complete their high school education, and help them embark on a path towards a successful future. This will be done by deeply rooting and continuously integrating Anishinaabe values and culture throughout their development. We aim to nurture their personal growth while preserving their cultural heritage.

Our vision extends beyond high school graduation to encompass comprehensive support for youth, including access to meaningful employment opportunities and continuous professional development. By facilitating connections between youth and the working world, youth will then apply their cultural knowledge, skills, and perspectives, empowering them to achieve their career aspirations while maintaining a strong connection to their ancestral traditions.




The six-year innovation involves the essential participation of the following individuals, groups, and organizations to enhance the 60% non-graduation rates and future employment prospects of Anishinaabe youth served in the nine First Nation communities of AETS:






A fundamental shift is required to meet the needs of Anishinaabe youth and is necessary to change the education-to-employment system into one that is supportive, accessible, and engaging. The collaborators involved will assist and support the youth by integrating the following strategies for the remainder of the project:


  • bullets  Engage 15–18-year-old youth currently enrolled high school students in a process of consultation and decision of how they want teachers to work with them
  • bullets  Engage 19–25-year-old youth who left high school without a diploma in a process of consultation for a re-entry summer employment program including credit earning opportunities and skills development
  • bullets  Develop and deliver a plan with affiliated communities, high schools, and teachers
  • bullets  Integrate exposures and opportunities to explore future employment, employment training, and future education possibilities


Empowering Indigenous youth to assume leadership roles and take ownership of their educational and employment pathways to success holds immense significance. Their unique perspectives, cultural knowledge, and connection to their lands are vital in shaping inclusive systems that meet their needs. By assuming responsibility, Indigenous youth inspire future generations, foster self-determination, and empower their communities. We can recognize them as:






In the beginning two years of the innovation, recognizing the vital importance of laying the groundwork and involving all collaborators, including stakeholders, youth, and the communities served, becomes the cornerstone for accurately assessing and executing the project plan. This initial collaborative effort ensures a comprehensive understanding of the youth's needs, enabling the development of a tailored plan that addresses those needs effectively.






Once the groundwork has been established, a crucial next step involves examining the compiled and analyzed data, along with the recommendations and perspectives gathered from the youth and their communities. This valuable information will be shared and deliberated amongst collaborators and will then serve as the basis for identifying pathways connecting education and employment opportunities for the youth involved. Thus, leading into a more developed and tailored action plan for each individual community for the remainder of the innovation.

This initiative will provide various opportunities and benefits for youth and their respective communities:

  • Capacity development of a representative group of First Nation high school students
  • Capacity development of a representative group of First Nation youth that have left high school before completing an OSSD
  • Summer employment opportunities connected to key business and industry sectors in the territory
  • The professional development of high school educators (grades 9 through 12) working with students
  • Formative and summative research that gathers evidence of improved high school graduation and employment outcomes




Anishinabek Employment & Training Services (AETS)
AETS is a not-for-profit organization that provides project-based and workplace-based training to support the education-to-training and employment needs of on-and off-reserve members of nine Anishinabek communities in North Superior Treaty Region of Ontario. AETS is part of a national wide agreement with the Indigenous Skills Employment and Training (ISET), and one of the 110 distinct based Program Agreement Holders in Canada and one of 22 in Ontario.

Maamaawisiiwin Education Research Centre (MERC)
MERC brings over 20 years of Indigenous community development, research, and in-service teacher education experience specific to the North Superior Treaty Region to the collaboration.

Operating in Pic River First Nation, Endzhi-gkinoohmaading Private High School is a First Nation, private high school that meets the regulatory requirements of a high school within the province of Ontario. Endzhi-gkinoohmaading brings a significant experience in distance education of First Nation youth and has a long collaborative history with AETS.

Lakehead Public Schools
Lakehead has become a territorial leader in Indigenous education by developing unique programming and partnering with Indigenous organizations in an effort to increase the school success of Indigenous youth. Almost 50% of the overall student body has self-identified as Indigenous and many of the AETS community members living in Thunder Bay attend Lakehead schools.

Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP)
For over 20 years, Outland has operated the Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP), a national, six-week, land-based job training, education and work experience program specifically developed for Indigenous youth. OYEP is a First Nation driven initiative that works towards equity and opportunity through education, training and work experience that fully immerses Indigenous youth in a land-based learning environment.

Indigenous Works
For over 20 years, Indigenous Works is a national player working with companies to strengthen performance and results in Indigenous employment, workplace engagement and inclusion. AETS will continue to partner with Indigenous Works to provide project-related services to local business and industry partners.

Northern Ontario Education Leaders (NOEL)
NOEL is an association of leaders of educational organizations in Northwestern Ontario. The NOEL table serves as a forum to discuss topics of common concern and to develop projects that will be of direct benefit to students. In October of 2022, NOEL directors and standing members, as well as school boards affiliated with AETS communities, were able to meet with AETS and be informed of the land-based Systems Innovation initiative.

Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC)
The CEDC played a significant role as a key contributor and partial financier of the "Fundamentals of Land-Based Learning Conference," organized by AETS and Biigtigong Nishnaabeg in November 2022. Moving forward, AETS and CEDC intend to sustain their collaborative partnership to further explore project-oriented goals.

Roots To Harvest
Roots to Harvest and AETS are actively collaborating to help with alternative educational initiatives aimed at Indigenous youth who have left the formal education system prematurely. The Cooking for Cred program runs multiple sessions each year for adult learners 18-30 years old who want to gain some culinary skills from some of Thunder Bay's most talented chefs. The 7-week program includes workshops on making soup stocks, sauces, baking, roasting, carving and more. Everyone has the ability to obtain their safe food handling certification as well. AETS also provides support for childcare, transportation, and a completion stipend.

Fort William First Nation (FWFN)
Fort William First Nation has been actively engaged with AETS, such as being an active host for the Fundamentals of Land-Based Learning Conference in November 2022. Additionally, FWFN has partnered with AETS in a significant project centered around moose hide tanning for the Continuing Education program. This collaboration has allowed community members to explore traditional practices while also pursuing educational objectives. FWFN remains committed to the project's objectives and will continue to support and engage in initiatives that promote cultural preservation and educational opportunities.

Changes in organizations
The system change aims to improve First Nation education, training, and employment by understanding the underlying reasons for their low success rates. Currently, there is an unspoken belief that First Nations are to blame for their own shortcomings that are shaped by the effects of colonialism. To shift this understanding, organizations and the collaborative need more knowledge about the actual reasons. The change will take time but should be established by the end of the second year, potentially offering more experiential learning options for Indigenous youth.

Changes in the collaborative
The current and potential collaborative group includes partners who have limited positive experience working with First Nations. This perception stems from conflicting visions of the future. However, there are successful instances of businesses and industries partnering with First Nations, driven by mutual respect, trust, and transparency. This innovation aims to foster gradual change and solidify by the end of the second groundwork year.

Changes in how the system functions
Education Units in smaller First Nations communities often face isolation and marginalization within the education system. The innovation addresses this by uniting them under a shared vision, employing an Anishinaabe-inspired method. This approach fosters capacity building and opens up possibilities for change within the current education system. The change encompasses both professional and cultural development, leading to a more educated group. Although gradual, the transformation is expected to be firmly established by the end of the second groundwork year.

Changes in how youth experience the system

Indigenous youth 15-18 years currently attending high school:

The current education approach treats students as passive recipients of knowledge, lacking choices, control, or input. This innovation shifts that by involving youth as active participants and agents of change. It may face resistance from some schools, but this is expected during the process of change. It will take time, patience, and persistence to see the transformation through. The change will happen gradually but should be firmly established by the end of the second groundwork year.

Indigenous youth 19 to 25-years of age who have dropped out of high school without a diploma:

Among the two youth groups, the older demographic will likely suffer the most emotional damage. They have faced educational setbacks, unemployment, and a significant number of them may struggle with substance abuse. The healing of this group depends on their active participation in the groundwork process and ongoing governance involvement. The change will happen when they can connect their experiences with research and achieve success through the innovation they contributed to. Although gradual, the transformation should be firmly established by the end of the second groundwork year.

Project Timeline Graphic


After laying the groundwork foundation, the subsequent phase of the innovation involves embarking on the remaining four years of the system change strategy. The progression begins with the execution and provision of a six-week summer employment program arranged by AETS and OYEP, where students will actively partake in a land-based work experience.

Next, MERC and AETS will develop formative and summative research observed from the six-week outland program.

From there, teacher recruitment will begin and all grade nine teachers from all participating high schools will then engage in the Professional Teacher Development Program designed by MERC. Individual meetings will be held, and the in-class observation will be organized and executed.

Following the observation period, a Talking Circle will be organized, facilitating a dialogue between teachers and youth. MERC will compile, tabulate, analyze, and finalize a comprehensive report encompassing the Teacher Development Program & Summer Employment Program. Any required adjustments for the upcoming year will be implemented accordingly.