SASKATOON -- Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the first cohort of the Indigenous Practical Nursing Program at Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) is on track to graduate in spring 2021.

The school announced the successful start of the program’s second year last week.

“In the current climate, it is important that we empower Indigenous students with the tools to offer quality healthcare that reflects our communities and our citizens traditions and culture,” Vice President – Academic Tavia Laliberte said in a news release.

“For many Indigenous people, health care professionals have been a part of a system of colonialism. This program is trying to break this cycle by offering cultural training lock step with state-of-the-art medical knowledge.”

The full-time, two-year diploma program is the first dedicated Indigenous Practical Nursing program in Canada. It combines innovative technologies with traditional Indigenous practices such as harvesting traditional medicines while learning and practicing cultural protocols, the school says.

Students who successfully complete it and the Canadian Practical Nursing Registration Exam are eligible for licensure with the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses.

“One of SIIT’s strengthens is its ability to bring programming into First Nations communities so that students can learn while drawing on all the benefits of remaining at home. It is important, now more than ever, to bring this training to community,” said Riel Bellegarde, SIIT President and CEO.

The program received $230,000 from Indigenous Services Canada for program development and $315,000 from Western Economic Diversification Canada for simulator and laboratory equipment.