Confederation College Program Undergoes Transformation to Further Support Decolonization and Child Well-Being


Thunder Bay – NEWS – Confederation College’s Native Child and Family Services program has undergone a transformation to become Onajigawin Indigenous Services. The new name and an updated vision for the program were shared at a small on-campus gathering Wednesday.

“Confederation College began a comprehensive review process for our program in 2019, which represented a critical opportunity to build upon past program success, while re-envisioning the program to better reflect the contemporary context and reality of our graduates’ work to support Indigenous children, families and communities,” said Pam Burton, Professor and Program Coordinator. “Change is never easy, but absolutely necessary on the path of cultural humility. This renewed vision honours our program’s rich history, but seeks to prepare graduates for their critical work as helpers with an increased focus on the decolonization of systems within the human and community services field. The fundamentals of advancing child well-being, keeping families together and strengthening communities remain.” 

The renewal process involved representatives from across the College community, alongside 12 partnership agencies. The collective contributions informed the program changes that ensure students will be educated with diverse populations in anti-oppressive ways. The new “Onajigwan” name was gifted to the program by Elder Sam Achneepineskum of Marten Falls First Nation. An Anishinaabemowin word, it means “Being prepared for the work that you will be doing as a helper.”

The new direction for the program highlights a decolonized approach to curriculum development and assessment, applying innovative approaches to support integrated and holistic learning experiences for students, while acknowledging the value of community responsibility and self-determination. It will provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to become effective helpers across a number of sectors. Graduates will leave prepared with a basket full of culturally safe tools, which they will need to walk safely with those they will be helping.

“The Onajigawin Indigenous Services program is one of the many ways Confederation College is contributing to a process of reconciliation and healing,” said Kathleen Lynch, President. “Thanks to Pam’s thoughtful and passionate leadership, and the incredible support of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners, this first-choice program is well positioned for long-term success. Graduates of the revitalized program will continue the tradition of bringing their wisdom and compassion to their critical work as helpers, while becoming catalysts of change, shaping a better and more hopeful future for us all.”

Courtney Forbes, a 2021 graduate of the former Native Child and Family Services program shares that hope for the future. “It [the renewed program] means hope and a new beginning, especially, with everything that’s been going on,” she said. “It’s what the ancestors have been waiting for, the first step in the right direction. Training for Anishinaabe and non-Anishinaabe to be helping people in the community. I would love to see more Indigenous people helping their families for the sense of community. We also need strong allies, helpers to learn the ways and go in with a good lens to support Indigenous families.”

Program Advisory Committee Chair and Director of Operations for the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, Serena Essex, agreed that Onajigawin Indigenous Services is a positive step forward for the College. “It’s highly respectful of the reclamation of bringing it back to the land and core values of being a traditional helper,” she said. “It’s the right step towards the process of reconciliation.”

The program will welcome its first class of students in the fall of 2021. The program is being offered at all Confederation College campuses and via Distance Education. Derek Hrynczak is an incoming student for inaugural Onajigawin Indigenous Services class and was pleased to participate in the program’s launch. “I think there is a great responsibility for myself being non-Indigenous in how I want to impact positive change in this country,” he said. “I believe being part of this new beginning at Confederation College is only going to help me realize that potential, and I am honoured to be a part of it.”

To learn more about the Onajigawin Indigenous Services program, to watch the program launch video, and to apply, visit

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