The aviation program at First Nations Technical Institute in Tyendinaga, Ont., is celebrating its 10th anniversary, achieving its goal of providing a flight school operated by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people.
?Ten years ago, when we started the program, we looked around the country to find some Aboriginal instructors and we found that there weren?t any,? said Murray Maracle, vice president of education and training at First Nations Technical Institute. ?So it was a goal at that time to train as many people as we could, to have some of those people come back and give back to the program what they could of their knowledge. Now, 10 years later, the head of the program is an Aboriginal graduate from Tyendinaga, and we have several instructors, lead instructors, that are Aboriginal as well. So we?ve accomplished one of the goals that we wanted?to train our own people in order to take control of the program.?
Randy Maracle is one of the first students enrolled in the aviation program. He is now the program?s chief flying instructor.
?We did have some very humble beginnings. I think the success of the program has been a big part of its uniqueness, and, as I understand, we are the only aviation program in this area that offers this exclusively to Native North Americans. The support of the community has been a large factor as well.?
More than half the staff members are Aboriginal and most are graduates of the aviation program. Some past students are flight instructors, program co-ordinators, or are in management positions. Other graduates have been employed with air services, including Air Creebec, and other agencies across North America.
The program first began in 1989 with 13 Aboriginal students and two non-Native instructors. The students were crammed into a small office in the basement of First Nations Technical Institute.
?The students were definitely very nomadic,? said Matt Sager, with a grin. He was enrolled as a student at that time and is now employed at the school as director of student services.
?We had a big van that transported the students from Tyendinaga to Belleville and Miora for academic training, and to Kingston for flight training,? said Sager.
Eventually, in 1990, as the program progressed and the need for more space was evident, the program purchased a larger building. Some of the students combined their efforts and helped to clean the building, which is now the permanent location for the program.
Program facilities include a hanger that houses nine aircraft, maintenance areas, three classrooms, three flight simulators, and a computer room where the students have access to the Internet.
Secretary Brenda Sager has been employed at the aviation program since it began.
?We have a residence for the single students, which has 25 beds, two kitchens, and we are currently working on outside facilities for the students? recreation. We have three single homes in a subdivision, which is close by, for the aviation families.?
Jo-Anne Tabobandung, flight instructor and a graduate of the aviation program, can?t say enough about it.
?It?s awesome. It?s all here. It?s a beautiful place geographically, or esthetically. I think the staff has made it a success. They are motivated and are always improving the course.?
Aviation at FNTI is a two-year program. The first year students receive training towards obtaining a private pilot?s license, as well as night training. Second-year students receive commercial pilot?s license training and have further options such as multi-engine, instrument, flight instructor, and advanced float ratings. All flight examinations are administered by Transport Canada.