Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott was on hand to celebrate the grand opening of the new Manitoba First Nations School System on the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, northeast of Winnipeg, on Wednesday.

Similar to a school district or division, the First Nations-led school system will be the first of its kind in Canada. The program aims to provide a quality education founded on “First Nations languages, histories and cultures to nurture each child’s identity and growth” for the 1,700 students at 10 participating schools, its website said.

Speaking in front of representatives of the Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) and other dignitaries gathered at Sgt. Tommy Prince School, the minister called the new school system “a very important step to undoing the historic wrongs, to righting the wrongs of the past.”

“The Manitoba First Nations School System is going to provide what students want and need,” Philpott added. “And that’s a curriculum that’s appropriate to children and youth and particularly, including things like language programming, like teaching of culture and traditional ways.”

The First Nations-designed school system is the product of the Education Governance Agreement signed by MFNERC and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) in December 2016.

The deal will increase funding by the federal government for First Nations schools and gave MFNSS, in partnership with Indigenous leaders, the authorization to determine the type of educational programming for their schools. The MFNERC has been delivering and managing educational programs and services to the participating schools since July.

Philpott said the MFNSS represents the kind of change needed across the whole country to ensure Indigenous children receive the highest level of educational services. The federal government is committed to supporting First Nations as they transition to this new school system, she told the audience.

“Your success and the success of your youth is incredibly important to us all and I know the prime minister looks forward to hearing the success stories, to hearing 20 years from now what these young people are doing, where they’re going, seeing how their dreams have been unleashed,” Philpott said.

According to Statistics Canada, the on-reserve poverty rate for children in Manitoba currently hovers at around 75 per cent. Just 30 per cent of these kids, Statistics Canada says, will graduate high school. The new school system, however, hopes to boost outcomes by boosting spending from $8,000 to $18,000 per student.

That increased funding has already led to noticeable changes, student Tanya Kent told reporters on Wednesday.

“We have laptops now and tablets,” she said, “a lot more of… everything that a normal school should have.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to the ceremony by a group of four students from Sgt. Tommy Prince School who made a video that was uploaded to social media last month. The prime minister responded that he was unable to join the festivities in a video message of his own but said he was “so happy” about the grand opening.

“You’re the first 2,000 students in Manitoba in a First Nations-designed school system. This is historic,” Trudeau said.

The agreement is in accordance with the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Philpott said. She pointed to the MFNSS as evidence of the government’s “firm resolve” to advance reconciliation.

“We will continue a relationship based, not on denial, but on the recognition of rights, based on respect, cooperation and partnership,” she said.

To many, like Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the event was truly historic.

“Today represents the next round of seven generations where our own people will determine our destiny and out future,” he said.

With a report from CTV News Manitoba bureau chief Jill Macyshon