Introducing Rhonda Klippenstein
Originally posted: April 22, 2022
MITT’s first Manager of Indigenous Initiatives and Community Development
As 2022 started, the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology continued its focus on building its connection to Indigenous students and surrounding communities. One of the key actions taken was to create a new position on staff – a Manager of Indigenous Initiatives and Community Development. This job posting brought Rhonda Klippenstein to the MITT community.
The new position comes with a variety of responsibilities, including a leadership role in Indigenous education, recruitment, supports, and partnership opportunities. It was these facets that fascinated Klippenstein and led to her application.
“What attracted me to this position was the opportunity to build and grow Indigenous engagement in various capacities,” Klippenstein said. “MITT has been doing great things and I’m happy to be part of an organization that values inclusion, and community, and is future-forward in thinking.”
Klippenstein brings nearly two decades of experience into her new position. Her resume includes work with Correction Services Canada in the Indigenous Initiatives department, Ka Ni Kanichihk, various contract work with the Frontier School Division, and Red River College as their Indigenous Centre Coordinator. She has also volunteered with several Indigenous organizations, including serving on the Board of Directors of Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape and Wahbung Abinoonjiiag.
For Klippenstein, coming onto the MITT campus for the first time means establishing a solid foundation of relationships off the hop. She explains that this method is a foundation of Indigenous culture.
“I consider relationship-building to be an important building block. It's an Indigenous way of thinking and operating-- understanding and learning from one another while also seeing the value in different ways, thinking, knowing, and being,” she says. “It's important to recognize that indigenous knowledge and ways are very different from Western knowledge systems and but their ways are just as valuable.”
With this in mind, Klippenstein has begun meeting with MITT’s Indigenous students. “We are fortunate to have some incredible people on campus,” she says. “I’m impressed by the drive and determination they possess. There are certainly hardships they and their families have encountered in their lives. To see the work they’ve done thus far and the work they continue to put into their identities is amazing. I embrace opportunities for such learning from one another and truly look forward to helping students achieve their goals and growing the Indigenous student population at MITT.
Klippenstein’s experience includes working with recent immigrants to Canada, a facet that will be invaluable at MITT, where the student population is significantly international. In past work alongside an elder, she found that the global view of Indigenous people in Canada carried misconceptions about Indigenous people, through no fault of their own.
“Sadly, oftentimes what they (newcomers) knew was what they read in the news, and it's not always positive,” she says. “You don't hear a lot of positive news about anything and especially about indigenous people. So a lot of times, people from other countries come here with a preconceived idea of what kind of people Indigenous people are, along with other aspects that aren’t related to the Indigenous communities.”
Klippenstein does not see this preconception as a hurdle. Instead, she believes there is an opportunity—and obligation – to right any negative perceptions.
“I think it's a good opportunity to teach them about Indigenous people in a good way, and I think it's a responsibility to do so,” she explains. “All of our learners, in some capacity, are going to be working with indigenous people, whether they're your customers when they walk in the door or they're your coworkers. So I think it's really important for all students to learn about the culture, heritage, and history.”
Relationship-building not only occurs on campus with students and staff but off-campus as well with existing and prospective partners.
“MITT prides itself on its work with partner entities that shape our programs and the community organizations that support our efforts and students,” says Neil Cooke, Vice President, Academic at MITT. “Working with our current Indigenous partners and general organizations to create a culture of understanding and connection is important to the organizations we have spoken with, and we look forward to fostering an inclusive environment with these groups.”
Students and staff at MITT will soon see the first efforts from Klippenstein. Planning is underway for the commemoration of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, taking place May 5, as well as the Moose Hide Campaign on May 12.
“It’s amazing to see how engaged Rhonda has become with our MITT community in such a short amount of time,” Cooke says. “Bringing together a diverse community on campus isn’t an easy task, but Rhonda is extremely proactive and is already making a great pathway for our Institute. Seeing the initiative she is taking already only makes me excited to see what lies ahead.”
Students and staff wishing to meet with Rhonda can find her at MITT’s Henlow campus in the Student Success Centre.