HHSS reaches out to Attawapiskat school
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | June 22, 2017
When it comes to the plight of Canada’s First Nations people, high school teacher Cynthia McAlister believes it’s time to take action instead of just talking.
That’s why this year, her native studies class not only learned the hard truths of the past but also took it upon themselves to assemble care packages for students on the Attawapiskat First Nation.
“If we’re going to be aware of something, we might as well do something about it,” McAlister told a group of Grade 6 and 7 students from J.D. Hodgson Elementary School June 16.
Earlier that day, her Grade 11 class taught their younger counterparts about residential schools and the suicide, housing and drinking water crises.
“The goal is to show kids what we did to residential schools,” said McAlister, adding that native communities were “gutted”.
It’s estimated that about 150,000 First Nations children had to attend residential schools. They faced poor conditions, and were the victims of physical and emotional abuse. These schools were open from the 1870s until the 1990s.
Learning about this dark period and the consequences of it was eye-opening for students. Grade 12 student Brittany Day learned more about her own native background because of it.
“Later in the semester, after Mrs. McAlister introduced residential schools, I found out that my great - great-great grandma went to one,” Day told The Highlander.
She also learned about the many broken treaties. The experience has taught her not to take anything for granted.
Students Samantha Vick and Kristie Clements admitted they didn’t know much about First Nations people and residential schools before taking the class.
“It was really shocking,” said Vick. “I didn’t know there were things going on like this, especially in Ontario.”
“I didn’t know they [residential schools] only ended 21 years ago,” added Clements.
Keisha Hughes, another Grade 12 student who took the elective course, did a presentation on missing and murdered aboriginal women. While wearing a red dress to symbolize them, she shared the true story of one woman who barely survived.
“I was pretty nervous,” recalled Hughes, “but I just figured the only way I’m going to get through this is if I just get it done. It’s an important message that needs to be heard.”
Native studies was one of her favourite classes, and she thinks it would be valuable for the community to see the presentation.
“I learned so much,” she said.
Close to 100 care packages were made with the help of the elementary students, who decorated them and wrote messages of hope. The boxes contain donated items such as bubbles and card games.
The Attawapiskat elementary school recently reopened after being damaged by flooding caused by a broken sprinkler system. The community has been in the news for its long-term housing shortage, lack of educational facilities and many suicide attempts.
Attawapiskat is located in the Kenora District in northern Ontario.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.