Summer program teaches Sudbury high schoolers Indigenous practices

·3 min read
Maheegun Shawanda, the founder of Great Lakes Cultural Camps, teaches a student how to use a traditional lacrosse stick. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC - image credit)
Maheegun Shawanda, the founder of Great Lakes Cultural Camps, teaches a student how to use a traditional lacrosse stick. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC - image credit)

For high school students like Julia Parenteau, learning during a global pandemic was a challenge.

"I am so used to learning, being in a classroom, but as a high school student, I find it very stressful. It's not that fun. I wake up in the morning and I don't want to go to school," said Parenteau, who will start Grade 10 in the fall at Bishop Alexander Carter Catholic Secondary School in Sudbury, Ont.

But this month Parenteau has participated in an Indigenous cultural camp that has given her a new reason to get up in the morning and learn.

"These past three weeks I have woken up and I've been actually excited to come here and excited to learn and try out these fun new things while learning these very valuable lessons along the way," she said.

"It's really changed my perspective on learning."

Jonathan Migneault/CBC
Jonathan Migneault/CBC

In its ongoing efforts toward reconciliation, the Sudbury Catholic District School Board has collaborated with an organization called Great Lakes Cultural Camps to offer the summer program.

I don't think I would have been doing this if it wasn't for this program. I think, honestly, I would have been inside playing games all day. - Jayden Toulouse

Ginette Toivenen, the school board's Indigenous education lead, said she learned about the program through the Algoma District School Board, which has also worked with Great Lakes Cultural Camps.

"I just took notice and realized that this is something amazing to bring to our students," Toivenen said.

Jonathan Migneault/CBC
Jonathan Migneault/CBC

For the past three weeks, high school students have come to the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation, near Sudbury, to learn about a variety of traditional practices, like how to identify plants with medicinal properties and processing a deer.

Jayden Toulouse, a Grade 11 student at St. Charles College in Sudbury, said he learned to paddle a canoe for the first time while at the camp.

"I don't think I would have been doing this if it wasn't for this program," Toulouse said. "I think, honestly, I would have been inside playing games all day."

Jonathan Migneault/CBC
Jonathan Migneault/CBC

Jennifer Petahtegoose, who teaches at St. Charles College and was an instructor for the summer program, said it's been great to watch her students connect with the land.

"I'm also from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, and this is a really special place for me," she said.

"To have my students that I have during the school year come out, and then kids from the other high schools come out and earn a credit has just been amazing."

Petahtegoose said the program helps address many of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

"I feel like we're doing some of that work in being here, connecting kids to their land, sharing with them some of the language that we know," she said.

"We're all still second learners as well, but we're trying to share with the kids. They're very lucky, very fortunate to have two elders out here with them. One of them's a fluent speaker. So it's just been great."

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