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Indigenous Peoples Blanket Exercise & Cultural Activities

CLC Community Development Agents (CDA) at Netagamiou CLC in Chevery and Harrington CLC mobilized their schools and communities to reach out to the neighbouring Innu community of Unamen Shipu to get to know more about their local history, culture, and traditions.

Littoral School Board – Netagamiou CLC / Harrington CLC, QC

A planning team was assembled from the three communities; early on they determined that this was not going to be a one-off project but rather aim for a long-term relationship between the non-Aboriginal and Innu communities, where traditionally there has not been a great deal of contact.

The first phase involved teacher orientation sessions on how to use the Kairos Blanket Exercise Edu-Kit that was developed in collaboration with LEARN’s Provincial Resource Team. Next, a representative from Kairos and elder from Unamen Shipu co-facilitated the Blanket Exercise in the three communities in spring of 2016. For maximum impact, the planning team wanted a wider reach than staff and students, so organized these as community-wide events in Chevery and Harrington Harbour. A session was also held in Unamen Shipu for health and education personnel so that a strong support network would be available for those who are residential school survivors or their descendants.

“An incredibly powerful experience that moved me to tears. I truly believe that everyone should participate in this eye opening, thought provoking exercise!” Christine Vatcher, community member

“A very powerful exercise that impacted all participants. The activity shone a light on a topic that has been left in the dark for too long.” Philip Joycey, School Principal

“L’exercice des couvertures a créé des images bouleversantes qui m’ont touchée profondément. C’est intense!” Monique Bourassa, community member

In fall 2016, the next step was to bring the Blanket Exercise activity to the schools for all students from grade 2 to secondary 5.

“My students told me that the Blanket exercise was the difference between knowing and understanding. It inspired them to continue their research about residential schools. That led them to want to know more about First Nation education in general…they got a lot out of this project and it really opened their eyes to a reality we are not familiar with.” Anne Monger, Teacher

During this same visit, the elder and spiritual leader from Unamen Shipu led a cultural activity for the two non-Aboriginal communities to explain the significance of dream catchers, with more than 80 youth and community members participating. These activities generated a huge amount of empathy, respect, curiosity, and a concrete desire to further nurture the relationship between the three communities. Teachers have also expressed interest in school- based exchanges with Olamen School at Unamen Shipu, a francophone school which is part of the federal native school system. Littoral School

Board is the only school board in Quebec which offers both English and French education services.
Plans are currently underway for follow-up student exchanges through in-class interactions or extracurricular activities in 2017. In addition, the CDAs have started preliminary discussions to have Innu representatives come from Unamen Shipu to explain and lead a sweat lodge ceremony in summer 2017.

The outcomes for both students and community have been considerable . Students have demonstrated ongoing interest and engagement through a variety of follow-up activities, including:

– Writing a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada
– Creating a “talking feather” modelled after the eagle feather that was passed around the
closing circle at the end of the Blanket Exercise.
– Watching the ‘Secret Path’ film created by Gord Downie (Tragically Hip).
– Conducting research on the impact of loss of land in relation to space and autonomy for
indigenous hunting and nomadic practices.
– Engaged in replicating native artwork such as Wampum bracelets and seed pictures.

Teachers are equally engaged and, with support from the CDAs, have incorporated a variety of new resources and opportunities into their curriculum.

– An elementary teacher modified the EduKit and presented it to her Grade 1-3 class in a format that she knew they would understand.
– Another elementary teacher is doing a project in social studies/ERC class with students from grades 1-6 project on Algonquian culture and traditional food. They are also reading books by C. J Taylor and Paul Goble about legends of the origin of the indigenous people.
– A secondary teacher modified her class time to support the interest of her students in an independent exploration of the history, culture and contemporary issues relating to native peoples of Quebec and Canada.
– Both elementary and secondary students participated in a webinar by the National Gallery of Canada called Indigenous Art Today.

The most important outcome of all the activities to date has been an increased awareness and empathy for the history that our Innu and Aboriginal neighbours have experienced and a desire to have keep learning more. Though logistics remain a challenge (the three communities are geographically isolated from one another, with no roads to connect them) everyone remains committed to bridging the barriers of distance and language to learn from each other and continue building a strong, vibrant relationship.

Excerpt from the students’ letter to Prime Minister of Canada:

“We strongly believe First Nations should not have to fight for services other children get to enjoy in this country. We understand that the remoteness of some native communities adds to the complexity of providing good services, but we know firsthand it is no excuse. We are a small school with a student population of 26. We are a remote community of less than 300 residents, located on an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with no connecting road. Despite this, our school is well equipped, well cared for and provides us with a positive learning environment. We want ALL the children in this country to have as much as we do”. Callie Evans, Secondary III student, Harrington Harbour School on behalf of all secondary students attending this school.

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