Sandy Lake First Nation Building Bridges Trip
According to a 2018 Maclean’s article “Few Canadians ever set foot on a First Nations reserve, and that’s a problem...” fortunately students at St. Michael have an opportunity to do just that. Each year, during the start of June, a group of students and staff from all CDSBEO Catholic Secondary Schools head to the isolated, fly-in, northwestern Ontario First Nation community of Sandy Lake First Nation. The purpose of the Sandy Lake First Nation Building Bridges Trip is a is to achieve a greater understanding of life in a remote First Nation Community and provide opportunities for students from both communities to share their lived experiences. Participants help within the school communities, experience life in northwestern Ontario as well as benefit from a rich educational experience which offers them an opportunity to place their faith in action.
When we visit, it is always a busy week with both educational and fun activities. For example, in the past the group has:
- Learned about the history of the area and the people by touring the community, visiting the Band Council and speaking with councilors including the Chief (once we even saw the ceremonial introduction of a new chief!); and visiting elders.
- Heard about some of the challenges facing the community by grocery shopping at the Northern store; visiting the nursing station; learning about the effects of residential schools and possible solutions to maintaining the culture; and learning about mental health issues facing some of the adolescents.
- Participated in community activities by helping organize and run school Field Days; preparing and eating lunch with local students; barbecuing dinner with a local family; playing outside with neighborhood kids; and participating in a local prom.
- Learned about cultural and traditional pursuits through fishing, having a fresh fish fry, and making fish balls; writing our names in syllabics and saying simple phrases in Oji-Cree; participating in the Treaty Days celebrations; eating fresh cooked moose meat and talking about traditional hunting; learning to pluck a goose and filet a fish; meeting a local artist; cultivating medicine root; and skinning trees.
The community members of Sandy Lake are very gracious, proud and happy to share their lives with us. The young people who live there are very interested to hear about where we are from and what life is like in our area. For our part, our CDSBEO students have commented that the Sandy Lake First Nation Building Bridges Trip is an awesome experience. They have felt very welcomed, had fun, learned a great deal, felt a genuine warmth in the community, and made friendships that have lasted throughout the years. At the end of trip, many students are even very emotional about leaving because the trip so enlightening.
It is not easy to go to an isolated reserve. The distance, cost and needing to have contacts there are all challenges but the rewards of the trip are well worth it. We are very thankful to our board and school community for helping to make this trip possible.