Toronto teachers get closeup view of northern experience

By 
  • February 26, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - It was a “life changing” experience for Toronto teachers attending a First Nations educational conference in Moose Factory, Ont., says teacher Brenda Stewart.

Stewart was part of a delegation of 12 Toronto Catholic District School Board teachers who made presentations at the Great Moon Gathering conference on Feb. 18 and 19. Two teachers from the Toronto District School Board and three members from Me to We/Free the Children also attended.

Stewart, a resource teacher specializing in early literacy intervention, said the teachers were “moved” by the unique experience.

“It’s something that just makes you think because it’s not like our normal everyday situation,” she told The Catholic Register.

The Mushkegowuk Education Council organized the conference which was presented by the First Nations people in the James Bay area. About 400 teachers, administrators, staff, youth and elders participated.

The presenters from Toronto participated in cultural activities and workshops unique to the First Nations people of Northern Ontario such as “Storytelling and Legends” and “Traditional Teachings of the Sweat Lodge and Drum.” There were also workshops on suicide prevention and the impact of residential schools.

Stewart said visiting First Nations communities in the North provides an opportunity for “witnessing” other communities’ way of life and the challenges they face, as well as sharing teachers’ talents with one another.

Although Moose Factory, Ont., isn’t a community with the worst poverty rates in Canada, people living on remote First Nations reserves are experiencing challenging living conditions, she said.

Stewart participated in an educational conference last year in Attawapiskat, Ont., another isolated aboriginal community in Northern Ontario, and has seen the poverty up close.

“These kids need to receive the same level of education that our kids are receiving,” she said.

Stewart said different First Nations communities were represented at the conference, with some flying in from remote Northern Ontario communities. The conference provided teachers from Northern Ontario with more teaching tools and strategies, she said.

Meanwhile, it was quite the trek up to Moose Factory, with the Toronto delegation having to take a nine-hour bus ride to Cochrane, Ont., hopping on Ontario Northland’s five-hour Polar Bear train express, then being driven across a frozen lake to Moose Factory Island where temperatures can hover as low as -40 degrees.

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