Grade 7 and 8 students from St. Norbert and St. Andrew Catholic Schools made 70 pairs of baby moccasins last year while learning about Indigenous culture.  Photo courtesy of Patrizia De Marco

Moccasin project helps create awareness of Indigenous issues

By  Jacklyn Gilmor, Catholic Register Special
  • May 8, 2018

A small handmade gift can have a big impact. 

Students at St. Norbert Catholic School in Toronto learned that lesson by making 70 pairs of moccasins for Indigenous infants. They will share their experience in a presentation next month at the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT).

Meghan Greco-Gianmarco, 13, said it’s difficult to make a moccasin, but she was motivated by the thought of helping a child.

“Not a lot of schools would get this opportunity,” she said. “We get to (share) our experience and how it affected us, and we get to write our own speech and spread awareness. I think that’s really cool.”

The St. Norbert students will be joined at OCT by students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Toronto, with whom they collaborated on the moccasin project. The Grade 7 and 8 youth made the baby moccasins last year while learning about Indigenous culture. 

At their presentation they will perform spoken word poetry and display photos which depict their experience. 

Nancy Rowe, from the New Credit First Nation in Ontario, founded the moccasin project. Its purpose is to  create awareness about the disproportionate rate of Indigenous children in foster care.

According to the project’s website, 40 Indigenous babies per month are removed from hospitals and put into foster care. 

To make moccasins, students take pieces of pre-cut leather and assemble the units with a needle and thread. According to teacher Maria D’Alfonso-Gentilin, everything is done by hand. She said it takes about an hour to make one pair. With about 80 students working together, the group made 70 pairs in one day.

WXGI1808Letters accompany moccasins for Indigenous kids. (Photo courtesy Patrizia De Marco)

The moccasins are donated to the Indigenous community with handwritten notes of love and encouragement.

St. Norbert students were introduced to the project by students from St. Andrew. The plan is to keep passing it on to other schools to foster better understanding of Indigenous issues.

“It will be interesting to see how this thread of social justice will be woven between all of the schools and continue,” D’Alfonso-Gentilin said.

Teacher Patrizia De Marco brought the project to St. Andrew. She said it’s important to have Indigenous perspectives rather than rely on third parties. 

According to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, Indigenous youth comprised 48 per cent of children in foster care in 2011.

Sarah Costa, 14, wants to see greater awareness about the issue.

“I shared this experience with my family, my friends and my sister. I’m sure my sister went and told her friends. So it’s kind of spreading… hopefully we can make a change,” she said.

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