Elementary students dress up and perform a traditional Inuit dance during the liturgy at the Northern Spirit Games at Toronto’s Bishop Marrocco Catholic High School. Photo by Meggie Hoegler

Northern Spirit Games bring play and learning together

  • February 20, 2018

“Your two jobs today are to play and to have fun.”

These are the only instructions John Somosi, a Metis public speaker, gives to the group of elementary students sitting cross-legged on the gym floor of Bishop Marrocco Catholic High School in Toronto’s west end. 

On Feb. 20, students in Grades 4-7 gathered in Bishop Marrocco’s gym to take part in the Northern Spirit Games. There are game stations for tug-of-war and spear throwing — minus the real spears — along with drums and fur pelts for students to explore.

The Northern Spirit Games began in 2005 with the purpose of teaching students about Indigenous and Inuit culture. 

“Through games and sport, children can participate and get an idea of what it’s like to be a part of Indigenous culture,” said Frank Pio, an Indigenous resource and educator teacher for TCDSB.

This year, over 300 elementary students will participate in the Games. Students from the hosting high schools host the Games and mentor younger students.

“It’s a great way for us to see who will be coming to our school,” said Claire Goodin, a Grade 10 student at Bishop Marrocco. Goodin, who is half Metis, says it is also a way for her to learn about her heritage.

“It’s fun to see parts of my own culture. I don’t know a lot about my Indigenous ancestry because many of my relatives were changed by their experience in residential schools. But I can learn a lot through experiences like this.”

Starting this fall, the teaching of Indigenous history and culture will be mandatory in Ontario elementary and secondary school curriculums. 

“There is a need for reconciliation with Indigenous culture,” said Pio. “And as a Catholic Board, we have the opportunity to show Indigenous culture through a Catholic lens.” 

Somosi is a firm believer that pen and paper is not the only way to learn.

Northern Games TDCSB 3John Somosi shows students how to play traditional drums at the Northern Spirit Games at Toronto’s Bishop Marrocco Catholic High School. (Photo by Meggie Hoegler)

Northern Games TDCS 2Students learn how to play the traditional drums from John Somosi. (Photo by Meggie Hoegler)

“Today, we take the textbooks and computers away and let kids be kids,” said Somosi, who has been speaking at the Games for 10 years. “Kids have permission to play and have fun, I don’t think there is enough of that in today’s society. You will see so many genuine smiles and hear so much laughter. They are having fun and learning about a new culture, it adds that other layer to education.”

In addition to Bishop Marrocco, Northern Spirit Games will be held Feb. 21 at St. Patrick CSS in Toronto, Feb. 22 at Dante Alighieri Academy in North York and on Feb. 23 at Monsignor Percy Johnson CSS in Etobicoke. 

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