Students from the Rotaract Club at Queen’s University are pictured after net fishing on a trip to the Big Trout Lake First Nation to work with aboriginal youth. Photo courtesy of Alex Gasser

Rotaract partners with First Nations peers

By  Clara Osei-Yeboah, Youth Speak News
  • May 23, 2014

Queen’s Rotaract Club is taking an active interest in a Thunder Bay, Ont., First Nations community.

Rotaract is the student arm of the Rotary Club based at Queen’s University. The students travelled to work with KI (Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug), also known as the Big Trout Lake First Nation.

This spring marked the beginning of the long-awaited project that saw the team based in Kingston, Ont., hold leadership development programs for KI youth in Grades 6-11, as well as participate in cultural activities.

The project hopes to establish a long-lasting partnership with KI community members by engaging Queen’s students in a cultural dialogue with members of the community. According to International Outreach Directors, students Annie Hollis and Alex Gasser, the project intends “to integrate the travellers into the community.”

The team of 11 students arrived by plane on April 29 and quickly learned to adapt to the unfamiliar environment. Gasser said the team had to adapt “to infrastructural difficulties.” Immediately, they confronted one of the hardships the KI community faces as the water in the community’s pipes was frozen. So the team had to purchase bottled water.

A local coffee shop, a couple of churches and a health and wellness centre were among the sites the group visited. The health and wellness centre is responsible for helping people recover from alcohol and drug abuse. The team took an active role in helping the women who run the centre to package materials to be distributed at the end of one of the workshops.

A tour of the school allowed the students to better understand the difficulties in education that confront KI youth: 58 per cent of First Nations youth do not graduate from high school. There is poor attendance and many students are children of young mothers, who themselves did not finish high school or elementary school because they needed to focus on providing financial stability for their families. Students cannot be assigned homework because there is no one at home who can help students complete assignments.

Gasser said “the pattern of not finishing school repeats itself and leads to a prominently passive attitude towards furthering education.”

She noted that high schools in the community offer courses for Grade 9 and 10 students only. Students wanting to complete high school must go to First Nations boarding schools outside the community.

The Queen’s Rotaract Club wants to implement leadership development programs to help build the community and encourage character development. On April 30, it put together a workshop to teach KI youth about the importance of teamwork and communication. With suicide rates rampant among aboriginal women aged 15-24, the club believes a sense of community is very important and wants to help the young women know that they are not alone. Community is also an important word to the Queen’s students, who intend to create dialogue between non-First Nations and First Nations youth.

This dialogue is meant to remove the sense of distance between the groups. In this dialogue of cultural exchange, the two communities will learned much more about each other than they could ever find in a textbook.

“The trip (allowed) us to witness first-hand the struggles (facing) the First Nations people as well as the way in which culture holds them together.”

The Queen’s Rotaract Club found funding the project difficult. As the cost per student for a flight to the reserve was approximately $1,300, fundraising initiatives became very important to the team’s mission.

“We effectively worked as a group... and were able to come up with the necessary funds for the trip,” said Gasser.

A blog — www. rotaractki2014. — has been developed to record the trip. The Queen’s Rotaract Club returned home on May 9.

(Osei-Yeboah, 18, is a firstyear student at the University of Toronto.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Wow, nice slaughter. Good to see that Christian stewardship in action. You are proud of this?

Amy big allow
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