Sandy Lake First Nation Exposure Trip

Meeting the goals of the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework is a priority for the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. For the fifth consecutive year, a group of CDSBEO students participated in a service trip to Sandy Lake First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. The trip provides an educational opportunity for students and educators to learn about the challenges of living on an isolated reserve.

This initiative was organized by the department of Religious and Family Life Education, providing the opportunity for new adventures and a chance to build stronger connections between CDSBEO and the Sandy Lake Board of Education. The trip focused deeply on developing a clearer understanding of life in a First Nation community, learning the traditions of the people, and building positive relationships.

Ten CDSBEO students from five secondary schools participated in the experience, which took place in early June 2018.

Described as a life changing journey, students reflected on the most impactful aspects of their experiences, including the adjustment to being geographically isolated and the complications it creates.

The Sandy Lake First Nation is accessible only by plane or winter ice road, and transportation of essential goods such as food, clothing, gas, building supplies, and vehicles is difficult and very expensive. Several students that participated in the trip spoke to the Board of Trustees about their experience at the Board Meeting held on October 16.

Hollie Berkers, a student from St. Thomas Aquinas CHS, noted, “Upon our arrival we noticed that transportation, the prices of goods, and the medical issues of the residents, were all impacted by isolation.”

“We arrived by plane on a small gravel runway,” added Ethan Warnock, also a student from St. Thomas Aquinas. “When we visited the medical centre, we realized that they are not able to treat serious medical issues in Sandy Lake, as they lack the proper facilities and resources. This means that patients must be flown out to the nearest hospital or medical centre for treatment, and citizens only have access to a medical doctor for a limited number of days each year.”

“When first arriving to Sandy Lake it was shocking to think that this is the same province that we ourselves live in,” explained Berkers.

While reflecting on the challenges faced by the community, the students also realized the importance of community, and the positive morale of the residents of Sandy Lake. Events such as Treaty Days, many outdoor sports activities and games, and experiencing the installation of the first female band chief, imparted the strong sense of community that exists in Sandy Lake. The youth and children of Sandy Lake welcomed the visitors, and the students learned an abundance of lessons, and formed lasting bonds with the youth in the community.

Noah King of Notre Dame CHS provided an overview of the cultural teaching the students witnessed.

“Being in Sandy Lake gave us a chance to experience real culture that our textbooks cannot describe. I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to experience all of these rich cultures first-hand, and to witness how they are passed down through the generations.”

Jocelyn Cooper of St. John CHS concluded, “Before Sandy Lake, I prepared myself by attending mass, team meetings, and studying Indigenous life at school. But after the trip I realized that I never could have fully prepared myself for what I was to experience.”

Vice-Chair Ron Eamer commended the students, and reflected on the potential of their experience.

“Thank you all for putting yourselves out there and taking the time to learn about Sandy Lake, and their way of life. If two or three of you become involved in helping these communities based on the impact of your experience, and you are able to touch other people with this story, you have the opportunity to truly make your mark on the world.”

Photo: (left to right) John Cameron (Director of Education), Nancy Kirby (Trustee, Lanark County), Noah King (Notre Dame CHS), Theresa Allingham (St. Michael CHS), Jocelyn Cooper (St. John CHS), Hollie Berkers (St. Thomas Aquinas CHS), Alexandra Kay (Notre Dame CHS), Ethan Warnock (St. Thomas Aquinas CHS), Sue Wilson (Trustee, Prescott County and Russell County), Brent Laton (Grenville County and Elizabethtown-Kitley Township)

 

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