Building Bridges – Sandy Lake First Nations Exposure Trip 2015
For the second consecutive year, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario had students participate in an exposure trip to Sandy Lake First Nation in Northern Ontario. The experience was again a huge success, involving new adventures and a stronger connection between CDSBEO and the Sandy Lake Board of Education.
Julie Byvelds, Teacher at Holy Cross Catholic School, and Dennis Hutt, Teacher at St. Mary Catholic High School, presented information on the Sandy Lake Exposure Trip to the Board of Trustees. “This initiative is an educational opportunity which improves our understanding of the challenges faced by those living on an isolated reserve,” explained Ms. Byvelds. “It also allows us to experience the vibrant cultures and histories of First Nations Peoples.”
The Sandy Lake First Nation is accessible only by plane, or winter ice road; therefore transportation of essential goods such as food, clothing, gas, building supplies, and vehicles is difficult and very expensive. Shopping for groceries at the Northern Store, visiting homes in desperate need of repair, picking up building materials delivered by plane, and having little access to vehicles, proper flushing toilets, and clean drinking water, are just some of the challenges faced by the residents of Sandy Lake.
“One very unique element to this year’s trip was the accommodations,” noted Mr. Hutt. “The group stayed at the high school for the entire week. The girls slept in the library and the boys were assigned to an empty classroom.”
The accommodations made it possible for the group to be as large as it was – 11 people in total. In addition to being very convenient, these accommodations made the trip extremely special because it strengthened the relationship between the students of Thomas Fiddler Secondary School and the mission trip participants. The students were welcomed upon their arrival, and guided through a rich learning journey.
While in Sandy Lake, students attended classes, joined in school sports, and socialized between classes and during lunch. On the very first day, students participated in a cultural class that involved cooking ducks on an open fire and preparing duck soup and bannock. They were encouraged to join in Phys. Ed. class to interact with the other students, and teachers indicated that the visitors were a huge motivator for student attendance and participation. On the last day, students attended the annual field day, which was a day of fun, activities, and food. The relationship between the two groups of students was a unique and special one, which benefited both groups in different ways.
While in Sandy Lake, the group visited the nursing station, radio station, board of education, and was officially welcomed at a Band Council meeting. In addition, the group went fishing and visited two different families’ homes for a fish fry. In addition, they played evening sports and socialized with the young children and teens.
“The kindness of the community members and all of the students was overwhelming,” noted Mr. Hutt. “I know the students had an extraordinary learning experience, and I know they will continue to benefit immensely from this opportunity in future years.”
At the conclusion of the Sandy Lake presentation, Superintendent John Cameron shared that moving forward, this exposure trip will now become part of the mission trip complement. Grade 11 and 12 students will have the opportunity to apply to experience either a Sandy Lake, Dominican Republic or Guatemala exposure trip annually.
Photo: CDSBEO students play baseball with Sandy Lake community youth.
Photo: Students help to make, and eat, duck soup with bannock.
Photo: Teacher Julie Byvelds and a child from Sandy Lake.