LPBSB students swap letters and videos with Northern Quebec school

Project aims to teach West Island students about First Nations

By Kevin Woodhouse

More than 50 students with the Lester B. Pearson School Board are taking part in a program that encourages the students to share their interests through artwork, letters and videos that will be sent to students of Kawawachikamach in Northern Quebec.

The idea of the cultural exchange between students of Greendale and Soulanges Elementary schools and John Rennie and Lindsay Place secondary schools and students of the Naskapi Nation at Jimmy Sandy Memorial School in the small town of Kawawachikamach which is located north of Schefferville.

Sue Simatos, who works at the board as spiritual animator, noted that the impetus for the program came after students from other First Nations schools were invited to the board to teach West Island youth about living on a reserve and attending school in the north.

“The First Nations invitees spoke about the human rights violations First Nations children experienced when they attended residential schools in Canada, in operation from1870 to 1996,” explained Simatos. “Many First Nations children, often victims of physical and even sexual abuse, were separated from their families, their communities and forced to abandon their culture, language and identity.

“It’s all part of an effort to learn more about First Nations peoples and for them to learn more about us,” said Simatos.

“It gives us the opportunity to connect with teens and learn about their culture on a first-hand basis instead of just from books,” said secondary five LPHS student Sara Devlin.

The spiritual animator has a contact in Pointe Claire who will be making the journey to Kawawachikamach will be bringing up the letters, videos and messages to the 52 students at Jimmy Sandy Memorial School taking part in the cultural exchange and then bring back the material collected from the northern students.

Curtis Tootoosis, principal at the Jimmy Sandy Memorial School, said the project will provide his students an opportunity to create friendships beyond the limits of their communities.

“Our students read and hear about Montreal and other Quebec communities but rarely get the opportunity to visit and meet people from these places,” said Jimmy Sandy Memorial School principal Curtis Tootoosis. “The pen-pal project will allow students to ask questions about what life is like in the big city while explaining what life is like in the north and I am sure that some friendships will develop and continue beyond the scope of this project.”
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