Superior North Study and Leadership Program May 2016

GREENSTONE – Laying on a picnic table under a dark sky, staring up in amazement at the dazzling star field, a 16-year-old student from Toronto is held breathless at the panoramic view of the sky and the echo of loons calling on the shores of Kenogamisis Lake. It is a common experience for residents of Greenstone, but for a group of 20 high school students from inner city Toronto, it’s the first time they’ve experienced it.

In fact, last week was filled with first time experiences as a partnership between Toronto Catholic District School Board and Superior North Catholic District School Board brought these students to live, lead and learn in Greenstone for four days alongside the local students in grade 7/8 from schools in Geraldton, Longlac and Nakina.

The visit was all part of an initiative aimed at aligning goals of the Ministry of Education’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit Education Framework with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Specifically, the objective was to allow the students from Greenstone to highlight their strengths as northerners and teach the visitors about our shared cultural heritage through drumming, smudging, and hoop dancing, while learning alongside the visitors about traditional first nations teachings such as the sacred medicines, medicine pouch construction, and residential schools. In return, the students from Toronto Catholic worked with the local students to build their capacities as leaders in their communities, bringing with them an energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and general love of all aspects of what living in Northwestern Ontario has to offer.

The week kicked off last Sunday evening in Geraldton with an opening smudge and welcoming drum led by Peter Shebegabow, a local Ojibwe language and culture teacher. After a dinner, there was a student leadership symposium wherein students from Superior North and Toronto Catholic were asked questions from various dignitaries from the school boards, the Ministry of Education, and from members of the Lakehead University research community. After learning how to hoop dance in Nakina, engaging in leadership training in Geraldton, participating in a drumming circle and feast at Ginoogaming First Nation near Longlac, and the week ended with all members of the delegation putting their growth mindsets into action as they climbed the Pijitawabik Palisades Hiking Trail in Orient Bay in their last opportunity to learn and lead with each other. The Toronto Catholic students spent their last day in the north with the Aboriginal Initiatives Office at Lakehead University before flying back to the city to spread the word about the land, culture, history, people, and way of life in northwestern Ontario.

The Grade 7/8 students of Our Lady of Fatima will be travelling to Toronto next week as part of their student-leadership expedition and they look forward to reconnecting with their new friends in leadership from Toronto.




Nilo, a Grade 12 student from Francis Leiberman Catholic High School in Toronto, learns the art of aboriginal hoop dancing from a student at St. Brigid Catholic School in Nakina.

Grade 7/8 girls from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Longlac do a freestyle pow wow dance to drumming led by elder Cecil Mendowegan at Ginoogaming First Nation during the schools’ Falcon Family Feast last Tuesday evening.

After a limit-testing hike, all students gazed out over the cliffs at the Pijitawabik Palisades north of Nipigon and celebrated all they had learned and accomplished together during the week.

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