One of our partners, the documentary filmmaker Andree Cazabon, screened her movie last week about the impact of suicide in First Nations communities, at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. The event was sponsored by the Toronto Rotary Cub, and featured a panel of individuals from K.I. (Big Trout Lake), which is where Andree filmed. The audience was extremely moved, and she is hoping to raise awareness about conditions in the north by taking "Third World Canada" across the country, and airing it with discussions. You can find out more about this film at her website, www.thirdworldcanada.ca.

The artful use of technology is a critical skill for all young people, whether they are entering university in Ottawa or starting grade one in their First Nation community. So, at the advent of this school year, southern partner Sylvia Da Rocha of St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Oakville, Ontario flew to Sandy Lake to train teachers in the use of Smart Boards.

These innovative, interactive whiteboards can be used in a whole host of ways, from displaying calculators and puzzles to creating virtual, touch-sensitive musical instruments. You can draw an angle, and then use a virtual protractor to calculate it. You can display and modify art, or show video material.

Da Rocha ran four workshops for the teachers at both the elementary and high schools, with everyone getting involved in imagining different possibilities that might suit their subjects and grade levels.

Smart Boards are particularly helpful in schools with modest budgets because “if you don’t have certain resources in the class room,” Da Rocha says, “you can find them in the virtual world.”

We look forward to what the teachers and students dream up with this intriguing technology.

The Partnership is embarking upon an exciting building project for the small and very keen community known as Summer Beaver. Working in tandem with their housing manager, Moses Beaver, we are planning to construct four houses that will serve as learning modules for the community, transferring knowledge about carpentry, plumbing, power tool usage and so on. To that end, we would be delighted to receive the following simple donations:

  • Jig saw
  • Finish nailers, sliding nailers, framing nailers, roof nailers, flooring nailers
  • Air compressors and hoses
  • Drywall screw guns
  • Skill saw, miter saw and table saw
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Hammer, pliers and wrenches
  • Files, levels and box cutters
  • Chisels
  • Pencils
  • Tape measures
  • Goggles

Any such supplies would be most gratefully received! Contact our housing project manager, Mike King, if you think you can help.

The staff has just returned from a high-summer visit to three of the reserves, Summer Beaver, K.I. and Sandy Lake.

The children at Summer Beaver were all at “camp,” a youth retreat about an hour’s boat ride from the main settlement, where they had been learning traditional skills such as how to build shelters from moss and birch branches. We joined them for an evening of dancing, fresh-caught pickerel and fried bannock. There was a great deal of laughter. The blueberries were ripe, the air was warm, husky puppies were scampering under foot, and the landscape was stunning.

The following day, public health director Don Sofea took us on a tour of this 450-person community, pointing out some of his challenges in caring for his people’s physical welfare. A major problem is household mould.

Virtually every small, cramped home here (several without running water) is built on a wood foundation without adequate venting or circulation. In the fiercely cold winter, the windows supplied via the rough ice roads wind up arriving cracked or broken. As there is no money to purchase replacements, these are what have to be installed, which in turn means that most homes are frigidly cold and draughty. To solve this problem, community members wrap their creaky buildings in plastic, which traps humidity. Mould is everywhere, and nobody can afford to tear their homes down and start anew.

As a result, the people are suffering from chronic coughs, runny noses, rashes and headaches. Our special advisor, Judy Finlay, had her first asthma attack in a decade after spending a night in the local motel.

When the Chief and his Band Council notified Health Canada about this ongoing public health crisis, an official was sent up to do a thorough inspection of homes and prepare a lengthy report that said, in effect: “Yup, you’ve got mould.”

If the Band cannot afford to build new houses -- they are currently short by seventy homes -- how can they afford to tear down what meagre dwellings they’ve got and rebuild the entire community to get rid of mould?

This is but one example of the Catch-22s they contend with.

Our newly-hired project manager for housing, Mike King, had long discussions with members of the Summer Beaver community, and is beginning to look at ways to help solve this dilemma.

After sharing their concerns, they invited us to attend a Sweat Lodge ceremony, which turned out to be a powerful emotional experience for some of our members. As always with a partnership, this is an experience of mutual learning and nourishment.

Now, there is work to do!

On June 17th, members and supporters of the Partnership gathered at the Atkinson Foundation in Toronto to receive a $580,000.00 grant from Patricia Else of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, enabling us to expand core staff over three years. MPP Glen Murray was on hand to congratulate us, saying: "You'd be hard-pressed to find people in this country who've been more single-handedly abandoned than the children" of remote Northern Ontario. We are so grateful to Trillium for helping so generously to redress this sense of abandonment.

Also at the meeting were two honoured guests from New Zealand, Maori university Provost Richard Jefferies and his spouse Gerry. Provost Jeffries gave an eloquent presentation about the "Maori renaissance," which he described as flowing "from our own ideas, from doing things for ourselves" in education, in healthcare and by revisiting and reclaiming a "knowledge base that is ancient." We are, Jefferies said, "walking backwards into the future."A fuller report on the provost of the University of Awanuiarangi’s fascinating talk will appear in our next newsletter. Chief Adam Fiddler of Sandy Lake First Nation thanked him for coming, and he, along with Chief Lorraine Crane of Slate Falls First Nation and Felicia Saqutch, Band Councillor for Eabametoong First Nation, conferred further over dinner.

Others who made an appearance:

Youth leaders Darryl Sainnawap, who skyped in from KI First Nation, and Howard (Elijah) Sugarhead calling in from Summer Beaver. Lindsay Meekis, youth council member from Sandy Lake was able to attend and listen to the presentations; she was later featured in an article in the Toronto Star about “women of the G-20.”

Finally, the Partnership’s co-chair, Senator Landon Pearson, announced that we have been officially granted charitable status. Contact the Partnership to see how this might benefit you as a donor!