A small group of Grade 7 students at James Kennedy Elementary raised $700 in six days to help indigenous people suffering Third World-like conditions on the Attawapiskat reserve in Ontario.
Aboriginal support worker Luke Dandurand, whose mother is a residential school survivor, spoke to the students about the lasting trauma caused by residential schools, which is playing out in the lives of aboriginals across the country including on the Attawapiskat reserve.
The reserve has a population of 2,100 people. Of those, around 100 young people have tried to take their own lives. Drug and alcohol addiction among young people is high, there isn’t nearby access to schooling and the housing conditions are deplorable.
Attawapiskat called a state of emergency on April 9. The measure came after several children attempted to or managed to commit suicide.
The hospital doesn’t have any full-time doctors and there are no mental health workers in the community.
Since April 9, a health team has been mobilized, said media reports.
“We looked at an article written in 2011 and it said the exact same things that are happening now on the Attawapiskat reserve. Nothing had changed for them, it was shocking to see that,” said Grade 7 student Hattie Aldag, daughter of Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag.
That same week she discovered the article, her father went to Ottawa for an emergency meeting about the Attawapiskat reserve crisis.
“I spoke to them about how we have to break the silence. We can no longer turn our heads away from what is happening all over Canada and in our own backyard,” said Dandurand. “We have to acknowledge that this is a Canadian problem, not just an aboriginal problem, we have to think radical, show kindness, caring and love.”
The group of students made a poster and went around to various classes last week, speaking to the students about their efforts to raise money to help the youth living on the Ontario reserve.
“Our goal is to raise $671 — that would be a $1 for every child living at Attawapiskat ,” said student Chloe McIlroy. Anyone is welcome to come to the school office until May 9 if they would like to donate.
All the funds raised will go to buy arts, crafts and sports equipment.
“We chose this because kids in Attawapiskat want to do kid stuff, they want to do everything the same that kids do here,” said Dandurand. James Kennedy is just down from Walnut Grove Community Centre where they get to swim in the pool or play in the gym. The youth of Attawapiskat have none of that.
James Kennedy students are also writing positive messages and will send them to the members of the reserve. They are also sending books for both children and adults.
“I think this will show them that you care — that there are people across the country who are caring for them and thinking of them,” said Dandurand.
Dandurand, who is a member of the Kwantlen First Nation, said the crisis going on in northern Ontario is a result of the trauma endured in residential schools.
“Adults are broken, many are very sad dealing with this trauma,” he said. “Indigenous people have been giving a helping hand for over 100 years. Now it is our time to ask for a helping hand and embrace the 94 recommendations made through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
“This problem isn’t just in northern Ontario, it’s happening on reserves everywhere in Canada — in Kwantlen First Nation too,” said Dandurand.
“Cecilia [Reekie] and I have been speaking to schools about the history of residential schools and bringing awareness,” he said. “We are part of a journey that is helping all Canadians. This is about us coming together and showing love for one another.”