This coming week 5 of my students are taking off to live on the land for a few months. I spent the weekend preparing schoolwork for them to take with them to the bush. While I am sad that they won’t be in school, I am also so excited to hear about their experiences on the land.
Colville Lake is known as one of the most traditional Northern communities. This trip is evidence of that fact. The families will set up tents, braid spruce branches together to sleep on, and will live off of the land. The purpose of this trip is hunting and trapping.
This week we had a representative from the NWT government come talk to our staff about indigenizing education. She expressed that it is our goal to produce students who are capable people. A “capable person” is defined differently in this context though. To be a capable person in the North you must be able to survive on the land AND in the city. Therefore, school needs to provide opportunities for students to develop in both realms of life. The time that my students will spend in the bush is considered school hours. They are learning the skills needed to survive and will come back with more knowledge than I could have ever provided them within the classroom.
My main goal for my students is for them to actively participate in tradition and culture while they are away. It is my hope that their school work will help enrich their time on the land. I want them to reflect, share stories, and practice skills in literacy and writing.
Each student will write in a journal, practice their reading, and work on math. I have provided them a daily checklist and the promise of a reward when they return if they do their work everyday :)
Last weekend we began the construction of a hockey rink on the lake. This rink has been Martin's dream ever since he came to Colville Lake and he was determined to make it a reality this year.
With the help of many students we cleared a large portion of ice and smoothed it over the best we could. This weekend the goal is to flood it. Martin purchased a water pump for the school. He will drill a hole in the ice and pump water onto the surface of the rink. The challenge will be to spread the water before it starts to freeze.
The kids took turns going for rides on the skidoo and helping shovel snow. It was neat to see them take ownership of the project.
The whole project took a good 6 hours. I look forward to the completed project and our first Colville Lake School hockey game.
At the end of August I reached out to a few friends in BC and asked them to help me get winter clothes to the kids of Colville Lake. The Co-op does not sell winter gear and shipping cost makes it hard for many families to access clothing suitable for the weather. In reaching out I had hopped to have about 10 coats and boots shipped up for the kids. I know that shipping costs are ridiculous and the thought of receiving anything more than that did not seem plausible. Word got out that the need was great and people from all over the lower mainland jumped on board to help out. When all was said and done, enough coats, boots, and mittens were sent up for nearly every student at Colville Lake School.
My dear friends, Abbey and Monica, coordinated the clothing drive from the BC side of things. They collected donations of coats and money, packed boxes, and arranged shipping. I am forever grateful to them for their dedication and support.
The average shipping to Colville takes up to 6 weeks. However, in this case things happened WAY faster. The boxes arrived on September 9th. My principal came over and we started sorting. We were blown away by the QUANTITY and QUALITY of items sent. As we were sorting we looked outside and it was snowing sideways. We decided that it would be a shame to make these kids wait even one more day for their coats. He grabbed the school truck and we loaded the back with all the clothing (sorted into size and gender). Jenn and I rode in the back to make sure nothing fell off. Louie and Martin drove up front. The four of us were able to visit every family in Colville Lake. People were blown away and so receptive of the gifts.
The kids put on their new coats, snow pants, and boots right away. The smiles will forever be etched in my mind. They were so proud of their new gear. It was so special for me to know both the giver and the receiver of this gift. Knowing the hearts and generosity behind the gift made the giving all the more sweet.
On behalf of the people of Colville Lake, I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to all who contributed to this gift! Lives have been impacted in such practical ways. Colville Lake is so blessed by your generosity!
Below I have posted pictures of our evening of delivery. I SO wish I could share the pictures of the kids in their new outfits, but due to privacy laws I am not allowed to share pictures of my students. You will just have to take me at my word when I say that they were beyond thrilled and looked so warm.
All but one box arrived at my door on Tuesday!! (the other one couldn't fit on the plane in). It was a minor miracle that the boxes arrived at my door. I don't have an official address. Mail makes it as far as the Co-op. Jenn and I walk down every few days to see if anything has arrived for the school or either of us. Out of the kindness of someones heart they decided to load up their truck and bring me the boxes. I am guessing it was Lloyd, the co-op owner, but who knows.
Louie and Martin were the master sorters :) The first night we gave out everything except the wool socks. We decided to wait until the next day at school to distribute those.
Getting ready to deliver :) The snow stopped for a brief period, but started up again as soon as we were driving. This was the first extended period of time outside with my parka and a few layers of moreno wool. I am not going to lie. I was still frozen. I am going to have to layer more in the future.
Jenn and I ensuring all of our cargo stayed in the truck on the bumpy road.
The above picture is Martin finding the right size for a young boy who was standing just behind him. Martin is probably the hardest working person I have ever met. He had just flown in from a week of meetings in Norman Wells and Yellowknife. He still had a night of work ahead of him in the school, yet he selflessly offered his time and tirelessly lead us on the journey of delivering the coats.
Due to privacy laws I can not post pictures of any kids. So, instead, I will leave you with my smiling face. My heart is happy and my kids are warm. Life is good.
I am writing from the big city of Yellowknife. I am meeting with other middle school teachers from around the territory as part of a pilot team for the new Health and Wellness curriculum. The new curriculum is in the draft stages and will be piloted in a few classrooms this year. It is our job to provide feedback on how it practically plays out in our classrooms. As the curriculum draft was presented, I couldn't help but think about the many similarities it has to BC's new curriculum. It is an inquiry based approach that surrounds curricular competencies.
I have enjoyed my meetings and the perks of being in the city.
It is crazy how fast your mindset changes when you are in a new situation though. Being in Yellowknife has made me realize how much my mindset has changed since living in Colville Lake. What I consider to be "normal" now is much different than how I lived in BC. I didn’t drink water the first day in Yellowknife because I was scared I would get sick. Necessity made me overcome that fear. I am staying in a hotel for the three days that I am here. The shower is glorious! I actually feel clean! AND, as an added bonus, I don't have to worry about the water level in the tank. Also, the heating system warms the whole suite, which means I don’t have to worry about keeping a fire going. It’s the little things.
I am enjoying meeting with other NWT teachers. The extrovert in me thrives on meeting new people and trying new things.
Yesterday a teacher from Norman Wells graciously let me accompany him on all his errands. We went to all the big stores – Canadian Tire, Independent Grocery, and Staples. I stocked up on school supplies and picked up the random list of requests I was sent with. I also got some food items I didn’t realize I would miss so much – jalapeños and hot sauce.
Tonight I am off to the Black Knight Pub with new friends for some much needed pub food … and maybe a salad.
But in all seriousness, I have been so encouraged by the fact that I truly miss Colville Lake. I miss my students and my coworkers. I was just setting into the routine there and was not feeling ready to leave. My heart can truly rest there.
Thursday and Friday of this week was cultural orientation for teachers.
The principal was away for the week, which meant it was just us girls at the school. On Thursday we had an Elder come spend the day with us. His name is Johnny.
Johnny is man of laughter and joy. Johnny is pretty sure he is 77 years old. Within Dene culture, your age starts when you are baptized. In small communities they do not always have access to a priest right when a baby is born. When Johnny was born his parents made the journey to a neighboring town for his baptism. This journey took months and was on foot. Johnny was born in October and was baptized in February. He now celebrates his birthday in February.
We had the opportunity to listen to Johnny’s story and to learn about traditional Dene medicines. He spoke in his native dialect, Slavey. His niece was able to translate for us. Early in the day I asked him if he would be willing to share about his experiences in residential school. He was more than willing and brought it up a few times throughout the day. His niece explained that there is rarely an opportunity for people in Colville to speak about their experiences. Talking about it brings healing. Johnny’s story is not mine to share, but is one that has impacted my view of residential schools and the generational trauma that has resulted.
The Slavey teacher taught us how to make moose stew and bannock. I am learning the difference between different meats and the importance of proper preparations. Moose meat can smell quite bad, which impacts the taste. We were taught how to properly season the meat to mask the smell. Moose meat doesn't get much fresher than the stuff we use here in Colville. As we cut the meat up for the stew we also had to remove the moose hair that was still attached. It was a very unique experience. The soup was delicious!
After our meal together we drove into the bush and made tea over a fire. As we drank our tea Johnny told us more stories. I was able to record a lot of his story as it was being translated. I hope to find a way to honor his story.
The next morning we met at the school and the Slavey teacher taught us how to make beaver mittens. Jenn and I were VERY excited about this opportunity. Jenn chose to make her mittens out of rabbit fur and I choose to use the traditional beaver hide. I will show pictures of our mittens once we are finished …. Hand stitching fur is a long process.
I look forward to learning more about the Dene culture. In the coming weeks I have many opportunities to experience new things. Community members are going to scout out the barren lands to see if the Caribou are migrating yet. If they find Caribou the families will pack up and go set up camp for a week. My students often speak of their time on the land and tell me how much fun it is. The men go hunt while the ladies cook and care for the children. At night they make a huge fire and play games. There is talk of us teachers visiting our students out in the barren lands.
I truly love Colville Lake. I am learning and growing so much - both professionally and personally.
The water is pumped directly from the lake and stored in a tank in our laundry room. The tank is very dirty. Both Jenn and I have been sick as a result of water contamination. We now boil and filter all water.
There is no police in town. Police do rounds once every few months. There is also no medical care here. A man broke his neck a few weekends ago - he lay on the ground for half a day waiting for a helicopter.
This is my third week with my students. I am so grateful for each of them. Our classroom is quickly becoming a little family. Each morning we start the day with breakfast and journals. I find that they are hungry, tired, and in need of a slower paced morning (which is also often the case with me...haha).
As a school we are focusing on literacy. It is my goal to have every student in my room reading and writing before the end of the year.
I am falling in love with Colville Lake. The culture is rich and the community is beautiful. Yet, within the beauty, there is unimaginable pain. Generational trauma and hurt from residential schools is ingrained in the stories of the people. No one is immune to pain. I am struggling to navigate where exactly my place is within the story of this community. I am surrounded by so much hurt and want my time here to be purposeful.