By: Ara Sauvage, Community Journalism Trainer
It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Iskatewizaagegan No.39 Independent First Nation for 4 months now! Sometimes I never want it to end. My favorite part thus far has been the 48 hour jam-packed camping trip out on Shoal Lake.
With eleven youth aged 11 and up, two inspiringly fierce women and an adorable wiener dog, we packed up all essential camping needs and boated off to a camp on a remote island in the middle of the lake.
‘Twas my first time on the lake and I was finally able to witness some of the non-Native development that has taken place despite the MNR’s moratorium on development since 1982. I also kinda/sorta understand why the Canadian federal government skirted the rules by allowing so many non-Natives to develop on patented mining claims around the lake – it’s basically a ‘lil slice of heaven.
My intro to the youth the first week I arrived in April had gone well for the most part. After getting permission from the Chief to visit the school, I headed over to meet the principal. We spoke of some potential projects and I proceeded to volunteer there for 2 months. Then as my Criminal Record Check was taking too long to complete, my eligibility to volunteer with the youth had been flagged. As I did not want to flaunt the rules of the school, I had to abandon all the projects on the go there and wait an agonizingly long month before I could go to my home province to get the check done. Meanwhile the youth had slowly gotten used to me because I was running the chess club two lunch hours a week, and after a couple of quick intro workshops, two days a week I would also stop in first thing to the grade 7/8 class to say hi and leave the camera and audio recorder for them to experiment with.
Luckily the last time I was there was for a scheduled hour to look over all the photos they had taken. As a group, we discussed which photos were usable for the end of year project and which ones weren’t and why, we complimented the amazing ones, laughed at the funny ones and resorted to vote by show of hands to decide the fate of some photos when there was no clear winner in the response to “keep or discard?” It caused such a raucous at one point that the principal made her way down to the classroom and sat in on some of the votes.
At the time, I was getting high fives in the hallways from kids in the younger grades and was just getting to know some of the kindergarteners, when ‘poof’, I disappeared from the school. And as I learned from some of the gr 8’s who were on the camping trip, no one had spoken to them about why I was no longer there.
But, as is their way, it seems that once I explained what had happened, the youth showed me that those first two months had not be for naught. They invited me swimming and kayaking and cliff jumping, they asked me questions and listened to my replies and treated me with respect and kindness. They also experimented with the camera and the audio recorder all weekend, and took some amazing photos, as you can see for yourself.
Plus, added cherry on top in the midst of all this awesomeness, aside from the budding photogs, there may also be a couple of budding writers! Two young ladies are going to write a journalism story about the Graffiti Art Mural Project that will be happening here soon: a collaborative project between the IIFN39 band council, the youth centre, two artists and JHR.
As I’m almost 50, it can be exhausting and generationally challenging to hang with youth who have more energy in one elbow than I have in my entire body! But I have always considered it one of the highest honours when young people are willing to let me into their world, sharing whatever they want to share. The youth here, like youth everywhere, have so much potential and are simply awesome – they’re kind, witty, smart and funny and have some incredible innate skills. So, I’m just happy to be able to hang out with them again. Some of them are going to be taking part in the Graffiti Art Mural Project, and I get to work with a lot them when school starts in September, so for now we’re kinda planting seeds together.