Long Lake #58, Where Children Demand Your Friendship

Photo Credit: Taidyn Legard

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to various areas around the world. From impoverished rural areas and refugee camps in third world countries to various multicultural metropolises, I have interacted and worked with so many impressive and wonderful people. So, I thought nothing could ever surprise me anymore. I was wrong. None of my experiences throughout the years could have prepared me for the wonders of Long Lake #58, especially the children.

It is very hard to verbalize how loving, kind and intelligent the children are in this community. It is also hard to feel out of place, alone, and lost in Long Lake # 58 because every time I enter the community I’m greeted with at least six tiny smiley faces shouting “Hi Elle!” Running towards me to shake hands, give hugs, or just ask what I’m up to. If I need help they are there to help; If I need directions, they are more than happy to personally take me to my destination; and if I’m ever sitting alone at the General Store, they always keep me company.

This lovely friendship started very unceremoniously, in the first few days of my arrival. It began when I was wandering aimlessly on the reserve, feeling lost and a little lonely. Then, I heard someone yelling “Hey! What’s your name?” from afar. As soon as I turned around, I saw seven tiny faces staring at me with excitement mixed with curiosity. They were standing about 30 meters away, in a park, hence the shouting. Once I yelled back “I’m Elle,” they all started yelling out their names, most probably expecting that I’d remember them all. Sadly, I didn’t but with this very simple introduction, I made seven friends. The children didn’t just want to be my friend, they demanded it.

But that’s not all. Besides making newcomers feel quite welcome and loved, the children, ages between 4 to 10, are the biggest fans of my mission here. I discovered that when the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival visited Long Lake #58 to feature a special exhibition of Indigenous artists’ vision of Canada on its 300th birthday, through virtual reality. I showed up to check out the event, as well as to ask the community members if they were interested in taking pictures and do a possible story. I found many interested participants, most of them among my little friends.

At first, I reluctantly agreed to let the children take pictures, one by one, expecting to have a broken camera by the end. Yet again, I was wrong. Not only did they take amazing care of the camera, but they also captured some remarkable moments.

Photo credit: Jordyn Towegishig, 8

Two of these young talents, who happen to be very good friends, are Paris Bouchard and Taidyn Legard, both 9 years old.

Photo: Paris Bouchard, and Taydin Legard

Although they followed my instructions, they didn’t restrict themselves to traditional methods. They experimented working with the camera, took pictures from unusual angles, and preserved some amazing shots of their friends, who were more than happy to pose. The result made me feel a little embarrassed for ever doubting them as genuinely talented photographers or even thinking that they would break the camera.

After the virtual reality event, having swallowed a humble pie, I started to work with the grade-school students and younger children on a regular basis. I go to the Migizi Wazisin Elementary school every week. Also, at different community events, if there is no interest from adults, I give the camera to one of the children, who never fail to amaze by showing their different and unexpectedly deep perspective of the world.

The constant interest my young friends show in every activity I run in their community is great proof of the big demand for more children’s programming on the reserve, something the band office continues to strive for.

Community journalism training is an integral part of JHR’s larger Indigenous Reporters Program. In-community training in Ontario is generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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