They’ve planted corn, beans and squash. Learned a 3000-year-old seed song. Beaded with porcupine quills, visited McMaster University and Mohawk College, made corn husk dolls, listened to stories told by elders, cooked with wild rice and learned to count lunar cycles on the back of a turtle shell.
This isn’t your typical school program. It’s NYA:WEH Elementary, a program co-ordinated by Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg to engage and support First Nation, Métis and Inuit students in Grade 6, 7 and 8. Formal activities are offered during nutrition breaks and after school, but students are encouraged to drop by to smudge, sing, bead, talk or drum any time the program is available. Students from every background are welcome; on any given day, between 15 and 40 children attend.
ABACUS funding supports NYA:WEH Elementary’s focus on helping middle-school students successfully transition to high school and beyond. The program operates at Prince of Wales, Queen Mary and Gatestone schools. Many of the students will eventually attend Delta Secondary School, where there’s a NYA:WEH high school program.
“The students are introduced to NYA:WEH Secondary staff long before Grade 9, so they already know they’re safe and supported,” says program co-ordinator Lauren Williams. “Once I know what high school they’re going to, I take them their project box so they can transition from one NYA:WEH to the other. It’s a physical representation of moving the fire from one longhouse to another.”
Jake Cruickshank is an Indigenous recruiter at McMaster University and connects with the kids at his monthly visits to NYA:WEH Elementary .
“I never thought about going to university until Grade 12, and by then I had a lot of catching up to do,” he says. “We’re starting early to help these students see post-secondary education as an option for them.”
The program builds confidence by building community. “By Grade 8 these kids know elders, people at the school board, high school staff and people at the post-secondary level,” Lauren says. “They have all these people wrapped around them, like a big hug.”
Excerpt from 2018 Annual Report