This year, The Robertson Program launched a new initiative to provide teacher candidates in the MA Child Study and Education program at JICS/OISE an opportunity to gain teaching experience in a First Nation school, in northern Ontario. Our long-time educational partners at Johnny Therriault Memorial School in Aroland First Nation enthusiastically agreed to host four teacher candidates beginning in April 2020. To prepare for this experience, teacher candidates Meredith Dodds, Vanessa Ius, Natali Juriansz and Walker Kitchens travelled from Toronto to Aroland First Nation this week for a two-day orientation trip. They were accompanied by OISE assistant professor Yiola Cleovoulou.
Our first day began with an introduction to the school’s breakfast program which provides all children with a nutritious meal to start the day. Principal Bill Beaucage and Teacher Marlo Beaucage then toured us around the school, which was purposefully constructed to incorporate Indigenous culture. Teacher candidates were also introduced to the school’s educators and had the opportunity to spend time in the classrooms they will be working in next Spring.
In the afternoon, we were invited to participate in a manoomin (wild rice) ceremony with the Grade 5-8 students. Manoomin grows in water and needs to be gathered by knocking the grains into a canoe. We were told that the challenge is to retrieve the manoomin before birds and other wildlife have the chance. Before we arrived, the school’s Choose Life team canoed through a nearby body of water and gathered manoomin in preparation for this ceremony. Choose Life is made up of land-based educators Darren Matasawagon and Wayne Boucher, and mental health counselor Don McCleod, who focus on student well-being through the revitalization of Anishinaabe culture and language.
After manoomin is gathered, there are still four additional steps before it is ready to be cooked. Marlo began this process by sharing a Anishinaabemowin drum song that has traditionally been sung to call children in from the bush to help. Our teacher candidates had the opportunity to learn and work alongside Johnny Therriault students to clean, bawishkam (thresh) and gaapizan (roast), mimigoshkan (dance), and baasan (winnow) the manoomin. The day ended with a question and answer period with all educators at Johnny Therriault so our teacher candidates could learn more about life and culture in Aroland and at the school.
Our second day began with a school assembly to celebrate students who had demonstrated the grandfather teaching of respect. Elder Nora Atlookan led the school in a smudge to ensure we started off the assembly in a good way. As guests, we were also each presented with our own medicine pouches so we can participate in ceremony in the future.
The Choose Life team then took us to the school’s brand new cabins that will be used for on-the-land learning. Don taught us about traditional medicines found in the plants and trees surrounding the cabins.
On our journey home, teacher candidates felt inspired and excited to return in April.
Thank you to everyone at Johnny Therriault school and Aroland First Nation for once again welcoming us into your community and sharing your knowledge with us. We look forward to seeing you soon!