First Roots Reflections

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“It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in school!”
Her face beaming with pride, this student expressed in this one simple, yet powerful statement, what we all strive for in our DAREarts First Roots Program. Connection is everything in education. To seek, find and instill joy in learning is an essential part of our programming and it fills us with so much promise for the future.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

Albert Einstein

You cannot teach a mind that you haven’t reached. Leadership through the arts is how DAREarts connects to students. Through a vast offering of artistic disciplines and a core value system of Discipline, Action, Respect and Excellence, students are taught how to find their inner leader and grow through their experiences.

In some cases, DAREarts is a lifeline to young people, seeking direction and a new path. Our modern world can create anxiety, displacement and a sense of isolation despite our ability to connect instantly online with anyone, anywhere. Mental health has become one of the most important component in modern education today and our wellness program is part of our responses to that need.

We pride ourselves at being at the forefront of education and with this in mind; we have incorporated wellness education into our First Roots Programming in two communities, Attawapiskat and Webequie First Nations. We developed a journal and pedometer program and implemented this in both communities, with the goals of self-awareness and visible motivation for health and wellness.

We went to Attawapiskat First Nation last February, where in partnership with community Elders, educators and advisers, we infused that session of First Roots with a focus on diabetes prevention and education as well as wellness.

Students developed a cookbook using traditional recipes enhanced by the Canadian Food Guide, planted sprouts in their classroom, created posters for diabetes prevention, wrote and recorded original music, participated in a healthy movement workshop and planned, shopped and cooked a feast for the entire school community.

It was a tremendous success with the school requesting that the cooking program be brought back this year.

Next, we brought our revised First Roots program to Webequie First Nation, where, at the community’s request, we focused on overall wellness and good health. With the support and guidance of the community, we ensured culture and family history were at the centre of the program.

For the first time in our long history in Webequie, we had all of the elementary grades participating in the program. At the end of our week together, classes participated in a musical showcase and in addition to his guidance and stories, Elder Matthias Suganequeb, appeared in our production, showing up for rehearsals and the show with a contagious enthusiasm and marvelous sense of humor. His stories of the history of Webequie and how the people came to the land shaped the story of our production and were dramatized by a Grade 6 class who also wrote the play’s theme song.

We learned a lot about teaching and reaching youth from Matthias. The sharing of knowledge and wisdom are not always direct in their application in Indigenous culture, often the knowledge is instead imparted by the presence and calm guidance of the elders. So much can be taught by showing youth the path, instead of talking about it and by having Matthias for the week, the students learned to trust his words and respect him as a person with much to teach them. It was a powerful lesson for us all.

This experience has woven wellness through the fabric of our work and we have learned much more than we have taught. Students’ hearts must first be reached before we can expand their mind.

Both communities have requested we bring First Roots back to their schools again this year. We know what we are on a good path forward with so much promise to come and many more new opportunities to explore.

Our First Roots Programming is made possible through the generous support of Novo Nordisk (funding our work in Attawapiskat First Nation) and Noront Resources (funding our work in Webequie First Nation).

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