Youngsters making a difference on Hay River Reserve

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There’s something moving about hearing little children talk about the problems of the world.

Chief April Martel of K'atlodeeche First Nation accepted hand-delivered letters on Jan. 18 from three students from Chief Sunrise Education Centre – left to right: Katelynne Fabian-Poitras, Liam Tourangeau and Cameron Fabian. In their letters, the three youngsters suggested ways of solving various problems in their community as part of a social responsibility project with their class. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation accepted hand-delivered letters on Jan. 18 from three students from Chief Sunrise Education Centre – left to right: Katelynne Fabian-Poitras, Liam Tourangeau and Cameron Fabian. In their letters, the three youngsters suggested ways of solving various problems in their community as part of a social responsibility project with their class.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) became emotional when three young students hand-delivered letters to her on Jan. 18 on their concerns over homelessness, inadequate housing and a fear of walking home after school because of bears.

“Just the way they said it made me tear up,” said the chief.

The letters were part of a social responsibility project for a class – containing students in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3 – at Chief Sunrise Education Centre on the Hay River Reserve.

Martel was not alone in being moved by students’ efforts to help their community.

“There are definitely times when what they tell me stirs emotion, of course, and I don’t hide it from them,” said Ashley Beck, their teacher.

She explained the class project taught about a person’s rights and responsibilities in a community.

The topics included such things as housing, homelessness, safety, hunger, friendship and love.

Most of the concerns originated with the children themselves.

“When we started the unit, I told them that we needed to learn about helping people and their rights and responsibilities, and their dramatic play centre they turned it into the band office,” said Beck. “It was quite incredible.”

The children even put up white and blue paper triangles around their classroom to make it look like the band office.

The project began in November at about the time of KFN elections.

“And they had little mini elections,” said Beck of her students. “It was quite fantastic. And then from there they started talking about their basic human rights. So we talked about food, shelter, water, warm clothing, love, education and safety.”

The teacher noted the students were then asked how they could make a difference.

“So I tasked them or challenged them to choose one of the basic needs that we had discussed and to find a way that they could fix it, find a way that they could contribute and make a difference,” she said.

Their ideas included creating cards to express love, making a poster about drinking, preparing sandwiches for a homeless person, and raising money for UNICEF to buy a water pump in another country.

Beck said the project has hopefully taught the children – aged four to nine years – that they have the power to make a difference.

“It was amazing,” she said of the project. “The learning was fantastic.”

The delivery of the letters to Chief Martel was the project wrap-up.

A letter from Cameron Fabian told how he is worried about students who stay for afterschool programs missing the school bus and having to walk home when there might be bears around, or missing the afterschool programs because they don’t want to walk home. The Grade 1 student suggested using a KFN vehicle to give the students rides home.

A letter from Grade 3 student Liam Tourangeau asked the chief to build houses for people.

“Some people don’t have houses,” he wrote. “They might freeze to death and die.”

Katelynne Fabian-Poitras, a Grade 2 student, also asked for help for the homeless.

“I am worried that people with no home might die,” she said in reading her letter to Martel and two band councillors. “We got to fix the homes. My class can help clean.”

Band Councillor Doug Lamalice told the students that the letters touched his heart.

“When little children like yourselves come and say some of these powerful words, it helps the chief and council open their eyes on a lot of situations,” he said.

Lamalice said he is very proud of the students.

After meeting the chief and the councillors, Katelynne Fabian-Poitras expressed hope that she and the other students will make a difference.

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