[URBAN NOTE] On the new location of the First Nations School of Toronto
Rhiannon Russell’s Torontoist post tells the story of the First Nations School of Toronto. I needed to know this, and, I think, so do you.
In his Grade 3 class in Thunder Bay, the students were a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous, but Kakegamic, who is Oji-Cree from the Keewaywin First Nation, noticed the teacher treated them all the same. It was at this point in his life that his non-Indigenous friends started telling him their parents didn’t want them playing with him anymore. “Because you’re Indian.”
But in that classroom, to that teacher, they were all equal.
“I wanted to be like her,” Kakegamic says.
Now, Kakegamic is principal of First Nations School of Toronto. He’s worked in education for 25 years, first as a teacher and principal in his home community, then as a teacher, vice-principal, and principal at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, a First Nations school in Thunder Bay.
“It was hard,” Kakegamic says of the racist remarks he heard growing up. “I got bitter. I got angry. Racism cuts to the core of your well-being, your soul. It does damage to you. It makes you question who you are. I’m in my 40s, and I still struggle with that sometimes.”
That’s why Kakegamic believes the First Nations School of Toronto is crucial. It gives Indigenous kids a place to learn about their culture, their history, and themselves.
In January, the school will move from its current location at 935 Dundas Street East to join the Toronto District School Board’s Aboriginal Education Centre at the former Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute site off the Danforth. It’s a larger space, with 2.4 hectares (six acres) of land in total.
The First Nations school goes from kindergarten to Grade 8, though in the fall of 2017, it will extend to Grade 12. Its students are from a variety of backgrounds: Ojibway, Mohawk, Mi’kmaq, Cree, Oji-Cree, Plains Cree. It offers the usual subjects—math, sciences, and the like—but students spend 40 minutes every day in a native language and culture class, where they learn about First Nations history, sing songs, and hear stories. Every morning, students and teachers smudge.