By Xavier Kataquapit
An entire new generation of graduates from universities, colleges, secondary schools and elementary schools are moving ahead with their lives all across Canada. This time of the year is very special for First Nations and in particular remote communities.
Organized education is a relatively new thing for my people, considering that less than a century ago most of my ancestors were only involved in learning about surviving on the land. My generation was one of the first to have a proper, modern education in Attawapiskat, although we had to attend secondary school back in the 1990s in cities to the south. My parents believed in education and graduation day was a big deal for everyone.
Life is not easy in this strange new pandemic-affected world right now. Nothing is easy anymore, and graduations are not happening in the traditional setting. For the past few months, education has had to adapt to this new world and students had to learn through online instruction. None of this has been easy for students or teachers as this was a development that happened during an emergency very quickly.
Still, students at all levels are graduating and moving on to greater things, and it is important to wish them all the best as they work towards their dreams. In my own family and among my friends up north there are so many success stories as my people develop careers and grow to become our new generations of leaders.
I am so proud of my niece Brianna Wesley, who recently graduated with a Bachelors of Social Work from Nipigon University in North Bay. She is looking forward to developing a career and giving back to our home community. It is so exciting for me to know that my other niece and Brianna’s sister, April Wesley, had already graduated from an Aviation Technology program at Canadore College and has secured a position with Thunder Air in Timmins.
I am reminded that getting a good education starts at home. These two girls are my sister Janie Wesley and her husband Brian Wesley’s daughters. They have always taken a great interest in their children’s education and they encouraged them to dream big.
All of my siblings have been great at encouraging their children to get an education and much of that is based on the direction of our parents, Marius and Susan. They believed in school as a means to have a good and satisfying life. They also made sure that we understood the traditional and cultural teachings of our ancestors. We all speak Cree and so do my siblings’ children and grandchildren. We all walk in two worlds and to me that is about as good as it can get.
Congratulations to all students and thanks to all their teachers for making sure our systems of learning have continued. This has been difficult for many people but I also know that through the hard work, dedication and hope that lives in people we are moving ahead.
I give thanks to the federal and provincial governments that have decided not to send children back to school during this pandemic. The world’s expert virologists and epidemiologists are saying that it could be a year or two before things will get back to anything we know as normal, and during these times of a highly-contagious virus, schools, universities and colleges are not safe environments for the multitude of students and teachers.
We are adapting to deal with this pandemic reality and we are doing it in a careful and respectful way. It is normal that boards of education and education managers want to get everyone back into classrooms, and buildings but the hard facts show that this is dangerous at this point and could be for many months to come.
We have not even experienced all of the first wave of this pandemic and there will be more to come. Real social distancing is almost impossible in education buildings and that is a fact. This virus travels primarily in the air and that makes putting a lot of people in buildings a very bad idea.
Let’s not start sacrificing our students and teachers out of the will to get people back to school. Let’s be careful and make sure we are over the worst of this pandemic first and when things get better we will be happy to know that we all made the right decisions to choose to save lives.
If we decide to go back early and people die because of that decision, we will forever regret that choice and we will all have to live with it. Our schools, universities and colleges are places of higher learning not a place to spread a deadly disease. We can get through this, all of us, together.