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Well over a hundred grade 7 students gathered at Kelso Beach on traditional Saugeen Ojibwa territory today from St. Joseph's School Port Elgin, St. Peter & St. Paul's School Durham, and Notre Dame School Owen Sound. The theme of the day full of activities was "Stewards of the Land". Theresa Coburn and Natalka Pucan, responsible for the Indigenous education programs for the Bruce Grey Catholic school board, coordinated the program and speakers.

Adam Jones, a professional lacrosse player and St. Mary's High School teacher and coach, warmed the students up with lacrosse skills as a cool fog rolled up the bay. On the shoreline, students were part of a ceremony for the water led by Marilyn Debassige. "The elder placed tobacco in our hands," said Dawson, a Notre Dame student, "as an offering to say thank you to the water." He was wearing a necklace hand made by Debassige of deer hide with four coloured beads representing, for Dawson, "peace, fire, darkness, and light". A tiny copper pot symbolizes the waterislife sticker-1carrying and honouring of life-giving water.
T-shirts for the day sport a logo designed by famous Metis artist Christi Belcourt, and students were trying hard to go "above and beyond" to earn one of the coveted shirts.

Lori Kewaquom, culture and wellness coordinator from the Saugeen First Nation, led students in a spiritual circle, making their own personal spiritual connections. "At this age they are just starting to learn about themselves – their inner being," she said. Kyria-Lynn Purdy, a Notre Dame student, enjoyed the experience and said she felt a comforting sense that her grandmother, her Nana, was there with her and looking after her.

"The focus for the day is on acknowledging that we are all treaty people and celebrating the truth about the history of Canada," Coburn said, recognizing that this has been missing from our curriculum in the past. Gayle Mason from Saugeen First Nation brought that history to life hands-on, including bringing a replica of the  two row wampum belt – a treaty between the Iroquois and the Dutch in the 1700s.

The rhythm of the students drumming on a site where Indigenous people lived for centuries underscored the day. Earnest Walker and Talon Bressette came from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation to share knowledge about the drum.

All the feeder schools for St. Mary's High School in Owen Sound participated in the day, and another event will bring together the feeder schools for Sacred Heart Walkerton. Pucan, who also teaches Ojibway language for grades K through 8 at St. Joseph's in Port Elgin, says the board's goal when student numbers and teachers allow, is to bring in more linguistically appropriate resources and offer the course through high school.


 

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