Pair of Indigenous grandmothers fight to keep cultural room open at West End school
Cultural room at Greenway School to be reopened 'stronger than before,' says school division director
A pair of Indigenous grandmothers made an impassioned plea to Winnipeg School Division members Monday night in a bid to save the Aboriginal cultural room at Greenway School.
Since 2004, the cultural room has been a place for children and adults to have bannock and tea, and learn drumming and language, but it was closed at the end of last school year.
"I'm angry. And at the same time I'm praying for them so that they see the light," said Amelia Wesley, who volunteers two to three times per week with the program and has grandchildren at the school.
"I mean we're trying to help children. Not only Aboriginal children, all children. It's for everybody."
The room has been locked, she said, and the Indigenous programming has halted since the funding for the cultural worker ran out in June.
"I felt that there was injustice done when they let me go, because they didn't tell me about a contract. They just told me there was no more funding," said Barbara Carriere, who also goes by the name "kookum," meaning grandmother in Cree and Ojibwe.
She's done volunteer work at the West End school for the past ten years, but from January to June of this year, she was paid as a cultural worker thanks to a provincial grant, which has since ended.
"I wanted to continue this fall, continue teaching the kids the language and making bannock," said Carriere. "All children learned from me, all cultures, all nationalities."
Carriere got a drum fixed and had plans to start a drumming group, a bannock and tea time for parents and a breakfast program for all children at the school.
She said with the high risk of suicide and the city's meth problem, children need more cultural programming, not less. Her grand-children go to the school as well, but she was told she had to be certified as a language instructor to work there.
Both women felt hopeful after they spoke to school division officials Monday night.
"We want our Indigenous children to succeed and have an education, and not be ashamed," Carriere said. "I want them to be proud. Today, I'm proud."
Rob Riel, director of Aboriginal education for the Winnipeg School Division, said the meeting helped him understand how passionate people who used the cultural room are about it.
"I think that room's vital to be reopened," said Riel. "I know something really good's going to come out of this. We'll sit down and have a plan in place to reopen that room stronger than before."
Wesley said the cultural room was an important space for students, and she hopes to see it reopened.
"It was a safe place," said Wesley. "Whoever wanted to come and have tea with us and sit down and share with us, they were welcome."
Wesley said she hoped to have a positive impact on children who may already be facing difficulty at home.
"We're gonna fight for that room," said Wesley. "[We need it] for our children, so they'll be successful in school, they won't play hooky, they won't run away, they won't join gangs. It will be safe for everybody in our neighbourhood."
While she came away from Monday night's meeting feeling positive about the room's future, Wesley said she won't stop working until all students at Greenway School once again have access to it.
"That's our room," she said. "I want that door open for everybody."