Manitoba

Indigenous kids displaced by 2 natural disasters share classes, lessons about life

The last time Jason Pruden lived in Lake St. Martin, he was only seven years old. He's now 14 and knows what it's like to lose everything.

Displaced by tornado, Long Plain students learn alongside flood-displaced Lake St. Martin kids

Displaced by tornado, Long Plain students learn alongside flood-displaced Lake St. Martin kids at Winnipeg school. 2:17

The last time Jason Pruden lived in Lake St. Martin, he was only seven years old. He's now 14 and knows what it's like to lose everything.

At a rundown school sprayed with graffiti on Ness Avenue in Winnipeg, Pruden is sharing his experiences of being forced from his home and losing everything with five new tornado-displaced classmates from Long Plain First Nation.

He's among 136 students from Lake St. Martin who are still waiting for their community to be rebuilt after the flood of 2011.

"Mostly, the thing that still hurts me is that I left my home back then. Basically, my life,"  Pruden said.

They lost toys, keepsakes, all of their possessions. And they've lost family members. Pruden said one of the most painful things was losing a headdress passed on to him from his grandfather, a former chief. It was destroyed after he had to leave it behind.

A tornado that touched down in Long Plain First Nation, Man., in July tore roofs off houses, uprooted trees and overturned vehicles. (Derek Meeches/Facebook)

The Lake St. Martin students are staying all over Winnipeg. Going to the same school was one way to give the kids from Lake St. Martin a sense of community. A small feeling of home in the big city.

"Only somebody from the area could possibly understand what they're going through." says principal and director, Marie Zahorodny.

The school also offers classes in Ojibway. The school's guidelines are based on cultural practices. But even that can't make up completely for these kids having to live an urban life. Aiyden Traverse, 13, said he's been warned about dangerous people on city streets. And he misses the freedom he had back home.

"It was easy to live in Lake St. Martin because you're familiar with everybody and they know you. Out here, it's a whole different story,"  Traverse said.

Marie Zahorodny is the principal and director of the Lake Martin School in Winnipeg. Students displaced by a tornado in July on Long Plain First Nation started attending the school this week. (CBC)

Grade 6 student, Alanna McKenzie feels the same way.

"I hate that we had to leave. It was fun out there. I had lots of friends. People out here don't accept us," McKenzie said.

These students are sharing their years of experience with six new students from Long Plain First Nation.

More than 30 new students from Long Plain will be in Winnipeg until Christmas.

They're staying in hotels, waiting for their homes to be rebuilt after a tornado tore through their reserve in July.

"I wish I was back at my house. I just miss my bed," said Jonas Houle, a six year old in Grade 2.

The other Long Plain students said they miss their every day friends, riding their bikes and their dogs.

Mom and teacher's assistant, Kathryn Myran said she had to teach her kids how stop lights and pedestrian crosswalks work.

Lake St. Martin and Long Plain First Nation students share their common experience of being forced out of their homes 2:34

And about not talking to strangers. But she tells the Lake St. Martin students they have helped make the transition easier.

"I think it's a great learning opportunity. And I believe the kids are going to heal better because you guys went through the exact same thing. You understand. And I thank you very, very much for welcoming us and all the students," Myran said.

Zahorodny said being able to bring the Long Plain children into the school is an opportunity to give back.

"Here, they can be together. They can share their experiences. They can talk about their problems and their happiness," she explained.

Jason Pruden has lived in Winnipeg for the last five and half years after his family was displaced due to flooding in Lake St. Martin. (CBC)

Pruden says despite not being able to get used to city life, he remains optimistic. Positive that one day he will return to his community. And that his Long Plain classmates won't have to wait as long as he has to return to theirs. "I know what they've been through," he said.

"Hopefully, they do get their homes early."