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Elsipogtog First Nation Community School hosts grand opening

One of the first things Jordin Tootoo does during community visits is watch the children, hoping he’ll send the message that if they work hard and have confidence, the sky’s the limit.

Former NHL player Jordin Tootoo part of National Indigenous Peoples Day event

Elsipogtog First Nation Community School had its grand opening on National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, 2022. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

For Jordin Tootoo, a community visit puts his focus on the children.

The former NHL player was in Elsipogtog on Tuesday for the grand opening of the Elsipogtog First Nation Community School.

What he saw was children everywhere, running past Indigenous art and trees patterned on the walls, and playing on playgrounds painted in the colours of the medicine wheel. 

WATCH | 'State-of-the-art' school opens its doors

Elsipogtog First Nation celebrates new school with former NHL player

5 days ago
Duration 1:50
Jordin Tootoo spoke to the community on National Indigenous Peoples Day.

"When I look at the crowd when I'm doing my community visit one of the first things I do is watch the young kids because that was me," Tootoo said.

"Sometimes, seeing a lot of these kids think they have no hope and no future, it allows someone of their own to show them anything's possible if you work hard, if you sacrifice, if you are confident and content in your own skin, the sky's the limit."

His message came on National Indigenous Peoples Day, as the community in northeast New Brunswick celebrated a new school for its 380 students.

The school follows the New Brunswick curriculum, but Mi'kmaw culture is incorporated into every subject, its principal Melissa Googoo Dedam said.

Melissa Googoo Dedam, princpal of Elsipogtog First Nation Community School, stands smiling in the school auditorium in front of a stage and podium that says Elsipogtog School.
Melissa Googoo Dedam is the principal of Elsipogtog First Nation Community School. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Elders come in to offer traditional knowledge, and the students have the opportunity to learn on the land, just like their ancestors, in the surrounding forest. 

"Even if that means going out and reading a book in the trees, it can be as simple as that," Googoo Dedam said. 

While consultation started a long time ago for the new school, the project really got off the ground in 2019 and the school was ready for students last fall. 

Many years ago, children did have a Mi'kmaw language immersion program, but it wasn't offered in recent years.

Googoo Dedam said the opening of the new school seemed like a good time to bring it back. 


The younger students have full Mi'kmaw language immersion. Teachers fluent in the language spend the entire day speaking to them in Mi'kmaq, and older students have the option of continuing to learn the language. 

The immersion program will continue growing, Googoo Dedam said, with five-year-old students coming back in the fall continuing in the intensive immersion program. 

Shayleen Maire Ginnish hopes her four-year-old daughter will learn the Mi'kmaq language when she starts kindergarten at the school this fall. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

Shayleen Maire Ginnish is hoping her four-year-old daughter, who's starting kindergarten at the school in the fall, will learn the language. 

"It's going to help her increase more of her culture. I used to speak Mi'kmaq, but I went to English school and I lost it, so now it gives her the opportunity to speak it as well and understand it."

'When the kids need a service, we have it here.'

Ivan Augustine, Elsipogtog First Nation Education Authority's education director, said given Canada's history with residential schools and Indian day schools, the new school needs to be a place for the whole community, especially parents.

"Residential school has left a legacy where a lot of our parents may feel intimidated in going to a school setting like this, so we've gone all out to try to make parents feel comfortable, for the school to be a community school," he said, adding elders will also be able to use the walking track above the school's gymnasium for exercise.

Ivan Augustine, Elsipogtog First Nation Education Authority’s education director, says he wants parents still struggling with the legacy of residential schools to feel welcome at Elsipogtog First Nation Community School. (Raechel Huizinga/CBC)

The school is the envy of other educational centres, Augustine said, because of the range of services it has on hand: speech and language services, occupational therapy, educational psychology, clinical psychology, and guidance counselling.

"When a kid at our school needs a service, we have it right there on the ground. We don't make a referral and have the kid get that service two weeks later. When the kids need a service, we have it here."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raechel Huizinga

Writer and social media presenter

Raechel Huizinga is a CBC writer and acting Social Media Presenter based in Moncton, New Brunswick. You can reach her at raechel.huizinga@cbc.ca.

With files from Alexandre Silberman.

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