Nfld. & Labrador

Donations in Ontario bring everything needed for a sewing program to Natuashish

"I want them to be able to go into the art supply cupboard and have it stocked the same as our school would be here in Ottawa," says Colleen Gray of Art for Aid.

Art for Aid collected 9 boxes of supplies, including 3 sewing machines, for Mushuau Innu Natuashish School

Craft teacher Caroline Penashue, back left, holds donated supplies in a remote Labrador school. (Submitted by Jesse Smith)

Colleen Gray founded a project that gets donated art supplies to schools in remote Indigenous communities across Canada but until recently she had never visited one of those communities herself.

That changed with a trip to Natuashish that led to its school receiving nine boxes of sewing supplies, everything Mushuau Innu Natuashish School needs to run a sewing program for its students.

"I want them to be able to go into the art supply cupboard and have it stocked the same as our school would be here in Ottawa," Gray told Labrador Morning. "I think that's only fair, right?"

The Art for Aid project collects donations of new and gently used art supplies for remote Indigenous schools and communities across the country. The project is run under I Love First Peoples, and Gray said that when people at that organization heard she had not been to any of the communities her project has served over the past seven years, they decided they would change that.

That is how Gray came to visit Natuashish, a school and community that she describes as special. 

I thought maybe we could do more, and more is what I specialize in.- Colleen Gray

"I was just crazy about the place," she said. "It was beautiful. The kids were incredible, the teachers were amazing. It was just magical."

She left wanting to start a project for the school and one of her volunteers, Kathryn Fellows in Belleville, Ont., got on board and ran with it.

"I thought maybe we could do more, and more is what I specialize in," Gray said.

Art for Aid has helped many others, too. 

In May 2018, Gray worked to bring art by 16-year-old Jewel Charles, a Grade 10 student from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in northern Saskatchewan, to display and sell at the Da Artisti Studio & Gallery in Cumberland, a community in east Ottawa.

'Kids have a lot to say'

Fellows co-ordinated the effort to get donations from private citizens and via the Rotary Club in Belleville. Haggarty Transport and I.T.S. helped with shipping, as did Air Borealis and PAL Airlines.

Around 300 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 are enrolled at Mushuau Innu Natuashish School. (Submitted by Katrina Clarke)

"Everybody gave us a leg up to ship nine boxes of art supplies," Gray said. Those boxes include three sewing machines as well as supplies like scissors, bobbins and patterns. A 10th box with tools to maintain and repair the machines is also on the way shortly, she said.

With everything in hand to get the program going, the school's teacher will only have to decide how the program should look to best serve the students, she said.

Art supplies are a great resource for these schools because they are something that can be easily sourced, Gray said, and that many people have unused at home, ready to donate.

The craft supplies were donated by the Ontario-based Art for Aid project. (Submitted by Jesse Smith)

"Let's take the common ground of having something and people needing something, and create the bridge to get those goods together."

Art is an important venue for fun, self-expression, cultural celebration and skill development, said Gray, who plans to stay connected with the school to see how the program develops what the students create.

"It's important that kids have tools to express themselves," she said. 

"I think my Indigenous brothers and sisters have a lot to say, and I think their kids have a lot to say."

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