Sudbury

Sudburian's book details experiences teaching, living in Mattagami First Nation

A northern Ontario teacher and songstress is now an author of a new book — one she hopes will encourage people to think differently about any stereotypes they may have. 

'They were probably the most witty, humorous people I had ever met'

Sudbury's Andrea Max recently wrote a memoir about her experiences teaching and living in Mattagami First Nation. (Andrea Max/Facebook)

A northern Ontario teacher and songstress is now an author of a new book — one she hopes will encourage people to think differently about any stereotypes they may have. 

Andrea Max, originally from Sudbury, says her memoir is about her experiences teaching and living in Mattagami First Nation. It is called When a Witch Arrives.

From the first day she spent in the community, located about an hour away from Timmins, Max says she began dealing with the "preconceived notions I didn't even know that I had."

She says she wondered if she could drink the water (she could) and was surprised that the streets were paved. Her notions were formed by everything she had learned from others.

Those stereotypes stopped her "from actually seeing the truth of what it actually was," she said. "[Mattagami First Nation] is just a town and some of the houses are actually nicer than, you know, places in Sudbury."

Andrea Max signs copies of her book, When a Witch Arrives, a memoir about her time living and working in Mattagami First Nation. (Andrea Max/Facebook)

This was a full-time teaching gig for Max, and she says it was overwhelming.

"I didn't feel like I was qualified. I just came out of university and I didn't really know what I was doing. So it was a huge learning curve for me, teaching Grade 4 to Grade 8, all in the same classroom, all subjects."

At first, the students were quiet and didn't say much. But then, they started to open up.

"They were probably the most witty, humorous people I had ever met."

And they knew how to do a lot of practical things at a young age, she says, adding that some of the Grade 6 kids "would be checking on my car and making sure that I my filter was changed."

The students were inspiring as well, she said, including one youngster who left her speechless during a trip to a museum.

"He was looking at one of the headdresses in the glass case and he said, 'I used to have one of these. There used to be one in my basement, but I gave it away,'" she recalled.

"I was mortified that he said that he gave it away. And he looked at me and he said, 'I gave it away because it's a great honour to give away something that means so much to you.'"

Max says those words have stayed with her.

"I still think about it because it's so backwards to how I was taught, and how most people are taught. We're taught to hold on to our sentimental things and hold on to these things that are so valuable to us."

Music is a huge part of Max's life, and she says her new book dovetails with many of the songs she has written and performed while working in Mattagami First Nation.

"I think that telling the story and having the song support the story is a different way of bringing that media to life," she said.

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