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Attawapiskat school responds to suicide crisis with new Cree program

New efforts are being made to help encourage students at Kattawapiskak Elementary School in Attawapiskat, Ont., after a state of emergency was declared in the community due to a spike in suicide attempts.

School to add cultural land-based programming next month to help inspire students

New programs are being added to Kattawapiskak Elementary School to help students after a state of emergency was declared due to a rise in suicide attempts. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

New efforts are being made to encourage students at Kattawapiskak Elementary School in Attawapiskat, Ont., after a state of emergency was declared in the James Bay Cree community due to a spike in suicide attempts.

While counsellors and extracurricular activities are being offered to help students, the school is also introducing cultural, land-based programming next month to help young people strengthen their sense of identity — by both taking them out on the land, and bringing elders into the classroom.

"I think it helps them identify," said acting principal Wayne Potts. "They see themselves in the education system. They see their own people in there."

"We've been talking about in our education circles about student voice and how important it is," says Wayne Potts, acting principal of Kattawapiskak Elementary School. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Potts said students are currently learning the provincial syllabus, but he said it may be beneficial for the school to create its own curriculum.

"It could be a very rich experience if it's done properly with the proper supports in place and the resources to implement such a program," he said.

Kattawapiskak Elementary School opened in the summer of 2014, replacing drafty portables and united students in one building.

The school's first valedictorian said the school has better resources.

"It makes you feel more together," Nadine Tookate said. "I thought it was nice."

 Tookate is trying to take on more leadership roles to improve conditions in her community. She said she is interested in applying for a position on a new youth council that is being formed. 

Young people in Attawapiskat are rising up to help each other after a spike in suicide attempts was reported. The local elementary school is trying to help. The CBC's Olivia Stefanovich spoke with the principle of the school to find out more. 5:17

Young people speak up

Potts said he already feels like the crisis might be taking a turn for the better because of the initiatives that young people are taking, such as creating a youth council and sharing words of encouragement on social media.

"We've been talking in our education circles about student voice and how important it is," he said.

"We need to hear from the young people and we're starting to hear from them now. I think that that's a big plus in all the negative that we feel."

Potts said plans are still underway to host a grand opening for the new elementary school, but a date has not been set.