Attawapiskat school responds to suicide crisis with new Cree program
School to add cultural land-based programming next month to help inspire students
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."
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 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.