Metro Morning

First Nations School of Toronto to enter 'great new era' with addition of Grade 9

A Toronto school for Indigenous students is adding Grade 9 this fall and its principal says the expansion is good news for its students of high school age.

Principal of the Indigenous school says the addition means more work but it's 'exciting'

Jonathan Kakegamic, principal of First Nations School of Toronto, left, and two students at the school, Evan Gepner-Bourgeois, in Grade 7, and Ella Laforme, in Grade 8, talk to CBC's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. The show was broadcast from Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesday. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A Toronto school for Indigenous students is adding Grade 9 this fall, and its principal says the expansion is good news for its students of high school age.

First Nations Junior and Senior School of Toronto currently runs from kindergarten to Grade 8. It will welcome its first Grade 9 students in September.

The following year, it will add Grade 10, and the year after that, it will add Grade 11. When the students in that grade reach their final year, it will add Grade 12. 

Jonathan Kakegamic, principal of the First Nations School of Toronto who came from Thunder Bay to work in Toronto, said the addition of Grade 9 is an excellent move.

"It's going to be a great new era for the school," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday. "It's going to be more work, but more exciting work." 
Grade 3 children at the First Nations School of Toronto show off their Ojibwa, and talk about learning the language. (Canadian Press Video/Twitter)

Many of the school's 125 students are of Anishinaabe ancestry, although the school is open to children of all backgrounds. On its website, the school says Indigenous values, spirituality, culture and Ojibwa language are integrated into its curriculum.

Two students, Evan Gepner-Bourgeois, in Grade 7, and Ella Laforme, in Grade 8, said the school makes a difference to its students. Evan is Cree Metis, while Ella is Mohawk.

Gepner-Bourgeois said: "I feel it's a very special thing. I know a lot of kids who are Indigenous, and they don't get to study their culture as much as I do. I feel very lucky that I am allowed to do that."

Laforme said: "We're lucky and grateful to have a school like this to go to every day, unlike some people. It means a lot."

According to the Toronto District School Board, the new Grade 9 students will be enrolled in a credit-granting Ojibwa language course.

Kakegamic said the school is special because it provides a space for Indigenous young people to learn about their culture. He said the goal of the school is to ensure that urban Indigenous children have the opportunity to learn about their heritage. 
Kindergarten graduation at the First Nations School of Toronto on Wednesday. "Congratulations to our littlest graduates! The Kindergarteners have worked so hard this year, beginning with learning to write their names to learning how to read. We are all so proud of them," the school wrote on Facebook. (Facebook)

He said the students learn about their culture from their teachers but the students empower the teachers through their innocence, hope and strength. 

"The youth at our school are in a great place to learn who they are and their identity. They are empowering us," he said.

Kakegamic and his two students spoke to Metro Morning on National Aboriginal Day, a day that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Kakegamic said the day is not only a celebration for Indigenous people but also a day for older Indigenous people to pass on their culture to younger ones.

Day is about telling 'what we could be'

"It's the acknowledgment of who we are and how long we have been here and I think it's a day of awareness, too. It's a day to tell our young ones of who we are and what could we be," he said.

Gepner-Bourgeois said: "I think Aboriginal Day is a celebration of the land that we are on. And it's telling people that Indigenous people are still here and we're not gone."

Laforme said: "To me, it means to recognize who we are, how far we have come and how far we have yet to go."

On Wednesday, the school held a graduation for its kindergarten class. The school will hold its eighth annual Pow Wow on Friday, an event that includes the community and parents. 

Ryan Bird, TDSB spokesperson, said all classes at the school receive the support of an Indigenous cultural instructor.

Bird said the school also has a number of partnerships with Indigenous organizations in the community that enhance its curriculum. 

With files from Metro Morning