Indigenous

Winnipeg students call on government to 'Have a Heart' for First Nations issues

Elementary students in a Winnipeg school division are learning about Jordan's Principle and First Nations equity as part of a cross-Canada reconciliation event known as Have a Heart Day.

Grade 2/3 students take part in First Nations Caring Society's Have a Heart Day

Grade 2/3 students at Chancellor School in Winnipeg hold up the letters they will be sending to Liberal MP Terry Duguid. The letters urge politicians to advocate for equity for First Nations youth. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Elementary students in a Winnipeg school division are learning about Jordan's Principle and First Nations equity as part of a cross-Canada reconciliation event known as Have a Heart Day.

Under Jordan's Principle, the needs of a First Nations child requiring a government service take precedence over jurisdictional issues around which level of government pays for it.

Jordan's Principle is named after five-year-old Jordan Anderson from Norway House Cree Nation, who died in a Winnipeg hospital in 2005 instead of at home, because of a jurisdictional dispute over which government would pay for his home care. 

"He didn't get to go home because he had a disease…. and he needed lots of supplies to go home but the governments were fighting who would pay it," said Savhannah Robinson, a Grade 2 student at Chancellor School in Winnipeg.

Have a Heart Day encourages students to write a letter to the prime minister or their local member of Parliament. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

For the past two weeks, she and her classmates have been learning about First Nations equity issues like Jordan's Principle and access to clean drinking water, incorporating learning tools like Indigenous podcasts and movies, as well as videos on YouTube, leading up to Have a Heart Day.

Have a Heart Day is organized by the First Nations Caring Society annually in February and is encouraging students to send a Valentine's Day card or a letter to the prime minister or their local member of Parliament supporting the event and First Nations equity.

The students at Chancellor School have created hearts with messages and have also started a letter campaign to local MP Terry Duguid.

Grade 2 student Silver Barkman's letter to the politician said, "You must help for hospitals and schools you must."

'They get it'

Chancellor School is participating in the event along with three other schools in the Pembina Trails School Division including 600 participants. The project at Chancellor School is being led by the school's Indigenous students success co-ordinator, Kelli Wiebe.  

"What is so beautiful about this to me is how quickly kids understand fairness and equity," said Wiebe, who has ties to Peepeekisis First Nation.

"They get it and they really do have a heart and understand what justice is, and it's really about getting them to use their voice."

The two-week project at Chancellor School involves all classes. It is being led by Indigenous students success co-ordinator Kelli Wiebe. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Shauna Oike, the Grade 2/3 teacher at Chancellor School, said she had to "go on a bit of a journey" as an educator to learn more about First Nations history. In turn, she said she has been able to incorporate Indigenous viewpoints into her everyday curriculum.

She said teaching about First Nations issues like Jordan's Principle has had a "profound" impact on the students' learning.

"When you teach young children these concepts that are so close to their heart, it impacts them at the values level. And I believe that change will last. It'll be a lingering effect for them," said Oike.

The school will wrap up its two-week educational journey by watching a jingle dress performance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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