West Island school breaking stereotypes

Anthony Abbondanza
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John Rennie to form pen pal-like program with First Nations school in northern Quebec

To break several pre-existing stereotypes surrounding First Nations peoples, John Rennie High School is establishing a partnership with Jimmy Sandy Memorial School of the Naskapi/Iyiyiw First Nations reserve.

John Rennie is set to form a pen-pal like exchange program whereby approximately 200 students will send letters to the First Nations school, located in Kawawachikamak, a small community 15 kilometres northeast of Schefferville, Quebec.

“The reason why we’re doing this is because we feel we want to learn more about First Nations peoples,” said organizer and spiritual animator Susan Simatos. “They aren’t necessarily and don’t want to be in a position of receiving help. It’s more about gaining an understanding of what’s going on with First Nations peoples.”

If approved by school board officials, the program, as well as a winter wear collection drive to relieve Kawawachikamak’s shortage of hats and mittens, will begin sometime next month with the hope of forging memorable and long-lasting relationships between students of both schools.

“In a perfect world they’ll develop some positive relationships here over time and possibly with people here they’ll be in constant communication with through the letter exchange. That’s our goal,” said Simatos. 

Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gatherings last year in Montreal, several First Nations persons were invited to John Rennie to educate students about aboriginal life. Soon after, Simatos and other school officials began thinking of what “needs to be done in terms of creating connections with remote villages.”

Hence, the idea for the letter exchange program and the mittens and hats collective drive. If the program does indeed obtain approval, students could learn a very valuable message – one Simatos is hoping will dispel prevalent stereotypes facing aboriginals.

“I’d like them to develop a greater understanding of First Nations peoples. It’s about dispelling stereotypes of First Nations peoples. If you bring in real life persons and show them in a positive light, then it would be a positive first encounter,” she said.

Organizations: Naskapi/Iyiyiw First Nations, West Island school, John Rennie High School Jimmy Sandy Memorial School Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Geographic location: Kawawachikamak, Northern Quebec, Schefferville Quebec Montreal

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  • Yaz
    December 16, 2013 - 20:12

    Great project, I work in the community of Kawawachikamach (this is the correct spelling) but come from Montreal and used to live right by John Rennie High School, so it's nice to see the two communities connecting. I hope the students will learn a lot from each other as I have from working in the community. I never realized how ignorant I was about First Nations I was until I came to the reserve and it has been a great learning experience which I wish many could have.

  • Yaz
    December 16, 2013 - 20:10

    Great project, I work in the community of Kawawachikamach (this is the correct spelling) but come from Montreal and used to live right by John Rennie High School, so it's nice to see the two communities connecting. I hope the students will learn a lot from each other as I have from working in the community. I never realized how ignorant about First Nations I was until I came to the reserve and it has been a great learning experience.