I am happy to say that while I was recently in Edmonton for The Federation Of Canadian Municipalities AGM, I was invited to see something that I found truly inspiring. While I was at the conference there were many interesting workshops and study tours on all kinds of topics and I feel fortunate I got to attend. It is incredibly valuable talking to other councilors from communities of all different sizes and demographics, as many have already tackled some of the challenges Courtenay face, so you can hear about action plans that worked, ones that failed, and many other things that you only get from talking with other people.
Sitting in a room with 1800 politicians is quite an experience, they are rather a different bunch from the group of colleagues I had at the last huge conference I attended, which was 10,000 hairdressers in London, England. So out of all the sessions I attended and people I talked to, I had one experience I would like to share with you in more detail.
It was a tour of a school called Amiskwaciy Academy, which is located in Edmonton’s old municipal airport. What makes this school so special is it’s vision and teaching style, for it is an Edmonton public school program of choice that provides solid academic programming within an Aboriginal context. At Amiskwaciy Academy students have the opportunity to participate in traditional ceremonies, rites of passage, and indigenous arts. There is spiritual guidance in the form of sweat lodge ceremonies, Sweet Grass purification, and daily drumming and singing with Cree to the Creator. (http://amiskwaciy.epsb.ca/)
There are elders on site at all times and they bring in nurses and social workers to help the kids with anything they may need, including bus passes, free lunches and organizing accommodations. For kids in great need the faculty will send the kids who need it home with food for the family as well as the student. The students learn to make traditional teas and food and I was lucky enough to see the traditional room where kids learn stories and have access to the soul food that is necessary for all people to thrive. They run the programs in six week sessions to help the student succeed because encouraging someone “to hang in for only six weeks” is a more manageable amount of time than 4 or 5 months, as it is in most schools.
I found this academy inspiring for many reasons but I think the biggest is that these people, who have created a space and program like this, saw that “business as usual” approach was not working for these kids. Aboriginal kids are vastly underrepresented in graduating classes. Creating a program that actually works for the people who need it, is so simple! Yet so unfortunately rare. Seeing the little smiling kids and the pictures on the wall of the graduated students gave me hope.
Hope that we can continue to create systems and programs that are simple and effective. I hope that with my time on council I can help create sytems that work for the people that use them. I hope that I can be part of creating something that inspires other people, as I was inspired by Amiskwaciy Academy.