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2012-06-10 at 11:21

Away to school

By Jeff Labine,
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Levi Sofea says he hopes his 13-year-old daughter doesn’t face the same racism and culture shock he experienced when he left his home community to go to school.

Sofea, who lives in Webequie First Nation, hasn’t talked to his youngest daughter Gayle, who is in Grade 8, about going to Thunder Bay for her high school education. She could choose to stay in the remote community and attend the high school that’s there but the school doesn’t offer credited sciences and mathematics courses in order to go to university.

For those courses, she would have to move.

Sofea traveled to go to school himself in Sault Ste. Marie. There he took math courses and was able to bring that knowledge and experience back home with him.

But he said going away wasn’t a completely enjoyable experience.

He said being away from his community, he had to endure racism, culture shock and loneliness.  

Having gained this knowledge through his own life, Sofea said he’s trying to keep his daughter rooted in her traditional ways so if she does choose to leave she can cope better than he did.

“Part of me wants her to go out for school,” Sofea said.

“I want out when I was 13 years old. I finished my second-degree education and I want her to do the same. Hopefully, she can cope with the negativities that are out there better than I did. My education has helped me. I’m analytical in thinking and going away for school has helped me especially with the work that I do right now. I feel she can be much stronger than I was."

But like many parents, Sofea said he’s concerned about the safety of his child and hopes what he has taught will keep her safe.

Judith Beaver, a Grade 6 student at Simon Jacob Memorial Education Centre in Webequie, said she wants to stay in her home community and not travel for school. She said it’s important to stay close to her family.

But not everyone made the decision to stay.

Jordan Wabasse from Webequie came to Thunder Bay for school but died on or about May 10, 2011 at the age of 15. The provinces' chief coroner recently called for a joint inquest into the deaths of seven Aboriginal teens including Jordan who were attending school in Thunder Bay.

It's an expansion of the inquest involving Poplar Hill First Nation 15-year-old Reggie Bushie, who was found in the McIntyre River in 2007.
Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse said his community is still trying to heal and find answers and hopes the inquest will lead to those answers.

“I did meet with the family and I said ‘it will be part of the healing process’.” Wabasse said. “We are still searching for answers for what really happened. Hopefully this inquest will bring more clarity for the family themselves.”

Keewaywin First Nation Chief David Thompson shared Wabasse’s hope in finding answers as well. He said his community is still broken up about Kyle Morrisseau, who died on or about Nov. 10, 2009 at the age of 17.

Thompson said he wished the youth didn’t have to leave in order to get an education but there’s no choice but for them to leave. He said many of the students who do go away are only 13 or 14 years old and the whole experience can be shocking.

He said he wished the government would provide more resources so the youth could stay in the community until Grade 10 and then leave when they are a bit older.

“Some of things that are happening in Thunder Bay you can’t help but think that there is something going on,” Thompson said. “It’s really hard to see children being apart from their families but these are the choices we are forced to make for our children to get a quality education. If we are going to survive in this new way of life and the way things are being done, the youth have to adjust in order to survive.”

Thompson said Morrisseau’s father and mother are still suffering from their son’s death.

He said it’s the school that attracts students it’s the allure of a bigger city.

He added he hopes when the inquest is finished they will have answers.

Twitter: @labine_reporter

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big joe mufferaw says:
Why is the inquest taking so long?

Also, why can't technology bring mathematics and science to classrooms in their homes? We need to look at models in other countries that deal with distance education in a way that doesn't abduct the learner from their culture.

This system isn't much better than the residential school system. It does so much damage in destroying traditional culture. One would almost think it intentional.
6/10/2012 12:49:06 PM
woodzee says:
The youth do not show respect to the elders or teachers. Very few people will go there to teach and the ones who do will learn a hard lesson.
6/10/2012 1:03:04 PM
yup says:
i gaurantee you have not been in one of these communities then. Yes SOME youth do not show respect in the communities, but that is the exact same here in Thunder Bay. Just because afew youths are bad, doesnt mean all them are and should suffer. And also, I know many teachers who have went to teach up north and fell in love with it. More then 5 years later they are still up there teaching.
6/10/2012 9:21:10 PM
thatsright says:
Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure there are youth EVERYWHERE who do not show respect towards elders and teachers. And what is this hard lesson you feel teachers will learn? I know of many GREAT teachers who have taught for years in communities like Webequie and they have nothing but GREAT things to say about their experience. I like living in a world of positive, not negative.
6/10/2012 9:30:57 PM
really??? says:
@ woodzee - obviously you have not been to these remote communities. I have - and have ALWAYS been treated with respect. Sure, some youth push boundaries - what youth doesn't. I have been welcomed into homes, attended feasts, been offered a place to stay, and shuttled back and forth to the airport. Would people do that here? No - they would tell you what hotel to stay at, tell you where to eat, and give you the local taxi #.
6/12/2012 3:38:03 PM
browneagle says:
ukc. levi is right. i'm sorry to say this. it's part of gov't wrath, they tried to take away everything but they can't. Their own laws devour themselves and amonst themselves. Listen to yourselves.
6/10/2012 3:04:33 PM
northerngardener says:
I would never downplay or negate the pain that the loss of these children must bring to families, but I am curious if anyone has ever done stats on the numbers of non-aboriginal children that have died while away at school, or, even while educating locally. We hear far too often of young people that have committed suicide after being bullied, or other personal/family emotional trauma's.
6/10/2012 3:18:28 PM
beached says:
@big joe, from what I understand they are given a choice of school in Thunder Bay or remote eduction.
6/10/2012 5:39:11 PM
really??? says:
@ beached - yes - they have a choice - many of them have INTERNET classes, along with regular structured classrooms. I don't know what the options of Webequie are, as I have not been to that particular community - (I have been to many others). When is the last time that you took an on-line / independent study course? Not that easy - and when you need help, or don't "get it" - the options are limited. I agree - each and every community is supposed to have the same curriculum - governed by the Ministry of Education, but...??? Alot of students that do high school at home and come out to college are a year if not more behind and then have to go into the aboriginal transition program at the college (pardon me if that is not the right name for the course) It is unfair - to the students. That is another year or 2 that their chosen career is put on hold. Maybe our elected officials should have to send their children to a reserve for high school in order for them to "get it".
6/12/2012 3:51:44 PM
really??? says:
First of all - she's in grade 8 - so the decision is not hers alone. Her parents have the final say if she comes here or not. As a former education counsellor for many First Nation communities, I feel their pain, and understand their fears. Grade 9 is so young to be away from your parents - in a caring boarding home or not - it's not home. Let me just say this - there was mention of the inquest looking into the deaths of young aboriginal students coming to TBay for school - each and every one of these deaths was alcohol / substance related.(with the exception of Jordan Wabasse, I do not know that information) The purpose of an inquest is to come up with solutions - not to lay blame on anyone. Sounds simple - keep the youth away from alcohol right???? Easier said than done -not only aboriginal youth drink - just easier to get away with it when you live in a boarding home I guess. Instill good values in your children - hopefully they will remember what they came here for..good luck
6/12/2012 3:32:57 PM
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