THUNDER BAY – Students at Westmount elementary school delivered something more than candygrams on a Valentine’s Day visit to Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) school: a message of solidarity, along with a $1,000 cheque.
The money, which students raised selling candygrams to their peers, teachers, and families, will go to support the Wake the Giant initiative. Started by students and teachers at DFC, a high school serving First Nations students from across northwestern Ontario, Wake the Giant aims to foster cultural awareness and make Thunder Bay more welcoming to Indigenous youth.
The donation is just one action to come out of Westmount’s involvement in the Project of Heart, which aims to help Canadians learn about residential schools. Westmount students recently completed a mural through the program.
Principal Eric Fredrickson says after that exercise, students wanted to do more.
“It led us into doing a little bit more work as a school community, continuing to learn about residential schools and the impact on people in our community,” Fredrickson says. “The kids have just become so passionate about continuing that learning.”
That included learning about a Thunder Bay residential school located not far from Westmount, and considering its impacts on Indigenous communities. Fredrickson says reflecting on the mural project led them to pursue the collaboration with Wake the Giant.
“It really literally popped off the mural to us,” he explains. “There’s a mural of the sleeping giant, and we have Wake the Giant and the amazing work they’re doing to support kids in our community.”
Wake the Giant organizer A.J. Haapa, who works with the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council that manages DFC, praised the imitative as part of a broader commitment to reconciliation by the Lakehead District School Board.
“It’s showing that there’s kids at a young age that are interested in learning about Indigenous people, their culture, their history, and doing what they can to be part of reconciliation,” he says.
The money will support ongoing education initiatives offered by Wake the Giant, such as a project they’re developing for larger employers in the city. The group is working to keep the momentum going after launching a marquee event, the Wake the Giant music festival, in September.
Organizers hope to make that an annual event, with the second version already in the works for Sept. 19, 2020.