It’s why the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief for five years has embraced the lieutenant governor’s aboriginal summer reading camp program that will deliver more than 100 youth counsellors into remote communities to teach reading and writing in fun ways.
Beardy, encouraged by his father to leave the trap line and seek an education, first high school and then college, said program participants should see it as more than just a summer job.
“What you are is a bridge to the future, especially for the young people,” Beardy told a gathering of the students, who arrived in Thunder Bay from all across the province on Monday to start their orientation.
He pointed to a meeting he recently had with officials from Microsoft, where he was told the window of opportunity for his people to jump on board the technological train is rapidly coming to a close.
It’s as little as seven years, he said.
“If they’re not there in seven years, we’ll be left behind, and this time I think we’ll be left behind altogether,” Beardy said, reminding his audience that Aboriginals missed out on the industrial revolution and had to suffer years of injustice as a result.
Reading and writing is an imperative part of their return to even ground.
“This is more than a summer camp for us. This is more than just keeping our kids occupied.
This is introducing a new world. For many of them, the only world they know is what they see around them,” Beardy said, inviting the youth to embrace the communities they visit, participate in community events and help change their own world views.
Anne Lise Beaton, a graduate of the education program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, said that’s exactly what she’d like to do this summer. It’s certainly why she signed up.
“I thought it was a really meaningful program that has a lot of potential to make a difference on a more local scale here in Canada,” said Beaton, who focused on literacy during her stay at UOIT.
The program was introduced in 2006 by then Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman. David Onley, the man who currently holds the office, was also in town on Monday and said he will do whatever it takes to ensure the program continues beyond its five-year mandate.
“It was a very easy decision for me to continue the program because of all of its benefits to the students of the North, specifically the Northwest,” said Onley. “It was also very easy to include a computer literacy initiative. But first you have to instill in young people a love of reading.
“Various studies have concluded over the year that aboriginal children, especially those in the fly-in communities, are several years behind the rest of Ontario when it comes to literacy skills. Well, how do you make it in today’s world if you’re finishing high school and your literacy level is that of Grade 7 or Grade 8. The answer is you can’t make it. You just have very few opportunities.”
The program, managed by FrontierCollege, a national literacy organization, has taught more than 2,200 children within the NAN territory over the past four years.