Pelican Falls First Nations High School Visit

July 28, 2023 by Alexandra Pennell

From Friday, April 16th to Monday, April 19th, 14 First Nation high school students and 4 chaperones from the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Board of Education/Pelican Falls First Nations High School, Sioux North High School, Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, and Dryden, ON, came to Toronto on an educational college/university tour trip for their graduating students. When their lead chaperone reached out to the Centre for Indigenous Studies for a tour, Acting Director Cheryl Suzack knew that CIS could offer more. After consulting with Outreach & Communications Officer, Alexandra Pennell, and interim Centre Manager, Ammad Khan, the three came together to organized a compete weekend itinerary for the visiting students. After consulting with the group's plans for their weekend trip, Alexandra worked to organize educational events, renowed Toronto visits, and an introduction to urban Indigenous life in the biggest city in Canada. CIS ultimately came up with a full itineray paid for by the department, including a guided tour/accompanient by Alexandra.  

Upon arrival, Alexandra met the group at their hotel on the Friday. Here, she met the students and chaperones, then leading them to CIS using Toronto Public Transportation. CIS had prepared an Indigenous-catered lunch by 4Winds for the group, along with a visit of their Centre and First Nations House (FNH), along with presentations from faculty such as Cheryl Suzack, Brenda Wastasecoot, Verne Ross and Tyler Pennock. Sarah Embaye was also presented to speak on the Transitional Year Program that is offered at the university. Michael White, Director of FNH, and June Viglatzis, Coordinator of Indigenous Academic Supports at FNH, also spoke of the Indigenous student services offered. The students were lastly given items such as tote bags, t-shirts, toques, water bottles and more from both CIS and FNH. 

After the lunch and presentation, the group was shown work from INS303H (Indigenous Language and Indigenous Thought), which featured projects on language revitatilzation. FNH Resource Centre and Programs Coordinator, Jenny Blackbird, and Indigenous Student Life Coordinator, Caitlyn Murphy-Eagleson, brought some of the students to the Lodge outside of the Earth Sciences Courtyard. There, the group feasted traditional drums and held a drumming circle. Once the group had a chance to return to their hotels, they met Alexandra at the CN Tower and headed up to see the infamous tower view. For many of the students, this was their first time in Toronto and so the CN Tower became a great starter for their weekend. After the long day, the students headed back to their hotel for an even bigger day on Saturday. 

Around 10am on Saturday morning, the group met Alexandra at the Native Canadian Centre of Tower (NCCT) for a guided tour of the building. During this tour, the students were taught about one of the many examples of the strong, Indigenous presence that exists in Toronto. The group was also introduced to many of the programs that the NCCT offers such as their Indigenous Youth Program. After the tour, the students then accompanied Alexandra on a walk to the Royal Ontario Museum for a chance to explore Canada's largest museum. During this time, the ROM was displaying a showcase of Kent Monkman's, a renowed Cree painter, work. The students were left to explore the museum on their own, some excited to see dinosaurs, others a fan of the artwork. 

When the students were finished exploring the ROM, they headed back to their hotels to get ready for a Toronto Rock, professional lacrosse game, that Alexandra would be taking them to that evening. At 5pm, the group arrived at Union Station prepared to use the extensive GO Transit system. After some minor hiccups with the route, the group finally arrived at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton to watch the Toronto Rock play the Philadelphia Wings. With an capacity of nearly 20,000, the students were immersed into the lively crowd, while getting to witness a traditional sport at a high-level. It was an exciting evening with the Toronto Rock pulling out a win and many arena foods being consumed. 

Sunday morning held the last CIS organized event for the students, with Alexandra meeting the group at the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF).