July 31, 2019 6:11 pm

Indigenous program helps Durham students learn more about their heritage

WATCH: Throughout the school year, students in Durham are taught about the indigenous culture. This summer, some students are taking the opportunity to learn more about their heritage. Aaron Streck reports


Throughout the school year, students in Durham are taught about the Indigenous culture. This summer, though, that means learning more about their own heritage for some students.

Eniola Olaoye is of First Nations descent.

This summer, the grade six student is connecting to her heritage and she’s been able to share that experience with her mother.

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“She’s from Newfoundland and she’s First Nations, Mi’kmaq First Nations, and I know that and I learned a bunch of it and where she’s from because of this camp,” said Olaoye, Indigenous Summer Learning Program student.

Coming into the Durham District School Board’s Indigenous learning program, Eniola says she knew a bit about her roots. But now she’s learning something new every day — including the treatment of First Nations people.

“We’ve been learning about residential schools and traditional dances,” said Olaoye.

“That speaks to treaty education, residential schools, true Indigenous history and contributions of Indigenous peoples, both past and present. So we ensure that those things are embedded into the programming here,” said Erin Elmhurst, DDSB Indigenous Education Officer.

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Elders, knowledge keepers and residential school survivors have been teaching and sharing their experiences.

“You smudge with your eyes, ears, mouth, body,” said Isaiah D-Kwiatkotski, another student.

This is the seventh year for the camp, which has 100 students who identify as Indigenous in attendance. Many of them say the experience they receive at the summer program is different than what they would normally get at school.

“Our students don’t always get to see their reality in classrooms every single day, so to be able to provide them the opportunity to see their lived realities is a true privilege,” said Elmhurst.

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Michelle Alexander is one of the teachers. She says the program plays an important role in passing on knowledge to younger generations.

“Many kids come to the program not even knowing that they have the background,” Alexander said.

“My two daughters are here in the program and they’re still learning that they have Indigenous background that we are from a First Nation.

Over 1,300 students in the DDSB self-identify as Indigenous, but the school board acknowledges those numbers are much higher.

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