by Margaret Finlayson
Waapinichikush Elementary School in the First Nations community of Chisasibi, Quebec has about 750 students.
This school needs books to give students to take home and practise reading. Some live in poverty with no books in the home as parents struggle to support their families.
As well, some parents, as other parents in Canada, do not realize the importance of reading in a very connected, globalized 21st century world; books are few in their homes.
Research shows that the federal government funds the education of First Nations students at a lower per capita rate than provincial governments do for other Canadian students. This is why one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) asks for the federal government to increase funding for First Nations schools.
You may wonder why this school was chosen as a focus for St. Paul’s Shelburne. A parishioner here has a personal connection to the community. She wanted to honour her mother-in-law’s memory and approached the Parish Council with this idea. While visiting Chisasibi twice, she had noticed few if any books in the homes.
Parish Council agreed to the request because they felt this could be done in recognition of the findings of the TRC, to honour those residents of residential schools who had been denied a real education and who had suffered horribly in those schools.
The council asked the parish to donate to this cause by dropping spare change into a big water bottle. Not only coins but “folding” money and cheques started appearing. When the campaign ended, $500 had been collected.
Now came the task of getting the books up to Chisasibi. The school wanted to deal with a particular book company which had made the effort to go up to James Bay and put on a book fair for them. After much to-ing and fro-ing with the principal and the sales representative, we are pleased the books finally got into the hands of students.
Ours is a very small effort to acknowledge past injustices. We know that. However, we feel strongly about this and will repeat the campaign next year as well. Don’t tell that tidbit to Waapinichikush – they may not know yet!
Margaret Finlayson is a parishioner of St. Paul’s Shelburne.