Lavonne, bottom right, Cherilynn, top right, and their teachers — including road warrior and chaperone Adrian Lawrence, left — spent their first day in the big city on Wednesday. They’re eagerly waiting to cheer on Team Ontario at next week’s North American #Indigenous Games. (Adrian Lawrence) Lavonne Kakegamic peers out over the ledge of a mezzanine in a downtown office building, squealing with a mixture of delight and fear at the sheer drop beneath her.
With the exception of yesterday’s trip to Canada’s Wonderland, she’s higher up than she’s ever been in her life — and she’s only on the fourth floor.
The fifth grader lives in North Spirit Lake #First Nation, a community near Dryden, Ont. "Near," of course, is relative: anybody coming in or out of the community has to travel by plane or ice road. There’s a football field, two small grocery stores and a school, but definitely no shopping mall, roller coasters or skyscrapers. Cherilynn Moose, left, and Lavonne Kakegamic were handed their community’s Citizenship Award for being responsible and starting the school’s snowmobile club. (Adrian Lawrence) Until this week, Lavonne and best friend Cherilynn Moose, 12, had never made the trek south. But this summer, the adventurous pair decided they couldn’t stand the thought of not having any teachers to annoy — one of Lavonne’s favourite pastimes, she gleefully admits — and hatched a plan to follow them home to Toronto.
After hearing about 5,000 other First Nations youth descending on the city for next week’s North American Indigenous Games, the girls couldn’t be left out. North Spirit Lake, they decided, needed ambassadors.
The girls got to work, selling bingo tickets and nabbing a few modest corporate sponsorships to cover the flight home. They’ve raised $430 so far on their GoFundMe page, and have been bunking with their teachers’ families to cut costs.
Their principal, Adrian Lawrence, drove them from Red Lake, Ont. in a three-day road trip. "Lavonne streamed the entire ride on Facebook," Lawrence laughs.
As if on cue, Lavonne whips out a cell phone, capturing the nerve-wracking descent in the elevator. A few minutes later, she takes it out once more. "Mom asked me to go live," she explained, filming the walk across Front Street West towards the CN Tower, giving her family a taste of Toronto. The girls spend a lot of time in North Spirit Lake, pictured here from the propeller plane that flies out a couple times a week. (Adrian Lawrence) The girls tell their teachers they aren’t missing home, but still rattle off a list of North Spirit Lake activities when asked. "We go swimming," said Cherilynn absently, more interested in craning her neck to take in the CN Tower.
"And ride Skidoos," Lavonne pipes up. The pair started a snowmobile club last winter, an enterprise that helped to garner them both a Citizenship Award.
Their GoFundMe page emphasizes the girls’ community achievements. "We are responsible," it reads, "like when we have to keep stuff, like keys, for our teachers and principal, we keep them safe in our pockets, and we never let anyone go through our pockets."
Their teachers attest to their community spirit, describing North Spirit Lake as a vastly different universe from communities farther south, one where school staff become an integral part of their students’ lives. "You teach the whole kid," said teacher Angela Fiorletta, "instead of just spending an hour on spelling."
Monika Batta, the special education instructor, agrees. She left Toronto for a six-month stint as a teacher in the community. That was nearly five years ago. "I want people to know that our community is a fly-in, and when you […]
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