Reflections on Personal Growth: Lessons from the North
For the past three summers I have been working as a Summer Camp Counsellor with the Lieutenant Governor's Aboriginal Summer Literacy Program. In this position I work in several Nishnawbe-Aski Nations in northwestern Ontario running reading camps and drop-in centers. My experiences in the north during the months of July and August contrast greatly from my life as a Graduate student in Toronto. It is these diverse experiences and all of the memories and lessons I have learned while working with unique children, youth and adults that I reminisce about during the school year.
When I think of my summers I often find myself laughing at the hilarity of incidents and interactions with the children, youth and adults in the communities. For example, I recall with humour the comment made by one camper who was astounded at the number of books authored by Robert Munsch, exclaiming that the “guy must have a book-writing robot.” I also find myself laughing at specific situations, such as when my team organized a Bannock Bake-Off in Slate Falls. Bannock is a type of unleavened bread that is very popular (and delicious). Sixteen community members entered the contest, the winner being a young woman whose entry was her first attempt at baking bannock, and her surprise at winning only added to the humour of the night. Contributing to the funniness of the night, the bannock entered by me and my non-Aboriginal co-workers failed to gather all but one vote from the seventy five community members who sampled all the entries! It is these wonderful experiences that have left me with a love, and nostalgia, for my summers spent in these very diverse communities.
My work with Frontier College has also permitted me the opportunity to encourage children and youth to learn and practice new forms of visual art by integrating arts-based activities in our literacy camp. I also have the opportunity of organizing acrylic and oil painting classes to adults in the community. As a child and youth I was always shy and quiet. Painting and art allowed me to discover knowledge of myself, of my capacities and strengths. Sharing art with the children and youth up has further promoted this element of self-learning that I first developed as a child, as well as encouraging this same process with the children and youth to practice these forms of self-expression. I also feel inspired to paint and create when I travel up north. In part, this is because I am inspired by the creativity of the children and youth, and their dynamism. Therefore, on a creative level my summers with Frontier College sustain me.
I've witnessed the resilience of community members who I have come to know personally and whom I have made friends with. In communities where there are not available resources to organize summer programs, Frontier College's Aboriginal Summer Literacy Camp is an opportunity to offer quality programming for children and youth. For myself, the experience of working in NAN communities as an employee of Frontier College has initiated the beginning of a process of evaluation and reflection of identity, positionality and political relations that is critical to any personal, let alone societal, change. My work with Frontier College has lead towards the beginning of a changing political perspective as I reflect on my position as an ally with Indigenous communities (and all the diverse Nations and ethnicities this broad category represents).
Through the continued relationships between Frontier College and the Bands and Education Boards of each of the communities, I as a participant in this program have come to recognize the different ways that peoples understand, learn and act. Whether by learning from the joy and humour of the peoples I have interacted with, or through my own ability to share my knowledge with others, or by gaining an insight into the resilience of individuals and communities, these diverse experiences with Frontier College are lessons that have initiated personal changes within me that will further influence the directions I take in my life
Mary Choy Lieutenant-Governor’s Aboriginal Summer Reading Camps Staff – 2006-2008