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Membertou Youth Council inspired by teacher when organizing Mi'kmaq cultural event

The Membertou Youth Council, pictured here, are hosting a pow wow at Sydney Academy as part of the school's Cultural Day on Feb. 21. School principal Kevin Deveaux said the day features multiple presentations from different members of Cape Breton's Mi'kmaq community. In this picture of the youth council, from winter 2020, are from left to right, Noah Matthews-Cremo, Dante Paul, Nevan Paul, Lexi Christmas, youth chief Jayden Paul, Eliah Marshall, Graham Basque, Silas Baccouche and Jada Paul. CONTRIBUTED
The Membertou Youth Council, pictured here, are hosting a pow wow at Sydney Academy as part of the school's Cultural Day on Feb. 21. School principal Kevin Deveaux said the day features multiple presentations from different members of Cape Breton's Mi'kmaq community. In this picture of the youth council, from winter 2020, are from left to right, Noah Matthews-Cremo, Dante Paul, Nevan Paul, Lexi Christmas, youth chief Jayden Paul, Eliah Marshall, Graham Basque, Silas Baccouche and Jada Paul. CONTRIBUTED

SYDNEY – The upcoming Mi’kmaq Cultural Day at Sydney Academy is proof teachers can inspire students to make things happen.

Taking place today, students learn how to make drums, dreamcatchers and baskets plus hear from speakers including Senator Dan Christmas, Membertou Chief Terry Paul and a residential school survivor. After lunch, the event turns into a pow wow, with 13 dancers, drummers and singers.

Membertou Youth Council are the driving force behind the event this year, contributing the first $2,000 of funding and taking lead in organizing it. Youth council chief Jayden Paul said they wanted to take an idea their Mi’kmaq teacher, Gloria Johnson, had last year but couldn’t get funding for.

“We hope this will help people have more understanding of what our culture is. Some people are just influenced by what they see on T.V. They don’t see how we are living now,” said Paul, a 17-year-old grade 12 student at Sydney Acadmey.

“With residential schools, I hope they see that history (between Canada and Indigenous people) and they see the damage that has been done to First Nations people. Maybe then they’ll understand and they’ll stop making jokes about it.”

Paul hears the jokes some non-Indigenous students make at the school, jokes he thinks make light of the decades when Indigenous children were taken from their homes, stripped of family, culture and language, and put in government sponsored, church run schools which tried to assimilate them. He doesn’t find them funny.

“They’ll say, “Oh, they should have kept you in residential school,” Paul said. “I don’t think they understand what really happened there or what happened to the people that went there. Or they think that person is lying about what happened there.”

Anjelikah Stevens is one of the pow wow dancers and singers. Although she hasn’t danced much over the past four years, the 17-year-old wanted to get involved because she believes it’s important to showcase the Mi’kmaq culture.

“I wanted to dance because most of the youth here haven’t danced or practiced some traditions,” she said. “So, me and a few friends decided to dance and sing for the pow wow to show that our traditions are still strong in our youth.”

The Cape Breton Regional-Victoria Centre for Education’s Mi’kmaq education department and Sydney Academy also helped fund the event (each contributing the same amount as the youth council). Some school staff are also helping organize and run the event.

“In my time at Sydney Academy, we held one other pow wow. This the first time we have held it as part of an entire Cultural Day with multiple presentation from the Mi'kmaq community,” said principal Kevin Deveaux.

“As part of our student success plans for the school we are focusing on creating a more inclusive school community and this is one of many projects designed to help students feel more a part of our school. The more we know about each other's rich and diverse backgrounds the more we build bridges to a more inclusive school community.”

Paul hopes the event becomes a yearly celebration of Mi’kmaq culture and the more non-Native people experience it, the more they’ll appreciate it.

“I hope they can see and understand our culture,” he said. “We aren’t just dancing around, making noises. This means something.”

“I would like to see this happen yearly because this is a big thing and it does mean a lot to our people. And to Gloria as well. And I’d like to see it stay at this large scale too.”

nicole.sullivan@cbpost.com

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