I was privileged to witness the recognition of a talented group of First Nations Students in a prestigious event hosted at The Mi’kaq Wolastoqey Centre at The University of New Brunswick on Thursday, January 28, 2016. Students Baille, Brooke, Amber and Theo had participated in The Learning Partnership’s Entrepreneurial Adventure program last year at George Street Middle School in Fredericton.
They, in collaboration with teacher Megan-Young Jones and business partner Bryan Harn, developed a business venture honoring their First Nations culture. Their published book – Weyossisok (Little Animal) won a BMO National Student Innovation Award in May 2015. The work contained nature drawings and English-Maliseet translations. All profits were donated to the Wulastukw Elementary School located in the Kingsclear First Nation community. Students were motivated to “preserve their native language” – the inspiration for their venture.
The students, along with their teacher and business partner were invited to present their work and to tell the story of Weyossisok – from beginning to end. The Centre hosts a memorial lecture each year in honor of Gwen Bear – the first Elder in Residence at UNB. This year’s theme, Language and Culture Revitalization through stories and artwork, was a perfect fit for the story of Weysossisok.
The Centre had organized a reception (6 -7 p.m.) to be followed by a formal ceremony (7-8 p.m.). Upon my arrival I encountered our “Honorees” sitting at a table in a foyer, just outside the cafeteria. Teacher Megan was standing beside them. A number of copies of Weyossisok were on display. The students were doing a book signing, cashbox clearly evident to the side. I witnessed a number of purchases – the students were thoroughly enjoying adding their signatures and special messages on the inside cover to customers.Teacher Megan escorted me to the reception, where I sat and spoke with two Elders. They were feasting on corn soup, and fried bread, followed by cake, coffee and tea. I joined them. Sumptuous!
Then it was Show Time. We all moved into a lecture theatre adjacent to the cafeteria. The Ceremony began with a native drum ceremony by First Nations youth. After a ceremonial native song engaged us, Grand Chief Ron Tremblay welcomed us. He related fond, inspirational memories of Elder Gwen Bear and spoke about the meaning of First Nations culture.
After brief explanation of their roles by teacher Megan and business partner Bryan the students took control.
It began with a presentation – students, seated at a table on stage, shared the story of Weyossisok from beginning to end. Then these 14-year-olds adroitly answered questions from the audience – approximately 150 attendees including significant representation from the university community. Two Elders rose to thank the students, telling them how proud their community was of these students for what they had done.
Finally, the students presented their work, reading it to the audience and teaching us how to pronounce the Maliseet words for each nature drawing contained within: Malsomsisok (mull-som-see-zuk) means wolf cubs. We participated.An impactful moment occurred at the conclusion of this event. Current Elder in Residence, Imelda Perley, announced that these students would be receiving their Eagle Feather from their community because of the immense sacrifice each of them made to create this book, a second edition of which has been published.
“They are ready.”
Eric Estabrooks has acted as a Program Manager for The Learning Partnership for the past 7 years in New Brunswick where he established the Turning Points Program and expanded Entrepreneurial Adventure. Eric’s initial contact with The Learning Partnership occurred in 2007 when he was named as one of TLP’s recipients of the Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award.During his 35 year tenure in the NB Pubic School system Eric served as a class room teacher, a Vice Principal, a School District Supervisor of Middle School and High School Programs, and a Middle School Principal.