Marathon High School students River McCrady, Willie Michano, Isiah Hoddinot-McWatch (front), Linus Michano (behind), David Courchene, and Alex Deschamps-McWatch work on a drum in the school’s cultural room.

Marathon High School students River McCrady, Willie Michano, Isiah Hoddinot-McWatch (front), Linus Michano (behind), David Courchene, and Alex Deschamps-McWatch work on a drum in the school’s cultural room.

By Rick Garrick

MARATHON – The newly-developed cultural room at the Marathon High School, located on the north shore of Lake Superior, has been a hit with First Nation students.

“It was really positive for them,” says former Marathon High School Vice Principal Deb McDougall, who collaborated with Pic Mobert’s Nicole Simpson and Pic River’s Carol Trance to create the cultural room in the school’s old music room. “The attendance at events was excellent and the students really started to take ownership of it.”

The students created a ceremonial drum and ceremonial ribbon skirts this past June in the cultural room with the assistance of traditional teachers David Courchene, David McWatch, Diane Richmond-Michano, Caroline Deschamps and Sue Gallant.

“It was really nice to see they were really proud of what they did,” McDougall says, noting the school appreciated the assistance of the traditional teachers. “And actually what was really exciting was our graduation was on June 27 and that was the first time that the drum the students built was played.”

McDougall says the ceremonial drum will be used in the school for years to come. She began looking into the possibility of creating the cultural room after a Pic River citizen asked why the school didn’t have one.

“I phoned around to many schools in Ontario until I finally found a couple that had cultural room,” McDougall says in an e-mail. “I asked them about a 1,000 questions and then concluded that it would be a great undertaking in our school.”

The school has since received about $4,000 in grants for the cultural room for the upcoming school year.

“Unfortunately I will not be at the school next year but I look forward to updates and have already told the staff that I want to be invited to special events,” McDougall says.

The cultural room was getting to be one of the hot spots in the school by the end of the school year, McDougall says, noting it was used for breakfast programs, special lunches and guest speakers. On Neurodiversity Day, when teachers in the classroom recognize neurological diversity and the individual leaning styles of their students, more than 150 people ate lunch in the cultural room.

“Our focus this year has really been on our Aboriginal students because they live outside of our community,” McDougall says, noting there are about 55 First Nation students among the schools population of about 187 students. “They are bus students, so it is good for them to have that space. We’re hoping to make it a little bit more diverse this (upcoming) year.”

The school has plans to hold grandmother bags/feast bundles-making workshops in the fall. The bags/bundles are used to carry a plate, fork, knife, soap and cloth for use at a feast.

“They’re going to do two separate workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” McDougall says. “We love the support — it’s fabulous. It’s so important to have those contacts in the community and building those relationships.”

A grand opening of the cultural room is also planned for this fall with a feast and drumming.