Niibin Nakogee, Grade 3 student with his brother, JK student Lance Sarazin, with students who penned messages of hope for Attawapiskat Youth.  Teachers who helped students take part are L to R: Carol-Anne Renton, Julie Crea, Principal Dan Seguin, Tasheena Sarazin (mother), Anna McLeod, Michelle McMartin.

Niibin Nakogee, Grade 3 student with his brother, JK student Lance Sarazin, with students who penned messages of hope for Attawapiskat Youth.
Teachers who helped students take part are L to R: Carol-Anne Renton, Julie Crea, Principal Dan Seguin, Tasheena Sarazin (mother), Anna McLeod, Michelle McMartin.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NORTH BAY – Poems, Prayer and Paint, the initiative and brainchild of Tasheena Sarazin and her two sons Niibin and Lance, inspired after learning about the isolated northern community of Attawapiskat on the news.

The news of the current state of crisis hit closer to home when the boys learnt that their father is from the affected community. After learning further about their roots, their mother posed a question regarding what they would do if somebody close to them was experiencing difficulties in their life.

He answered her, “cards make people happy, and pictures. We make you pictures and it makes you happy.”

Tasheena suggested to the brothers to ask their classmates to help out in this initiative to provide hope for those who may need it during the crisis.

After their classmates showed interest, the Sarazin family “… took a basic idea to the principal. A student would create a card for someone their age. They were asked what they would say to someone who needed help or love or strength,” said Tasheena.

Poems, Pray, Paint was started.

Sarazin says Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School was enthusiastic. She wrote up an information page to explain what was going on in Attawapiskat. The teachers used their discretion in what was shared with the students. “There are little ones I didn’t expect to be told about the housing crisis and the suicides.”

“The junior kindergarten students were asked to create a card of hope. The older children were asked to insert a poem or a picture. Maybe it was song lyrics they had listened to that kept them going during a hard time. It could be a prayer or a letter,” stated Tasheena.

The children were also given the option to paint a picture, write a poem or add their favorite prayer. The children have a strong understanding of the power of prayer, especially since it is taught as part of the curriculum.

Tasheena explained to her children that their actions may be able to make someone who has not smiled in a long time, smile. When the youngest Sarazin boy was asked what could make someone have a better day, his response was simple, “hearts, flowers, and people hugging”.

“Be strong. Have hope. We hear you,” that message was among the 100 cards sent to Attawapiskat from students of Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School.

Sarazin welled up while reading the messages. Other messages that the children wrote included words such as:”there is so much this life is giving. So promise me you will stay among the living”, “I hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay”, “our whole school is praying for your town”, or “I wish you had water like we do. Kids should have water all the time”.

Sarazin watches her sons try to comprehend the world around them and try to devise ways to make it a better place for all; what she really wants them to know that they do not need a million dollars to make a change or a difference.

She chooses to believe that in having her children take action about the current situation in Attawapiskat, will provide them with the confidence needed to take action on other issues as well.

In the meantime, the Federal Government is set to fund a youth centre with programming activities in Attawapiskat. This was a demand from the Indigenous Youth to elevate wellness in Attawapiskat. The community also requests an Elder camp, emergency mental health responders, firefighters, and a library.

Additional crisis support of on-call youth workers, additional physician visits, victim’s services and two social workers will rotate into the community.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with Attawapiskat Chief, Bruce Shisheesh and a delegation of Youth in Ottawa June 13, 2016.