My photographer pal Monique Dykstra and I are back from our latest adventure! This time, together with Blue Metropolis Literary Foundation production manager, Florence Allegrini, we traveled to Nemaska, a Cree community in the James Bay region.
We were there to help Victoria Howard's Resource students produce a chapter for this year's edition of Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live. One of the things we try to do when we visit is help students come up with a subject for their chapter. But this time, our students had a brainstorm before we visited. They want to write about their favourite subject at school: Cree culture.
As you can imagine, we learned a lot about Cree culture, too. We heard, for example, how Charles, the Cree culture teacher, brought a dead black bear into the school this fall -- and how the students learned to skin the bear. Geraldine dunked the bear's giant paws in a pot of hot water. She did that to loosen the fur from the skin. Pretty cool, don't you think?
Now, I need to explain about all the Freds!
The boys in the Resource class have an inside joke. They all call each other Fred. And they've even written Fred on their notebooks! Luckily, Geraldine (the only girl in the group) has not tried to change her name!
Besides knowing a lot about life on the land, about hunting, and making fires and chopping wood, the Cree students we met have a great sense of humour. A boy named ... well Fred if you go according to his notebook ... but Israel, if you know him better ... worked with me on a poem that will make readers laugh out loud. It's about how Fred/Israel was at his grandparents' cabin, all alone while the others were visiting a neighbour. Then Fred heard loud noises. He was sure it was a black bear... but let's just say it turned out to be something a little less threatening than a bear. To find out more, you'll need to read a copy of the 2012 edition of Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live. It'll be available this April at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival.
Though I was pretty busy working with Victoria's students, I managed to visit two other classes at Ecole Luke Mettaweskum School. First, I spent an hour with some of Angela Hunter's students. In an hour, I tried to tell them all my writing secrets! There was even a little time for them to do a writing exercise. A student named Jasmin (not sure if there's an e at the end -- let me know, Jasmin, if you are reading this blog and I need to fix the spelling) started a lovely piece that I hope she'll finish.
I finished my day with a delightful group of Grades Three and Four students and their teacher, Hélène. I gave them a simplified lesson about how stories work and I read to them from my book 121 Express. Most Cree have straight dark hair and so my blonde curls were an object of fascination. A little girl named Maria asked whether she could touch my hair -- which gave all her classmates the idea to do the same. Now if only photographer Monique Dykstra had been there to capture the moment!