I’m dedicating this column to hope. This hope is demonstrated with the graduation of young people in the school system in my home community of Attawapiskat, Ont. For graduates in this remote First Nation of about 2,000 people are extremely important and represent hope.
The history of education for First Nation people in the Far North is tragic, to say the least. In the early days our parents and grandparents were shuttled off to residential schools where they were abused, misused and confused. With the strengthening of our culture as we moved ahead in the more recent years, remote communities like Attawapiskat took control of their own educational services.

The Vezina Secondary School was opened only a few years ago in 1991. Before that young people like myself had to fly out to southern communities like Timmins and North Bay to go to school. It was lonely, it was painful and it was disappointing for many of us. Thanks to the hard work of our Education Authority, chief and council, and community leaders, our young people now have the choice of staying in their communities with their family and friends for secondary school education. Attawapiskat has also had the J.R. Nakogee School since the 1970s as a much more healthy alternative to the distant and cold residential schools.

It makes me feel good to see that in a few short years we already have our own people from Attawapiskat teaching in the elementary and secondary school system. These people are certified teachers Steve Kataquapit, Mary Ann lahtail and Lillian Okimaw; and teachers’ assistants Jenny Nakogee, Veronica Fireman, Gerty Nakogee, Norma Jean Tookate, Beverly Nakogee, Marjorie Wesley, Mary Ann Wheesk, Leonard Edwards, Lorraine Nakogee, Betty Rickard, Linda Mattinas, Darlene Hookimaw, Louis Edwards, Stella Lazarus, Peter Nakogee, Norbert Paulmartin, Mike Carpenter, Lynn Hirst, Daniel Koostchin, Norman Nakogee and Stella Tookate. In fact more than 50 Attawapiskat First Nation members make up the staff of both Vezina Secondary School and J.R. Nakogee Elementary School.

There is a new hope with our graduates and a realization that they can follow in the steps of those who have gone before them. Education means a lot to my people. Take for instance, my cousin Steve Kataquapit, who is a teacher in the J.R. Nakogee Elementary School. Steve believes in hope and he does all he can to encourage and support the kids. In fact he actually purchases at his own cost recognition plaques for the high school graduates and medallions for the elementary school graduates.

This year the Vezina Secondary School graduation took place June 24 with four graduates: Travis Koostachin, Mike Hookimaw, Louis Noah and Joseph Kataquapit, my brother. The guest of honour for this event is a very wonderful woman, Theresa Hall, who is a justice of the peace, originally from Attawapiskat. If anyone believes in hope it is Theresa. She and her family have been helping her son Kevin fight against cancer for the past couple of years. Her dedication, strong spirit and love lights the fire of hope in those who hear her speak.

The J.R. Nakogee graduates include: Joshua Bird, Kevin Fireman, Kathryn Gull, Reg Hookimaw, Sheena Hookimaw, Irvin Kamalatisit, Terry Kataquapit, Shawn Kioke, Diane Koostachin, Joey Koostachin, Shane Linklater, Daniel Nakogee, Gerry Nakogee, Joe Nakogee, Belinda Noah, Evelyn Noah, Emile Okimaw, Jason Paulmartin, Mike Paulmartin, Tony Paulmartin, Xavier Paulmartin, Joseph Rickard, David Sutherland, Harvey Sutherland, Sammy Tippenskum, Nancy Tookate, Doris Wesley, Pamela Wheesk and Paula Wheesk. I also say to the junior and senior kindergarten graduates: NEH-SI-KI-NEH-SIN-KEE-NO-WOW OCHI (I am very happy for you).

It feels good to be able to give the successful graduates a pat on the back and I know they will feel proud to see their names in print. Have a good summer, my friends.