It is the end of the school year and memories of my school days come flooding back, as I watch the kids in the neighbourhood with more free time on their hands. My early school days in Attawapiskat had a great effect on me. You see, the school and its teachers were an entire other world situated in the midst of my community.

School was different from the life we young Cree children had at home. The schools, which were located right in the middle of Attawapiskat, represented a little of the world outside which we saw on television. At school, there was running water, hot water, showers and toilets. In most homes, up until only a few years ago, these conveniences were non-existent.

Mind you, we did have water at home for everyday use but it had to be collected from the river. If you wanted to go to the bathroom you had to use the outhouse and in the freezing winter temperature of the far north, this was generally not a pleasant experience.

Every home had a bucket that was used in the night and dumped the next morning. At home you bathed with the help of a hand wash basin. I am sure that most people are astonished when I tell them this was how life was for my community until the beginning of this decade. So you can see what a special place the school was for all of us. These days we have running water and all the conveniences of modern southern communities thanks to the hard work of our Chief and Council.

Teachers were special, too. For most of us this was our first contact with the non-Native culture and a chance to learn more about the outside world and make new friends. While thinking back on it now, I realize what a cultural shock it must have

been for so many of the young and inexperienced teachers. When I was young, my friends and I were eager to visit our favourite teachers. It was an exotic experience to visit in their homes and it made us feel good to hear about their lives.

Back then, the lifestyle teachers lived was very different from ours but today that gap has narrowed. The education system has improved vastly over the last decade and many of our own people are teachers or teacher’s assistants today. As a matter of fact, I am proud to say that our education administration and leadership are headed by local Aboriginal people. In addition, only a few years ago a secondary school was built and is still expanding. The opportunity for education in Attawapiskat is getting better every year.

I don’t think people realize the profound effect teachers have on their students and this is even more so in a remote community such as mine. I remember fondly some of the teachers who went out of their way to show me encouragement and kindness. Thankfully, there were teachers like Rhonda McKay, who encouraged me in high school to write and she gave me a journal that went to good use. Rhonda was a bright light for many of us and I can recall being excited and motivated by her work with us in drama and creative writing. She exposed us to some great literature, including Native authors.

Then there was Brian Maclsaac, my grade six teacher, who made every day at school a fun experience. My friends and I were always welcome at Brian’s place and we simply enjoyed sitting and drinking tea or pop talking about anything and everything.

There are many other teachers who come to mind and I owe thanks to all of them for theindividual attention they gave me. Perhaps, with these words, I have repaid them in somesmall way.