Recently I heard from an old teacher of mine. Rhonda McKay dropped me an e-mail from Thunder Bay where she is now teaching and living. Her contact reminded me of just how important teachers are in my life. I mean all the teachers, those who do it as a profession and also those that simply have taught me because they love me.

In my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast my parents taught myself and my brothers and sisters from an early age how to live on the land.

When I was young my mom Susan and my dad Marius took the family out just about every weekend during the summers to visit the islands on the bay. We spent hours walking pebble stone beaches and learned where to find berries of different varieties growing in the shallow soil along the beach. In the winter time, my parents also took the time to take us outdoors and teach us how to live in cold weather conditions. At any time of the year we were taught how to find the right camp site, how to set up camp, where to find wood for a fire and how to make a fire. Of course I also learned how to hunt and provide food for the family. I guess to sum it up my parents taught me how to survive on the land.

If ever I am left in a situation with no modern conveniences and I have to make do with very little, I can survive.

It was also good for all my famiy to spend time with our parents on the land in natural settings and without the distractions of the community. These visits on the land were opportunities to learn more about our Cree language. We communicated in our language all the time when living on the land and our parents taught us more of the older traditional Cree.

Like every young boy in my community, I learned the Cree language first and was taught the English language later when I attended elementary school. I was fortunate to have several good teachers who took extra time to help me learn more about the greater world outside my community. These teachers in my early life made a big impact on me and basically encouraged me to believe in myself and to strive to become educated.

I also attended secondary school in Attawapiskat where I was fortunate to be taught by a bright young teacher, namely, Rhonda McKay. She was an enthusiastic teacher who always had time for all her students and she made our learning an enjoyable experience. One Christmas she coordinated us senior students to produce an original play. We wrote the play, built the props and performed it live on stage in the gymnasium for the entire community. It was a play based on the theme of solvent abuse and had a good message for everyone. It was a memorable experience to act out our own play on a stage in front a large audience of community members and we finished to loud applause.

In more recent years I have benefited by the help of my brother’s wife Christine.

She is a midwife and a nurse from Sherbrooke, Quebec. She worked in Attawapiskat for several years and felt that I had some talent for writing so she encouraged me at every opportunity to develop my skills. I still have a small library of books by First Nation people that she gave me.

More recently, I have had the opportunity to work with my good friend Mike who is a writer that I admire very much. Over the past few years he has helped me develop my skills of writing that include news and feature styles. He has also helped me with creative writing. As part of this teaching he and his mom Emily have also made me feel that I can achieve my goals here in the big world outside of my home community.

In the past few years I have been assisted by many prominent First Nation organizations.

Many people have encouraged me like Shawn Batise of Wabun Tribal Council, Darlene St. Denis-Lafontaine, who is now with Wabun; Rose Anna Campbell of Mamo-Wichi-Hetiwin Employment & Training and Diane Riopel, of the Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre.

All of these people, their organisations and their staff members have provided me with encouragement and a helping hand along my way.

I have had so many teachers in my life and they have all made a big difference in who I am. So today I am thinking about all of my teachers and how happy I am for the time and efforts they have given me.