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Adventures of the Gillam Cohort Part 6

January 14, 2013 — 

Gillam Cohort Post #6
December 17, 2012

Dave Embraces Gillam, Stays for the Holidays

Dave spends the holidays in Gillam at a cabin on the lake.

Practicum is over and I am still in Gillam spending the Christmas Break at the lake. Things have come full circle. I can’t help remember how I got involved with the Gillam practicum. I spent from April until September at my wilderness cabin on Lake Winnipegosis. One day, I received a phone call from Jennifer Campbell, the School Experiences Office School Placement Coordinator, asking if I was still interested in the Gillam placement because I had not sent in an application. So, I paddled to the mainland, drove down a turkey trail to the highway, and drove to the nearest village with a post office to mail in my application for the Gillam practicum. And the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to Jen for the phone call. Now, I am spending Christmas break at Stephens Lake in Gillam because I want to.

I was talking with an Elder and he was telling me stories about days gone by. Therefore, I must conclude this term’s blog entry with a brief history of Fox Lake Cree Nation as it helps bring the education system here into perspective.

The local First Nations (Split Lake, Fox Lake, Shamattawa, and York Factory) came from the Inninuwak or Homeguard Cree that inhabited the northeast portion of Manitoba and lived a traditional nomadic lifestyle. In 1910, the York Factory Band signed the adhesion to Treaty Five.  In 1913, the federal government studied the viability of hydroelectric development in northern Manitoba rivers. The railway to Churchill was completed in 1929. In 1947, Fox Lake and Shamattawa First Nations gained independent band status. In 1957, the trading post in York Factory closed, thereby ending the fur trade in the area and forcing people inland, particularly around the Hudson Bay railway.

Within as little as a generation, the Inninuwak transformed their nomadic lifestyle into permanent settlements. Furthermore, hydroelectric development in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s has changed the landscape. The Inninuwak have experienced great change in a short period of time.

Dave on the hunt near Gillam.

Now, Frontier School Division provides educational services to Fox Lake Cree Nation and Manitoba Hydro in the community of Gillam. For example, a Cree language program and Industrial Arts program reflect specific programs needed in the community. With the partnership between Fox Lake Cree Nation and Manitoba Hydro in the Keeyask generating station, the influence of Fox Lake Cree Nation in community education will grow with the youth wilderness traditions program, Cree language program, alternative resource use program, crisis centre and wellness counselling, alternative justice program, and gravesite restoration program.

Happy Festivus!  ~ Dave Overgaard


Sarah’s Final Week and Frontier Games
Where to begin?

What an eye opening, life changing week. I began the week with a busy Monday at Gillam School, preparing students for the week without me. Together, the students and I set expectations for their learning for the upcoming week for both the travelling athletes and the students who would not be travelling to the Frontier Games.

My last week in Gillam was the Frontier Games and I travelled with the middle years athletes to Churchill, Manitoba to chaperone and coach. The trip began on Monday evening at 10:30 p.m. when myself and six other chaperones, coaches and 40 athletes boarded the train to Churchill.

The train ride is anticipated to take eight hours. The train was filled with excited students, a lack of sleep and small quarters. The students were sooooooo excited and enjoying their social time on the train, but as coaches and chaperones we had to rope them in and remind them that they needed sleep to perform well. With their games in mind, the students agreed and we managed to wrap up the chatter by around 12:30 a.m. I managed to get some sleep for an hour or so at a time.

Gillam School's sleeping quarters during the Frontier Games.

We arrived in Churchill at 7:30 a.m.  Upon arrival, it was pure chaos as all of the students from many schools in the division all got off the train. Many students travelled a huge distance to Churchill for the games. The longest distance was 16 hours by train. When I heard the length of travel and the students and chaperones commitment to their athletics and life experience, I was inspired and quite frankly my jaw dropped. It was something I had never heard of, except for high school athletes who travel to provincial events. These were middle years students independently travelling with coaches and chaperones 800 km away from home, brave and trusting student athletes who were learning some responsibility and independence early on in their lives.

Once off the train, we began to organize rides and baggage transport to the school.  During this organization I quickly realized, bundled in my Canada goose jacket, Sorel boots and snow pants, that it was freezing in Churchill.  It was -46 C, not counting the wind chill. My hair and the exposed skin on my face were white from frosting up.

We were waiting for word on our ride from the train station to the school when we quickly realized there was no time for our school and all of the other schools to get rides and make it to the games on time. Our school, along with three others who travelled a great distance, grabbed what we could and started the walk to the Churchill school. It wasn’t too far of a hike and the students all seemed familiar with the task, however it was freezing cold. I was so happy to have been warned about wearing all of my outside gear before getting off the train. My “southern” body wouldn’t have been able to handle that type of cold.

We arrived at the community complex, which houses the school, community centre and hospital around 8:30 a.m. The students hauled in their gear and waited until we were shown to our living quarters for the games. Gillam, being the largest school in attendance, was given prime living spaces. The boys were housed in the bowling ally – a dream come true for many. The girls were given the upstairs and lounge area of the curling rink, also very nice and private as well. We all got acquainted and a coaches meeting was held to set expectations and explain the schedules for the next three days of competition.

My hat went off to Mr. Brock, the physical education teacher in Churchill. He is amazing at his work. He had volunteers organized, officials, schedules and the facilities all prepped for our arrival. I don’t know if he got any rest over the three days we were there, but I thank him so much for his dedication, heart and appreciation for athletics. He truly believes in the importance of athletics for our youth and the impact is has on their lives.

The coaches meeting ended and we headed for some quick breakfast and the games would then begin with volleyball. The food was all prepared and organized with care for the entire week. The effort by those who prepared our meals was outstanding. Not once did I enter the meal area and wasn’t impressed by what was being served. The food was all made from scratch, was healthy and included all the food groups the athletes needed. I was happy to see the adults demonstrate proper nutrition by providing them with the food they needed to compete and stay healthy over the games.

Sarah checking out Churchill's sites on a break.

The next three days without going into pages and pages of detail were filled with the students having the time of their lives. The Gillam athletes not only all took home medals for their accomplishments in competition, but were well received by other schools and staff. They made friends and had fun in all aspects of the trip. There were some exciting heart felt games that left students with feelings of joy and disappointment, but with all of those feelings came memories and learning experiences. I was very proud to have been able to coach and show support to all of the Gillam athletes while in Churchill. They made me proud and I hope made them proud as well.

The games ended with the awards ceremony and recognition of all the people that helped with everything throughout the games. The Gillam team supported each other by cheering and acknowledging each other’s successes. Once the ceremony ended we all ate one more meal and it was off to the train station for a 7:30 p.m. departure and the 8-hour ride back to Gillam. We were all spent, but needed to toughen up to get our belongings and ourselves to the train station.

Once on the train and settled in, I, along with the other teachers and chaperones, reminded the students that we are student athletes…students first. We got to learning! It was the greatest thing, students began to pull out their schoolwork or I provided them with the schoolwork they had “accidently” left behind in Gillam and the train turned from social time to schoolwork time.  They were all engaged and working like bees to complete the assigned schoolwork they had put aside during competition.

This learning could not have been so successful if it hadn’t had been for the commitment of Mr. Thompson and Mrs. Walker who gave up even more rest to guide students and support them to complete their math and science schoolwork. It was a great lesson for my Grade 8 class, as they recognized that sometimes when you leave schoolwork until the last minute it will take a few hours of focus and effort to get it done, and to continue to learn and be responsible for what they miss. I was proud of everyone in Grade 7 and 8 who got down to it and completed their schoolwork and continued to ask questions and learn while travelling.

The concept of student athlete was something that I learned in high school from my amazing basketball coach, Mrs. McFarland. Her lessons and leadership made the concept of a student athlete really stick with me through all of my future athletics.  To take pride in learning and continue to learn through all aspects of your life is something that can never be lost or taken from you. Athletic ability can fade or be lost, but the ability to learn can’t be taken no matter what physical capacity you find yourself in. To learn and grow as a learner and person can only open doors and possibility. I believe in the power of athletics and I believe in the experience and opportunity that can come through sport. However, I am also a strong believer in being well rounded, taking pride in learning and that taking ownership of your own learning and being responsible for not only the learning that takes place in school, but while experiencing other things will only make students more successful in their future.

We arrived in Gillam at 7:30 am on Friday, Dec. 14 and the students, chaperones and coaches all headed home. I headed to school. The school day would be a long one, but we all managed and my last day teaching until March was a success with the few students in school after a long week. I thank Mrs. Funk for teaching while I was in Churchill; the experience was like nothing I had ever gotten to be part of.  Mrs. Sharon Funk was my cooperating teacher this practicum and her example and mentorship will always be appreciated and remembered. I will continue to learn and work with her in the spring teaching math and science.

Sarah and Allison take the final walk home from school on Dec. 14, 2012.

I would like to close this blog with a big thank you to everyone who made this practicum experience possible and as great as it has been. I thank the Gillam administration and staff, the community of Gillam, the Student Experiences Office in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and lastly Andrea Di Ubaldo for working hard every week to edit and post the Gillam cohort blog. From myself and the rest of the Gillam student cohort, well done all of you and thank you.

~ Sarah Barton


The Adventures of the Gillam Cohort will continue in April when they depart for the next practicum experience! Stay tuned.

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