Manitoulin Secondary School takes physical education outside for Indigenous games day

Teacher Frank Gurney heartily cheers on the students as they fight to shove each other in the pole push challenge. This was just one of many games available at the Manitoulin Secondary School Indigenous games day.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) recently hosted an inaugural Indigenous games event which invited all physical education students at the high school to take part in a day of outdoor sporting events and indoor workshops connected to traditional cultures at Aundeck Omni Kaning’s Four Directions Complex as part of a grant from the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB).

“We wanted to put this on to get the kids outside and exposed to the cultures on the Island. I did the Indigenous games training through Kenjgewin Teg last year and I’m happy to pass on what I learned. We’re hoping to do this annually,” said Jordan Smith, one of the organizing teachers.

MSS has been undergoing extensive renovations as of late to modernize the school as it celebrates its 50th anniversary year. Because of the disruptions RDSB offered some funding to the school to foster outdoor education offerings for its students.

“Since the kids can’t use the gym, and it’s not their fault, why not provide them with some dollars to facilitate an event for themselves? We thought it was imperative that if we’re going to take away an opportunity, we’re going to provide an opportunity as well,” said RDSB director of education Norm Blaseg.

The students had an offer to travel to Sudbury to enjoy the new bubble dome, opened on February 14, a structure that would provide a new experience for many students within the board. Although MSS decided to stay local this time, Mr. Blaseg said the offer is certainly on the table for future use.

The many activities at the one-day event included a land-based teaching and snowshoe exercise with Noojmowin Teg healthy living children’s co-ordinator Nelson Wood, ice hockey, stickball, pole push, skating, beading, dreamcatcher making, medicine pouch creation and hide skinning and stretching with Noojmowin Teg facilitators Kristin Bickell and Courtney Kurek. 

Older members of the MSS Three Fires Confederacy group Thomas Trudeau, Rebecka Abotossaway Madahbee and Justin Francis provided support and expertise for their teachings.

One of the organizing teachers, Frank Gurney, said the school’s administration was key to getting this event off the ground.

“I appreciate the support of our principal, Jamie Mohamed, and we hope to turn this into an annual event,” said Mr. Gurney.

A similar event to this took place in the same location almost exactly 11 months prior, when elementary schools from Manitoulin and the North Shore (as well as a small coalition team from MSS and Kenjgewin Teg) met for a day of traditional Indigenous games. The winners of that event took home hand-welded trophies made by a Kenjgewin Teg class but this MSS event was purely for fun.

Mr. Blaseg noted that the Indigenous focus of this event aligns with RDSB’s commitment to action plan, a document prepared in consultation with elders that was launched at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

“Any time we can facilitate some cultural understanding and new experiences, we’re very open to it,” he said. “We should be championing it because it brings our community together.”

Every student currently enrolled in one of the five physical education classes at MSS took part in this event, including Peter Tallman’s outdoor education class. The students spanned from Grades 9 to 12.

“This year went real smooth and the students seemed to enjoy it. I think we might look at the option of opening it up to more students next year; I don’t see why it couldn’t be an all-school competition,” said Mr. Smith.

His visions extend beyond the walls of MSS.

“When I did the Indigenous Games training at Kenj, I did it with Lakeview School teachers as well, so maybe there’s opportunities to get the Grades 7s and 8s involved and help us to better understand each others’ cultures,” said Mr. Smith.

He made sure to extend his gratitude for the support that helped to make the event possible.

“Thank you to Mr. Mohamed for allowing us to do this and for the RDSB for providing us with the opportunity to get outside a bit and gather knowledge of the cultures on Manitoulin Island,” said Mr. Smith.