Suzie Miller took a creative and bold step while the mood in Caledonia was tense in the summer of 2006.
A teacher at Emily C. General Elementary School in Six Nations, she came up with the idea of linking children through a pen pal program with Caledonia Centennial Public School students.
"My kids went to Centennial and I didn't like what was happening between the two communities," said Miller who is a resident of Caledonia and a citizen of Six Nations.
In Sept. 2006, her 24 Grade 4 students began to correspond with a class in the public school on the north side of Caledonia.
They wrote about their favourite television shows, vacations, games and lots of other things. Miller encouraged her students to ask five questions and answer questions posed to them.
"That's what it's all about -just being friends and relating on that human level," said Miller.
After a year of sharing letters, she and parents of her students drove to the Caledonia school in June 2007. "It was important we meet," she said.
Together the classes worked on a mural spread out in a hallway. Miller's students were so impressed with the tether balls in their new friends' playground.
In the 2007 and 2008 school year, the program ran again between the two schools. Miller was teaching a Grade 3 and 4 class and paired up with Anita Ricker's Grade 3 and 4 class at Centennial school.
"It was an opportunity for the kids to make new friendships..and hopefully do a little healing," said Ricker.
When the first batch of letters arrived, she read through them to match up her students with children who had similar interests.
Ricker's students loved writing back and forth even though this activity was also part of their elementary school curriculum. As such, she read over the letters that were filled with normal things in the lives of eight and nine-year-olds such as pets and what happened at Christmas.
"They did a lot of sharing of their culture with us. That was the positive thing -awareness and understanding," said Ricker.
Miller also thought this sharing was important. "I think the key is to understanding a little more about what we are about," she said.
In June, Caledonia students were bused free of charge to Emily C. General where again the classes worked together on a mural. They also crafted friendship bracelets for their pen pals. Traditional Six Nations food was served and together some students did the steps of a traditional friendship round dance.
At this event, a parent presented the Caledonia teachers with a package of 10 CDs of Iroquois social songs. Brant MPP Dave Levac provided each student with a certificate recognizing their participation in this initiative.
"It was supported by so many people," said Miller.
Without the support of principals at each school, this would not have happened, she noted.
After the visit, her students wrote to their pen pals telling them it was wonderful to get together. With the permission of parents, many put their home addresses on their letters. Miller encouraged them to keep on writing.
That's what Ricker wanted her students to do again in September when she hoped her class will once again have Six Nations pen pals.
Miller also felt the program made a difference within families. She believed that if any parent of a Caledonia pen pal heard a comment about Six Nations, they are going to remember the connection between the communities. That parent will have a positive picture in his or her mind, she added.
Bolstered by success, Miller planned to suggest the pen pal program to principals at Caledonia's River Heights Public School and Notre Dame Separate School, which backs on to the former Douglas Creek Estates construction site.