Posted By CATHY PELLETIER , CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER SIX NATIONS
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Up until last week, they only knew each other on paper. In the spirit of friendship, about 600 pen pals - including Mr. Shirton's Grade 2/3 class from Dunnville Central -descended on the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena last Thursday to meet their friends in the flesh.
"I started the pen pals program in 2006 with two classes," said organizer/ teacher Suzie Miller, "and today we have 26 classes." A series of cheers erupted in the arena as she called out each school by name, with students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 7 participating in the fourth annual event that was designed to establish friendships and cultural understanding among youth.
Two students read the opening prayer, first in the Cayuga language and then in English, before Sarah Stacey from Caledonia Centennial School shared a poem, entitled, 'Being a Butterfly.'
"This is my second year in the pen pal program," she said, "and I'm very excited to be here."
Miller welcomed representatives from various levels of government, including Six Nations Band Council, the Confederacy, Haldimand County, the Ministry of Provincial Affairs, and police, and thanked event sponsors, including Dave Levac, MP from Brant, who gave each student a certificate of friendship.
She made reference to the children's colourful artwork, posted along the arena boards.
"The artwork is a message to share and we want to change the messages coming from our communities," she said, "and change the pictures in people's minds. I encourage you to draw a visual piece, write a poem, or share a story about us as peace-loving people."
Sub Chief Leroy Hill explained the symbolism behind the white and purple T-shirts every student was wearing, donated especially for the occasion by OPG.
"On your shirts, you see two figures, which represent the native people and the visitors," said Hill. "Our ancestors tied the visitors' ships to the shore with a rope and they studied them and realized that though there were differences, they were good people. The first ones were wearing wooden shoes," he they were Dutch. In order to be at peace, we need to be friends and respect our different languages and beliefs and ways of doing things that were established over 400 years ago. There is nobody higher than each other. We are all equals and we assist one another in peace and friendship."
Hill explained why early summer is chosen for the annual pen pal gathering. "This is the time of year we're supposed to think of this mutual peace and respect and friendship that grow, just like the grass," he said.
Craig Wardrop, Plant Manager from the Nanticoke Generating Station, also addressed the students. "Today is about making new friends and building on the letters you've been exchanging over the last months by spending the day together," he said. "The T-shirts you have on are to show our support for the event and we want you to build friendships and learn more about each other and maybe in the future, you'll be able to support a boy or girl meeting their pen pal."
A group of dancers followed an introduction by Hubert Buck. "In the last 50 or 60 years, these new smoke dances came about," he told the students. "When I was a kid, there was only one smoke dance. Now, we have lots of new categories to show off our dancing skills at the powwows."
After the smoke dance, students were treated to a lacrosse demonstration by members of the World Men's Lacrosse team.
"We have played since we were kids and used lacrosse as a tool to get a better education," said Dobie Powless Jr. "Lacrosse is a big component of our culture and heritage and lifestyle in Six Nations. It's very meaningful to the players and our friends and family. This is the home of the Six Nations Junior Lacrosse team," he added, referring to the host building, "and the Six Nations Chiefs, which is a senior men's team we play for as well. This building is rare and unique because it's the only one in Canada dedicated solely to lacrosse. Most are (also used) for hockey in the winter. That emphasizes the focus we have on the sport and what it means to us as a community."
Later, pen pals made the rounds to different stations set up inside the arena, including a lacrosse area, where nets and sticks were supplied for practicing drills.
At another station, native dancing was taught to the beat of a homemade drum and rattle, with music provided by native singers. Boys were instructed to shuffle forward while girls shuffled backwards in groups.
Students strung beads together and gave each other keepsakes, featuring words like "Peace," "Friendship" and "Love" etched in stone.
Upstairs, students received an explanation of various wampum belts and shared a meal of corn soup, Three Sisters Soup, scones, Indian cookies and strawberry juice. Made from corn, green beans and squash, Three Sisters Soup also contains potatoes, lean pork, meat and broth. In native lore, strawberry juice is considered "a sweet-tasting gift from the Creator," and also has medicinal properties.
As she did last year, the Juno award-winning singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark made an appearance and everyone joined in making a human friendship belt outside. According to Miller, "The friendship belt has a really deep meaning."
The pen pal program's expansion from 200 students last year to 600 this year was part of a natural progression, she said. "Lots of schools from Six Nations said they wanted to participate, so I exhausted the Cayuga and Caledonia area. It was teachers knowing teachers. It's pretty amazing how our committee worked together. This is all pretty cool. You just can't help but want to be a part of it. Next year, I can't imagine how many schools there will be."
We can learn from story of The Three Sisters
By Joan Miller, On the Senior Scene
Opinions & Letters In The Sachem
June 22, 2010
Folk lore tells the story of the Three Sisters related to the Creation Story. Long ago, there was once a family, a mother, a father and their three daughters. The family was average and quite normal, except for one flaw.
The daughters would always fight and argue. They would fight and argue about anything. They would argue about their appearance, their chores, what they are, where they went... everything was a topic for an argument. The parents were frustrated because work wasn’t getting done in the fields and that could mean that there would be no crops to harvest in the fall.
The eldest daughter was the tallest with long, smooth hair and long legs and had what could be described as long, slim arms.
The second daughter was of average height, very pretty, very agile and she enjoyed baking and cooking.
The third was stocky, muscular and athletic and although she argued, she was very protective of her family.
Now it was getting harder for the parents to get their daughters to work without fighting.
When it came to pass that the parents had to leave for a couple days and they knew they would be too busy afterward to continue working on the crops, so they had to rely on the daughters to get the work done or they would suffer in the winter months.
The daughters said they would work, but of course they didn’t. They argued and fought so much that no work got done.
It was on the day their parents were due home that the girls actually made it out to the field but still they argued and fought and probably created more damage than the weeds did.
It was then and there that the three sisters were mysteriously transformed into three plants: corn, beans and squash, and that is what the father and mother found in their fields planted in mounds together.
To this day in gardens these plants are planted together: the corn with fine silk hair and long stalks offer a support for the vines of the beans to grasp and climb. The beans in return provide nitrogen to the soil and below them runs the broad leafs of the squash plant providing protective shade so the moisture remains in the soil.
The plants grow together, helping each other, and when harvested, they provide the essential nutrients and vitamins to sustain life. That is the lesson of the three sisters that we must all work together.
A large group of volunteers and teachers worked together to bring 13 classes of school children from schools across the Town of Haldimand and the Six Nations last Thursday to celebrate the fourth annual Pen Pal Friendship Day.
Under the leadership of teacher Suzie Miller, who lives in Caledonia and teaches at the Emily C. General School on the reserve, the gathering was held at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena.
The children were given white T shirts with a friendship bracelet on the front and the teachers, volunteers and friends received a purple one.
After the opening ceremony, the children moved from play station to play station learning to play lacrosse, making beaded bracelets, dancing and other activities that were set up on the arena floor.
Lunch in the cafeteria was served in shifts as the children moved happily through the day. We ate corn soup and scones and cookies along with strawberry juice. The wild strawberries grow throughout the Six Nations and is a traditionally sweet tasting gift from the Creator for its medicinal properties.
What an awesome day! The thrill of seeing all of these children coming together to spend time with each other, getting to know one another after writing to each other during the school year as pen pals!
Susan Aglukark the famous, well-known singer from Inavut sang at the closing ceremonies. Her songs have a universal message of self respect and strength to which she hopes that people from all cultural backgrounds can relate.
The children and teachers then orderly filed outside where on the pavement at the back of the parking lot where there were spaces makred out with chalk. Each of us stood on a square marked with our colour T shirt. We then had our picture taken with a blimp camera high up in the air.
I looked up and could see this line trailing on the blimp and was informed by the woman standing next to me that it was hitched to a lap top computer where a man on the ground was making adjustments for the picture. When we were given the signal we bent over with our hands on our knees and the picture was taken of a human friendship bracelet. Talk about modern technology!
As I said it was an awesome day and a day I won’t forget for awhile. Yes this is what can be accomplished by working together.
Pen pals build friendships across cultures
By Tamara Botting
Jun 23, 2010
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Nearly 600 students from ten different schools came together in the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena on June 17 to celebrate the friendships that have been forged between Haldimand County and Six Nations students for the past four years.
Suzie Miller, a Band Member of Six Nations and a Grade 3/4 teacher, was “Concerned about what the children were learning and what they were seeing... in 2006 when our communities were in conflict.”
Miller had talked with her class about what was happening, and had asked them questions about it.
“I had asked them who had heard negative things about non-Native people, about people from Caledonia. I asked them, ‘Do you think those children (from Caledonia) are bad?’ and they said no. Children hear things, but they can’t get their heads around those ideas. They’re naturally loving,” said Miller.
In an effort to help the children from the different communities learn about each other and to build friendships across cultures, Miller began a pen pal program between students from Haldimand County schools and Six Nations schools.
“The children share pictures and letters. They have three exchanges through the year,” said Miller. “We’ve actually had to turn some classes away.”
At the end of the school year, the classes involved come together, and the pen pals have a chance to meet face-to-face.
“We take turns between the two communities hosting the gathering,” said Miller.
Throughout the gathering day, the students rotated through stations where they made bracelets, learned how to play lacrosse, learned social dances, shared a meal and more.
“We’re taking this opportunity to share information about our community,” said Miller, adding, “I never imagined it would grow like this. I just wanted the students to have pen pals.”
Genevieve Kubisch’s son, Jakob, is in Grade 1 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Elementary School and was pen pals with Kahner Sowden.
“He was pretty excited to get here, and to meet his pen pal,”?she said. “I think this is a great idea.”
Brooke Vokes, a Kindergarten teacher at Oliver M. Smith School in Ohsweken, said, “My class was always very excited when they would get the letters; they looked forward to writing them, too. They’ve been looking forward to this day since the beginning of the school year.”
Kahner felt that the best part of having a pen pal was ‘Writing pictures for them and getting pictures.”
Jakob thought the best part was “Getting to see them and meet them and tell them what’s going to happen next year,” in school, as he is a grade ahead of his pen pal.
Staff Sergeant Phil Carter of the Haldimand County OPP detachment and Glenn M. Lickers, Chief of Police for Six Nations, were both at the event.
Both men applauded the event; Carter said it “builds the foundation of friendship, trust and respect, which are all part of the policing philosophy.”
“It’s bringing the communities together... bridging the culture gaps,” Lickers said. “These kids are the future leaders in their community and in our community. This helps them better understand each other’s cultures.”