I had a huge grin on my face when I drove to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (DFCHS) four days ago. My hands and feet felt tingly and my breathing was rapid. When I pulled up into the parking lot I got out of my rental car and stood still for a few seconds.
“Sigh. Wow. Here it is…Here it is,” I whispered.
After being fascinated for a while I took a picture of DFCHS…several actually…
Seeing this school in person was an exciting and surreal experience for me. Thankfully no one was there, except for my very patient aunt waiting in the car, or else that would have been really awkward. I could just imagine what someone might have been thinking if they saw me…Why is there a random Black woman taking a photo of the school?* On a Sunday? Perhaps you reading this are asking a similar question – What on earth is there to be excited about this high school? Or at this point you may be thinking that I am one strange individual…
I first became aware of DFCHS after watching two documentaries: Failing Canada’s First Nations Children, and The Fifth Estate- Indigenous Youth Deaths in Thunder Bay. DFCHS is a private high school for First Nations youth living in Thunder Bay and from northern fly-in communities in the Sioux Lookout Region. Unfortunately in Ontario (and if I am not mistaken, in other Canadian provinces/territories too) Indigenous children and youth experience extreme inequality when it comes to education. From my understanding a lot of northern Indigenous communities (i.e reserves) in Ontario do not have high schools. Therefore, if a grade 8 graduate wants to go to high school they must leave their loved ones to fly to the closest city with a high school and board with a family (majority of the time a non-Indigenous one)**. Those young individuals that make this decision experience culture shock, racism, and homesickness to name a few. Fortunately for them who attend DFCHS, they have a safe place that counteracts those negative experiences through the student-teacher interactions, curriculum delivery, and physical environment.
I really admire and commend the DFCHS staff and Northern Nishnawbe Education council for providing accessible education for their youth while instilling a strong sense of identity in them. This population of youth are somewhat forgotten and ignored in Canadian society. Also, it seems evident that the DFCHS staff go out of their way to protect the well-being of their students. Seeing this school in person was remarkable for me and hopefully there will be a next time where I can actually meet the principal who I saw in the two documentaries. His dedication and compassion makes him a very inspiring person – especially to those who want to be an ally! A well deserved round of applause for DFCHS!
Thank you for reading,
* Side note 1: I did not see one Black person in Thunder Bay when I visited this past weekend (LOL).
**Side note 2: very very similar situation/experience to the Residential School System!