SCHOOL, WITH A DIF­FER­ENCE

New First Na­tions acad­emy of­fers mix of aca­demics, fitness, train­ing

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - KEVIN MITCHELL

Ken­dra Wee­nie didn’t have much while grow­ing up.

She did pos­sess tal­ent, but the pur­suit was dif­fi­cult. She knows all about bar­ri­ers and walls. And now that she’s a school teacher, with a brand new project in the works, she feels a great deal of hope.

“I grew up with a lot of eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tages,” says Wee­nie, a for­mer col­lege vol­ley­ball player who has been brought in to teach through a new pro­gram — geared to­ward First Na­tions fitness and well­ness — at Saska­toon’s E.D. Fee­han High School.

“I grew up on Sweet­grass First Na­tion; for about 10 years, our fam­ily didn’t have a ve­hi­cle, so I didn’t have ac­cess to af­ter-school pro­gram­ming or school ac­tiv­i­ties. To be able to give back to the pro­gram, pro­vide free op­por­tu­nity for these kids, pos­si­bly free trans­porta­tion ... it’s like a dream job.”

The miyo machi­howin Acad­emy kicks off this fall at E.D. Fee­han, open­ing its doors to a Grade 9 co­hort.

A large gift from an anony­mous donor pro­vided the needed cash to kick-start the $200,000 de­vel­op­ment fund, which is be­ing used to ren­o­vate the smaller gym at the school, to pur­chase equip­ment and to launch pro­gram­ming.

The idea is to mix aca­demics with fitness and train­ing.

Or­ga­niz­ers ex­pect a blend of stu­dents to come through the pro­gram, in­clud­ing both ca­sual and elite ath­letes, and kids who might use it as a spring­board to other things.

“Our big­gest com­po­nent here is the sport­ing pro­gram, but we want to find the gift in that child,” says Saska­toon Tribal Coun­cil Chief Mark Ar­cand, who worked on the acad­emy’s for­ma­tion with Greater Saska­toon Catholic Schools.

“If some­body doesn’t want to do sports, as long as they’re be­ing healthy (and) be­ing ac­tive, knock­ing down their di­a­betes, get­ting rid of the smok­ing habits, do­ing all that stuff ... (it’s) push­ing them for­ward into some­thing dif­fer­ent. If they don’t want to do sports, this school has ev­ery­thing in re­gards to band, dance, drama, fine arts, the shop, the wood­work­ing.

“Every­body has a gift, so we’re try­ing to keep peo­ple healthy, and get them to be com­fort­able with what they’re do­ing. And it also in­cludes their cul­ture. They’ll have it here — their Cree language, their iden­tity, their cer­e­monies. It’s a win-win for every­body.”

Ar­cand has talked of­ten in the past about bar­ri­ers — in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial and cul­tural — that keep many promis­ing First Na­tions youth at arm’s length from elitelevel ath­let­ics. That, he says, will be a com­po­nent of the new pro­gram.

Stu­dents who reg­is­ter for the acad­emy join a co­hort that takes classes to­gether for part of the day, and with the broader stu­dent pop­u­la­tion for the rest. Wee­nie will teach phys-ed, cul­tural arts and English, while in­cor­po­rat­ing First Na­tions cul­ture into her cour­ses.

“I lived through a lot of the same chal­lenges they’re go­ing through cur­rently,” she says of her fu­ture stu­dents. “On a per­sonal level, it’s still re­ally un­be­liev­able that I’m able to give back on such a large scale. But I have re­ally high hopes and goals for the stu­dents, and I hope that from this pro­gram, years down the road, we’ll have stu­dents com­pet­ing at the univer­sity level, in­ter­na­tional level, and even at the Olympics.”

Eu­gene Ar­cand, a mem­ber of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s Indian Res­i­den­tial School Sur­vivor Com­mit­tee, was on hand for the Wed­nes­day an­nounce­ment at E.D. Fee­han. Ar­cand is a long­time ad­vo­cate for In­dige­nous sports par­tic­i­pa­tion, and is a Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in­ductee.

“I hope for greater things for our young peo­ple,” Ar­cand said. “By plant­ing the seed ... I’m so en­vi­ous of Ken­dra. I wish what you’re go­ing to be do­ing, is what I had a chance to do — to build from the bot­tom up, to so­lid­ify our base.

“In­stead of build­ing more cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties for young of­fend­ers, we build fa­cil­i­ties like this; we en­hance fa­cil­i­ties like this. And we wel­come all peo­ple to fa­cil­i­ties like this, be­cause we’re not the only ones. There are new­com­ers right now that are lost out there. We have a lot in com­mon, in re­gards to try­ing to find our space, our space of com­fort.”

The smaller gym, once ren­o­vated, will be what or­ga­niz­ers call “a cut­ting-edge func­tional fitness space.”

They re­cently ran an af­ter­school pro­gram for 22 Grade 8 stu­dents, show­ing them what the acad­emy is all about. They’ll do more pro­gram­ming over the sum­mer for in­ter­ested youths, and they wel­come all in­com­ing Grade 9 stu­dents from ru­ral and First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties as well as from across the city.

They hope to even­tu­ally make the fitness cen­tre avail­able af­ter­hours. Mark Ar­cand says he has a vi­sion: First Na­tions kids train­ing at the fa­cil­ity year-round, ru­ral kids com­ing in on week­ends and ac­cess­ing what they need.

“Some­times, elite train­ing costs a lot of money for a stu­dent and for a fam­ily,” says Scott Gay, a su­per­in­ten­dent of ed­u­ca­tion for Greater Saska­toon Catholic Schools. “This takes that bar­rier out and opens it up to every­one.”

LIAM RICHARDS

Saska­toon Tribal Coun­cil Chief Mark Ar­cand and Diane Boyko, chair of Greater Saska­toon Catholic Schools board, tour gym con­struc­tion at E.D. Fee­han High School on Wed­nes­day with prin­ci­pal Bran­don Stroh. The school will house the First Na­tions Fitness and Well­ness Acad­emy.

LIAM RICHARDS

Eu­gene Ar­cand, a res­i­den­tial school sur­vivor, chats with teacher Ken­dra Wee­nie on Wed­nes­day while pre­view­ing the First Na­tions Fitness and Well­ness Acad­emy at E.D. Fee­han High School.

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