Training held to bring youth program here

Peggy Revell

Teaching youth about self-esteem and self-respect is the goal as 21 police officers and other community members gather this week for training to run the OPP’s “Walking the Path” education curriculum.
“We find that once [the program] comes into an area, people just snowball—they want it everywhere because it’s so much fun,” said Cpl. Carol Clarke, an RCMP officer currently working with the OPP’s Aboriginal Policing Bureau, who is running the training alongside Jackie Le Sarge at the Couchiching multi-use facility.
“The kids love it, the community loves it, the schools love it, and it’s self-empowering for these kids to learn about their [aboriginal] culture,” Clarke added.
The week-long training will teach its 21 participants—including the OPP, Treaty #3 Police, Lac Seul Police, and community members—how to run the program.
It is being brought to the area thanks to a partnership between the OPP, Rainy River District School Board, and Couchiching First Nation.
“Walking the Path” focuses on teaching students about the history, beliefs, and cultural traditions of aboriginal peoples, using Anishinabe cultural teachings as the foundation, Clarke noted.
Running over a 10-week period, the program has 10 modules that usually take about an hour each, which can be taken into schools or to other community youth groups.
“It’s wonderful because it’s about learning the culture, learning about self-esteem,” Clarke explained.
“It’s about to help build their awareness of who they are.”
By doing this, Clarke said youth are better prepared to cope with negative influences or peer pressure, respect others, and respect the laws of their community.
The various modules tackle topics such as racism, stereotypes, self-esteem, and youth empowerment. There’s also community service projects, and the program ends with a feast.
Clarke said the program also is good for non-aboriginal students since­, for example, they can learn about their fellow students and aboriginal concepts such as the circle.
“And they learn so much about themselves, too,” she added.
“Because some of these modules, it’s going home and talking to their parents, telling their parents that they love them, telling a sibling that they love them—and maybe that’s not happening at home.”
For example, one of the modules includes each student creating a plaster mask of their face, which they then decorate on both sides.
The outside of the mask they decorate to show what they think other people see them as; the inside they decorate as who they see themselves as.
Other parts of the program include holding healing circles where kids can talk.
“You’d be amazed at what those kids can come up with,” said Clarke.
“It’s wonderful,” she added. “It’s being able to let kids talk, and to be not afraid of saying things, and that’s real important.”
“Walking the Path” was first started by Sgt. George Couchie and Nancy Allaire out of Nipissing First Nation.
Since then, the OPP has gone on to develop other programs, such as “Niigan Mosewak” and “North of 50,” Clarke noted.
“I think it’s wonderful as a policing program,” she said. “It connects the kids to good role models, and it connects the school to the policing.
“And we make partners, and we can help each other out.
“Sometimes in some areas, police are so busy they can’t do this,” Clarke admitted. “So when we find a program that works, we find that even police officers will take an hour off just to do this, because it is so good.
“It’s good for them, and it’s good for the community.”
As part of the program, they’ve also been collecting feedback from past students who were the first to participate in the program when it began more than 10 years ago.
And for its positive effect, Clarke pointed to an e-mail they received from one past participant in the program who is now 18.
“He said if he hadn’t had this, he wouldn’t know who he’d be,” she recounted.
“He felt that alcohol was the only way he could have fun, and this absolutely changed his life, so that’s amazing.
“Now he’s one of the role models, he sits at the big drum—he’s learning his language, he’s going to university.
“He might not of taken that road without going through this program,” Clarke noted. “So we’re so proud of our young mentors and how far they’ve gone through this program.”
Clarke said the goal currently is to see the “Walking the Path” program go province-wide.
“Right now we’ve just started into the Peterborough area,” she noted.
“We’ve had it in east region, we’ve had it in central region, so we’d like to really expand this across the province because it is so good.”