Students at Wandering Spirit School in Toronto’s east end are learning Ojibwe.
“It helped me to connect to who I am and my culture,” said Grade 3 student Jovani Sherwood.
Jovani’s schoolmates feel the same.
“I think it’s fun and it’s think it’s easier for me to do than French,” said Grade 6 student Kasmina Providence.
In addition to Ojibwe, students are learning yoga at the same time.
Amy White is their teacher. She learned the language to honour her late grandmother - Eliza White - a survivor of the residential school system.
The teacher decided to learn Ojibwe after high-school to fill the missing piece of her identity and to continue her grandmothers legacy.
The emotional damage her Eliza White experienced was long-term.
“I would always hug her and it wasn’t until she was 80, maybe 81, where she hugged me back once and I said ‘I love you, Grandma’ and she said ‘I do love you too.’ That was a big moment because she’s said it once,” White said.
Stemming back to late 1800s, thousands of Indigenous children were sent to boarding schools; neglected, abused and stripped of their culture.
“I’ve really only heard her speak the language once,” she said.
The inter-generational trauma runs deep, which is why White wanted to turn the hurt into healing.
Through a bursary provided by a restitution fund, she launched an Ojibwe-themed yoga class.
“Whenever I feel street I do it,” said Sherwood.
Parents with Indigenous backgrounds feel encouraged by the program.
“It’ll mold who she is as a young woman and be more in tune with herself and where she’s from,” said Fatima Laporte, Kasmina’s mother.