I had the pleasure of hearing David Bouchard speak last night at the Limestone Education Centre in Kingston. David is a highly sought-after Metis raconteur, author and literacy advocate, whom I had met several times in my role as an educator. I came across this event quite by accident while checking the school board’s website to download an application to rent a school facility for a fundraiser to support our Syrian refugee family. Serendipity!
David works a lot with aboriginal communities and, as it happens, our Shout Sister! Choir Director, Georgette Fry’s daughter teaches grade 8 in Waskaganish, a Cree community of 2000 at the mouth of the Rupert River on James Bay. Waskaganish suffers from the same problems as its neighbour, Attawapiskat. The students have low literacy rates, lack engagement and have nothing to do after school. Georgette had already planned to drive to Waskaganish in May to help her daughter set up a music program based on the Shout SIster! model – no music reading required, since the various parts are learned through audio tracks. When the members of the 21 Shout Sister! choirs heard about Georgette’s trip, they donated musical instruments, a computer, and speakers and funded the trip. Now the principal has given permission to set up a whole music program in the school, and Georgette’s son, a multi-talented musician, is on board to help. The hope is that this will eventually engage the whole community.
Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have David Bouchard visit Waskaganish too? By his own admission he is severely dyslexic and did not learn to read until age 27; yet he is now a renowned author named to the Order of Canada and a passionate literacy advocate. I took several of his books to the presentation last night and bought more, all of which he autographed to ‘the students of Waskaganish‘. I will add them to the Picture Book unit and book collection that I am sending with Georgette for her daughter to use with her class. The great thing about David’s books is that many are written in aboriginal languages as well as English, and aboriginal peoples see themselves in the story.
I never expected to be able to pitch the visit to Waskaganish to David personally, so I wrote a letter, explaining my proposal. Fortunately for me (but sadly for all those who missed his presentation), only seven people attended. Before he began, I was able to speak extensively about Waskaganish, and encourage him to visit the community. He told me to contact his agent. At the end, as a reminder, I also handed him the letter that I had written. He said he would love to visit Waskaganish, and funding is often available for such ventures for first nations.
Who knows what will come of this chance encounter? People tell me I’m a ‘connector‘; if I can succeed in connecting David, Georgette and Waskaganish, I’d be delighted. I guess we’ll all just have to ‘wait and see’.