A Day at the Kahnawake Survival School

By Liam McHugh-Russell (2009-10 Sauvé Scholar)

Each year, in addition to their individual projects, the Sauvé Scholars work together on one or more community-focused collective projects. One of those projects this year was the continuation of a relationship between the Kahnawake community and the Scholars program. The culmination of that collaboration was a series of workshops presented to students – and teachers – at the Kahnawake Survival School (KSS). The Scholars were able to give workshops to six groups of 30-50 students drawn from across the KSS middle school and high school classes. 

Shauntay Grant provided a hands-on workshop encouraging students to draw on their creativity to express themselves as poets and songwriters. Combining a presentation of her own work with a chance for students to personally engagement of the creative process, Shauntay’s presentation emerged quickly as a clear favourite of students and teachers alike.

Amnon Shefler, Eloge Butera and Mirwais Nahzat worked together to present a peace-building workshop which aimed to create strategies for students to overcome conflicts. The three Scholars used a recounting of their own experiences of conflict to inspire students to think about their power to act to overcome community problems. 

Drawing from his own experience in philanthropy, James Townsend delivered an exciting, hands-on session on how resources can be pooled and applied thoughtfully to overcome problems. Starting off with a investigation of everyday problems faced by the community at Kahnawake, the workshop completed with an opportunity for students to reflect on the individual contributions they could make to help overcome these problems. Philanthropy isn’t just about money, it’s about giving to the community!

Janet Jobson introduced students to the basics of structured argument, critical thinking and formal debating. The workshop delved into the process of debate and logical argumentation as a mechanism to engage in critical questions within one’s own life, community, and the broader world context. Students practiced the developing arguments in response to questions around issues ranging from whether TV causes more harm than good, whether prisoners should have the right to vote, and whether junk food should be banned in schools. 

Sara Gonzalez Devant, Megan Carroll and Liam McHugh-Russell introduced the gruesome details of a real-to-life (and scandalous) murder trial to students. That controversial situation acted as a launching point for students to think critically toward their own interpretations of the law. The result was an engagement with questions of the relationship between legal decision-makers and democratic society, ethics and justice, and the foundation of law in social values and critical thought.

Keith Stanski lent a generous hand of help to many of the workshop sessions throughout the day. He also ensured that a record of the day would remain, bringing his photographers eye to the day’s preparation, downtimes, windup – and of course, the workshops themselves.

Students at KSS had a wonderful time – and many admitted they also learned something. So did the Scholars. While they enjoyed contributing a little bit of their life skills and perspectives to their “neighbours” at Kahnawake, the highlight of our day was speaking informally with students and teachers, learning about the experiences of students, kicking back at lunch with a massive session of skip-rope, and picking up a few words and phrases of Mohawk.