Students promote message of kindness in Kanesatake

Pink Shirt Day is a chance to take a stand against bullying. And although it’s still a month away, the event is already sparking vital discussions in Kanesatake – all thanks to Ratihén:te High School students who turned a class project into a prom fundraiser that sold out in no time.

“I kind of want to say that it’s a surprise, but at the end of the day, I know that our community, if it’s a good cause, we’ll support one another,” said secondary five student Teioswa:the Beauvais-Desroches.

The fundraiser has its roots in teacher Christine Lefebvre’s secondary four and five media classes. “I had a grant at the beginning of the year towards something, and we decided it would be fun for the students to make their own t-shirts,” she said.

Not only did the students produce the apparel, but they also designed their own logos, which were put to a vote in the school. The winning design says “Kanesatake: Stronger together. Be kind,” and it is adorned by a turtle, wolf, and bear, representing different clans.

The exercise prompted meaningful conversations among students in class about the significance of the day, challenging them to distill its meaning well in advance of the occasion.

“It was the importance of being stronger together, being kind to everyone,” said Lefebvre. “We’re such a small school. We’re like a family here. It’s acknowledging everyone’s differences and making them one.”

The secondary four students were tasked with making the t-shirts for fellow students, while secondary five students made graduation sweatshirts. When there were materials for 23 t-shirts left over, Lefebvre pitched the idea of the secondary five students taking the baton and making shirts for the community as a graduation fundraiser.

“It’s a lot of effort. You have to weed them, you have to press them. They’re making them all. It’s a little factory,” said Lefebvre. The small, graduation-enthused group – already well on its way to producing an impressive yearbook – is happy to do it.

“At first it was a little bit complicated, but once we got the hang of the machines and the press, it went by pretty fast,” said Beauvais-Desroches.

“It’s nice for everyone to come together and agree on one thing, and we’re doing it as a whole. It’s not individual work,” she said.

The message of Pink Shirt Day resonates with the secondary five student, who spent some of her elementary school years at a school in the West Island. She recalls the difficulty of transferring to a community school, where at first she felt disconnected from some of her peers.

“If someone’s new or they come to the school, just try to be inclusive and be kind to them,” said Beauvais-Desroches. “I know it was hard for me when I came here because a lot of people didn't know me and they didn’t grow up with me.”

The message resonated with the community as well. Kanehsata’kehró:non snapped up the t-shirts nearly as soon as they were made available, raising about $500.

“We are stronger together and we need to be kind. How amazing is this message, and more importantly, how amazing to read it from our students?” said Myrna Gabriel, who purchased a t-shirt.

“The message of the shirts is strong, and I wanted to buy one for each chief in Council but had to rethink my spending priorities.”

Gabriel believes the community has a responsibility to model the behaviour that will make for a happier future for Kanesatake youth.

“There needs to be a huge manifestation of staying strong and being kind. Kids see what's around them,” she said. “If they're surrounded by a strong and united community with lateral kindness instead of lateral violence, they would thrive.”

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door