Matthew, left, and Brent Bighetty of Brochet in northern Manitoba are shown in front of the Brochet Embassy on Angela Johnston’s farm in Port Williams, Kings County. The young Cree men came to Nova Scotia to mentor aboriginal students taking part in an exchange program that was cancelled because of lack of funding.(Paul Pickrem)
The Brochet Exchange has made it possible for 18 Cree young people to spend time during the summer at the Port Williams farm of Angela Johnston, who taught phys-ed in 2001 in the community of 700 near the Saskatchewan border.
In a recent interview in a small building on the farm that she calls the Brochet Embassy, she said although the exchange was able to get federal funding to hire four staff, including two Cree men, to organize the program for next year and to secure some private funding, there wasn’t enough cash to cover the costs of four participants this summer.
Ms. Johnston said Ottawa and the governments of Nova Scotia and Manitoba should fund the program directly.
"We can’t seem to tap into substantial government resources," she said. "Nobody in government is willing to take responsibility. The students who didn’t come this year have been waiting since Grade 4 for their chance to come here. The kids in Brochet deserve to have the tools to be successful and deserve to believe people in the rest of Canada care about them."
Ms. Johnston said that because there is no high school in Brochet, students have to "fly out" to live in communities to the south during the school year, adding the sense of dislocation is one of the reasons so few young people from Brochet graduate from high school.
"This program gives them the opportunity to gain experience and life skills they can only get outside the remote community," she said.
Matthew Bighetty, 20, a student at Brandon University, arrived in Nova Scotia in mid-May to be the summer co-ordinator for the program. When it was cancelled, he stayed on to do administrative work in preparation for next summer’s exchange.
In an interview he said he too wants to be a gym teacher in Brochet someday and he hoped the exchange program would give allow him to gain leadership skills that would "make me more confident when I’m talking to the kids in Brochet."
"Kids should travel more and have a more global perspective."
Ms. Johnston said the program plans to bring aboriginal students to the province to participate in the program next summer and would like to link other northern communities with those in the south. "This is a great way for us to work on healing our country through getting to know each other."