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Bartleman's efforts continue to benefit youth.

He's been a diplomat, an author and the 27th lieutenant governor of Ontario, but James Bartleman might just be remembered best as the person who created a wealth of opportunities for Aboriginal youth to learn and grow.

Although Bartleman's term as lieutenant governor comes to an end on Sept. 5, the work he's done to help bridge the gap between the Aboriginal population and education possibilities will continue long after he leaves.

Bartleman, a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, has opened a big window of opportunity for the youngest members of Ontario's First Nations. With the help of local Ontario chiefs and many other organizations, he was able to set in motion a number of education programs, camps and book drives that would help change the lives of many youth.

During his time as lieutenant governor, he paid numerous visits to the 49 First Nation communities within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory to evaluate and assess educational problems, and he was affected and disturbed when he would hear about the many young people in the communities who had committed suicide. Learning of these tragedies pushed Bartleman to fight even harder to accomplish what he had set out to do, which was to help make a difference in the lives of the youth.

"When I travelled into the NAN territory, communities in the north of the province, especially the fly-in communities, the conditions were really deplorable. Children have continued to kill themselves at really horribly levels. They lacked hope in many cases. They have a mold in them," said Bartleman. "That was one of the big motivators to press ahead. Many communities didn't even have the basic means for providing a good education, and that meant primarily that there were no books in the school library. And so how could you expect the children to do well? And so only a handful from those remote communities graduated from high school. It was just unacceptable."

Bartleman said the position of lieutenant governor came along at the right time in his life, when he'd just finished a distinguished career of more than 35 years in the Canadian Foreign Service.

"It was time to move on and now it's about time to move on again after five years on the job," he said.

"It was a complete shift of gears in a way because as a public servant one has to stay in the background and cast the light on the leader that you're working for. In my case I was Canada's ambassador for many years, providing advice, but always in the shadows. And then all of a sudden as lieutenant governor it was a public role. And I realized I had a great opportunity to promote social justice causes, which were very important to me.

Bardeman identified and broke down those social justice causes into three key priorities, and they defined his mandate as lieutenant governor-he wanted to eliminate the stigma of mental illness, fight racism and discrimination, and promote and encourage literacy and education amongst Aboriginal youth in Ontario.

"I think a lot was accomplished, specifically about Aboriginal children as opposed to the other two objectives," said Bartleman.

He developed a very close relationship with Angus Toulouse, Assembly of First Nations regional chief of Ontario, and Stan Beardy the NAN grand chief. With these partnerships in place, Bartleman was able to establish stronger ties with community members as he began visiting Aboriginal communities in 2002.

"I took Stan, 50 to 60 times at least, on trips into his own area on the Ontario government plane, so we could travel as a team to encourage young people," said Bartleman. "We went to suicide conferences and embrace life conferences to try and help. We would go in to try to comfort the relatives after major suicides and deaths. I was very affected by the suicides. "

He said he was able to go into places that most people never get a chance to go into because of the high cost of flying in commercially. With a "goal to sensitize and inform the population about the true state of circumstances in the (First Nation) communities," Bartleman invited national media outlets into some of the communities on a couple of occasions.

He remembers going into Kashechewan for the first time.

"A young girl was being flown out for an autopsy. She overdosed deliberately on Tylenol 3s," he said.

"I was very much affected by the suicides. Going into Mishkeegogamang First Nation for the first time, the chief was pointing out to me all the graves of kids who had killed themselves.

I wasn't going to just ring my hands, so I got together with Stan Beardy, the OPP and the military and others, because I had no budget for this. I began to just collect books and I used the media as a means of getting the message out," James Bartleman said.

The message was certainly delivered loud and clear in 2004, when Bartleman launched the first Lieutenant Governor's Book Drive and received a resounding response. During two book drives, he was able to collect 2.1 million books. The books were sorted down to 1.2 million good condition books and were then delivered to First Nations schools and friendship centres by many volunteers including the Ontario Provincial Police, the department of National Defence, the Canadian Rangers, NAN, the South Asian professional association Eiproc, Wasaya Airways, corporate donors and trucking companies.

"What really did a fantastic job in helping was Wasaya airlines. If they would've charged commercial rate, it would've cost over half a million dollars, so they did fantastic work in flying books into remote communities. The military even parachuted books into Fort Severn and Sandy Lake."

The lieutenant governor's book program ended on a high note, sending shipments of books to northern Ontario, Nunavut and Quebec.

"I have now established well-stocked libraries throughout the NAN territory," said Bartleman. "We've put in $20 to $30 million worth of books into the communities at no cost to the taxpayer."

To continue with one of his major priorities-encouraging literacy in Aboriginal communities-Bartleman launched a twinning program for Native and non-Native schools in Ontario and Nunavut. He also created literacy summer camps in five northern First Nations as a pilot. With great success, the literacy summer camps were extended to 28 fly-in communities and the project secured funding for five years. A reading club for Ontario's Aboriginal children is another successful initiative Bartleman created in an effort to bridge the education gap.

"It's a reading club of 5,000 children. We have 28 communities at the moment receiving books. Starting in September, we'll raise that to all of the band schools, rather than the schools that are funded by the province because they're able to afford books. All of the children in the NAN territory from Kindergarten to Grade 6 are either members of the club or they'll be full members in September."

Bartleman said that, as his term as lieutenant governor drew to a close, he was asked by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty what he would like as a legacy gift from the province. Bartleman asked that the province establish creative writing awards for Aboriginal youth, and McGuinty obliged.

The James Bartleman Awards for Aboriginal Youth Creative Writing will recognize short story and poetry writing by Aboriginal youth. The awards, worth $2,500, each will be handed out annually.

"I wanted this to be a good chunk of money so that the kids can be encouraged to do this," said Bartleman.

The outgoing lieutenant governor has received a number of awards and accolades throughout his distinguished career, but one of the honours he is most proud of is one he received just recently, during a ceremony in his community of Mnjikaning First Nation held in late August.

"I was presented with an eagle feather, which is the highest award to be given, I was very proud to receive it," said Bartleman.

Bartleman said he looks forward to seeing the initiatives he began as lieutenant governor continuing on. The incoming lieutenant governor, David Onley, has already indicated he wants to keep the programs running, and Bartleman has offered to help in any way he can.

By Laura Suthers

Windspeaker Staff Writer

COPYRIGHT 2007 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:education
Author:Suthers, Laura
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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