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Oskayak project promotes student success.

Several entertainers took the stage on April 20 at the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon to help raise funds for a group of Oskayak students who will travel to New Zealand in July. Performers for the night included Mykal Gamble, Eekwol, and the comedic trio, the Bionic Bannock Boys.

The Aboriginal gala was only a part of a bigger project that has the 19 grade 12 students fundraising and planning for the trip, operating cameras to shoot their own documentary, and getting filmmakers to follow their excursions for a larger documentary that will air on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).

"They're making their own documentary and we're helping them," said Producer Doug Cuthand of Blue Hills Productions. "So our final product will include some of their footage and will be a collaborative effort," he added.

The Oskayak High School contacted Cuthand in the Fall of 2010 to ask if he would help them with a documentary that chronicled their efforts and they started shooting in Dec.

"At the time I was thinking of a plain ordinary one-hour documentary. But the more I got into it the more I thought of it as a better fit for a series, almost like a reality show," he said. "So we pitched the idea to APTN and they went for it."

He plans to eventually roll all six episodes together into a two-hour feature documentary.

Cuthand's film crew has been following students to classes and to their homes, doing so to get a picture of the students and their lives.

"They're ordinary high school students, a lot of them are parents," Cuthand said. "They're not rich kids ... They've mainly been in Saskatoon or their home reserve. And they haven't travelled very much."

The group of students and film crew will travel by plane to Auckland, New Zealand where students will meet people from the Maori tribe. Cuthand said the Maori and First Nations face similar challenges as Indigenous people in colonized countries.

"They (Maori) have poverty, they had boarding schools that messed them up, they got government on their back like we do," he said. "So they got the same sort of circumstances, so I think the students will find it very interesting."

Oskayak teacher and expert-in-residence, Jessica Blacklock, said students have been learning to use new technology that was just introduced into the classroom such as updated laptops, video and photo cameras and computer software. Their documentary is meant to highlight the uniqueness of the school with students in charge of everything from scripting, filming and editing.




Fundraising has been going good, said Blacklock, with students working hard to raise the $70,000 needed for the trip.

"They've done smaller scale things like bake sales, they ran the canteen at the last rounddance and all of the funds came back to this pot," Blacklock said. "The students have been amazing and real hard workers."

She said a 'sponsor-the-student' fundraising effort has asked First Nations bands and others such as family members to sponsor students through donations.

"And that's all money that's going towards when they're in New Zealand, to travel," Blacklock added.

She encouraged anyone who has questions to drop by the school, adding that Oskayak is a really great place to come for an education.

Grade 12 student Ashley Howe was filming the Aboriginal gala with a large camera propped up on a tripod in front of the stage.

"There's a lot that goes into it so we kind of get to see (it) all," Howe said. "And it's nice to see all the people who came to support it and all the performers"

She said helping out with a lot of the fundraising has also been a lot of fun.

"One of the funnest things was doing the round dance," she said. "We had to help out with the concession and serving people at the lunch break and it was good."

As well, being filmed each day took some getting used to, she said.

"When we first had the camera crew come in everyone was just like really still and sitting there and bored. Because we were kind of shy," she added, but then they got used to it after awhile.

As for the trip to New Zealand, she is excited about the opportunity and learning experience.

"It gives us a chance to learn a different culture and to connect with other Indigenous people," Howe said. "It's like a big opportunity to go out and see the world."

Another grade 12 student, Deanna Martell, said she's excited about the trip and wants to learn more about the Maori culture after being exposed to some of it in the classroom.

"I can't wait," she said. "I want to learn about some of their language and traditional ways. They speak like us but really fast."

Martell also mentioned the excitement of having a film crew following students around and taping them in the classroom, their homes and during fundraising activities.

"They follow us around just in our normal lives," she said. "They're doing a couple of other people first and if we want them to come to our house than we have to let them know."

The initiative's aim is to demonstrate the quality education Oskayak has to offer to First Nations students as the school has struggled to successfully graduate students in the last few years. Many students are young single mothers and fathers or youth who often travel to their reserves to maintain strong connections to family and culture.

The plan is to engage students by involving them in their work, help them to persist despite challenges and obstacles, and to find the rewards in accomplishing their goals.

Those wanting to make donations or find out more can phone (306)659-7003 or email
COPYRIGHT 2011 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:SASKATOON
Author:Fiddler, Christine
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Geographic Code:1CSAS
Date:May 1, 2011
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