One student came up to me after the presentation and asked, “What skills do you think I should practice?” “Well, that’s up to you. What do you want to practice?” He then replied with his head down, “Well, I don’t think any of us here really have any skills.”

Surprised, I said, “That’s not true. You clearly do have skills. You understood my presentation, you thought it through, you came up with the question, and decided to approach me. There are multiple skills involved in that. You do have skills.” He then looked up at me, smiled, and said, “oh, I didn’t think I had any skills.” “Well, yes. You do.”

This was one of the most bittersweet moments for me on this tour.

Fort Liard in the Northwest Territories is a rural town of around 500 people, almost all Indigenous.

After my presentation, I met with some students for the workshop. I asked them, “What difference do you want to see the most in the community? What impact do you want to see the most in the community?”

And to my great surprise, the students said, “We want more classes.”

“What? Of all things, you want more classes?” “Yeah, all the grades 8-12 are in the same classroom with one teacher, except the e-learning. But our Internet is so bad and our laptops are so bad that we can’t stream the videos and sometimes we can’t even send emails with our assignments attached. We can’t really do anything after high school.” Another student said, “We also need better laptops. We have very old MacBooks, the thick ones with CD-Rom in it, and the batteries are all dead, so they need to be plugged in all the time and they’re very slow and crashes when we do e-learning classes.”

Another student said, “It would be really nice to have a gym teacher. School was so much fun when we had the gym teacher a few years ago.” Then a girl said, “No, we’re asking for too much here.” Asking for a gym teacher is asking for too much? Asking for the students to play sports is asking for too much? Asking for classes that will prepare them for the future is asking for too much?

I mean, where’s the line? What have we done that the students feel that asking for a gym teacher to play is too much?

I had to tell the students that asking for more classes, which means hiring more teachers, is not a likely change the students can make. They agreed. I asked them what they could possibly do directly. A grade 12 student said, “We could raise money to buy some laptops. We could also buy some sports gear. We don’t have a volleyball net, we don’t have any baseballs, bats, gloves, or anything.” We wrote out what they needed:

25 Chromebooks at $400 each
Total: $10,000

[Sports gear]
1-2 Volleyball nets at $250 each
3-5 Indoor soccer ball at $25 each
3-5 Basketball at $25 each
10-25 Baseball gloves at $30 each
10-25 Baseball bats at $125 each
10-25 Baseballs at $6 each
Total: $2,000 – $4,750

I held back my tears as they carefully discussed how many of each item they wanted. I had to encourage them to think of higher numbers than wanting two gloves to share among 40 students. For the entire community of Fort Liard youth to have enough to play, it would cost less than $5,000. I mean, anyone could go out and buy some of these things.

Why can’t we afford some baseballs and gloves and bats for children? In Canada of all places. Just because they’re in Fort Liard. How unfair is this?

As in other workshops, I asked them about impact. So, what if you have the laptops? So, what if you have more sports gears? What core impact do you want to have? They narrowed it down to:

Laptops: to achieve better education and learning by having an increased access to information and increased variety of online classes.

Sports gear: to increase the number of students playing, to have more activities, to improve health and safety, decrease bad habits like smoking, increase community involvement, and increase the chances for sports trips.

The students noticed that the sports gears would have an even higher return on investment considering the variety of its potential impact like reducing smoking. Students smoke because they have nothing better to do.

A student pointed out that the school division said that they’re spending $15,000 to put up 12 security cameras to decrease smoking. I was stunned. Who is even going to watch those 12 cameras when they’re so understaffed? So, what if they see students smoking on the camera? Run out and stop them? Punish them the next day? The students, teachers, and principal all agreed that this is a spending that will yield no results, but these budgetary decisions are made at the school division, probably by people who have never even been to Fort Liard.

I suggested that the students write to the school division and ask them to allocate half of the resources to purchasing sports gears, which will reduce smoking more effectively. They said that they would try that.

Unfortunately, none of that happened. Or we don’t know if they’re happening. The school is not responding to our calls, or emails, or voice messages. We can’t directly work with the students if the school doesn’t facilitate the process. We’re still contacting the school to see if we can reach the students.

I hope they decided to do it themselves. I hope they don’t think I made all these promises to help them and just disappeared, abandoning them like everyone else who visits them.

I hope they know we care. And that they’re part of a greater generation of empowered youth who are creating a better future for themselves, their community, their world.