After struggling in a provincial high school last year, Neskantaga’s Clyde Moonias found a new path to success at Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School, where he graduated on May 13 along with 22 other students.
“After my brother’s death, I went towards alcohol as an antidepressant,” Moonias said. “What I did was wrong. As I went more towards alcohol, I (lost) focus on my family and friends. But now I live a clean, sober life, a traditional healthy lifestyle. I am proud to say I am a high school graduate, I’m proud to say that I dance and I drum traditionally.”
Moonias lost his brother, Randy Moonias, in July 2012.
“It was very hard for him to get things back on track,” said William Moonias, Clyde’s father. “I thank DFC for letting him come to school.”
William said it was “great” to see his son graduate.
“It’s been a struggle,” William said. “He came into the city about six to seven years ago and I’m glad to see him complete his Grade 12.”
Sarah Moonias, Clyde’s mother, was proud to see his graduation ceremony.
“It really touches me to see him graduating, especially as he is my youngest son,” Sarah said.
“I have a lot of pride and I wanted to cry. It was awesome to see him graduate.”
Sarah noted that Clyde has already enrolled himself at Lakehead University.
“He’s smart, he does his own stuff,” Sarah said. “I’m just here to support him.”
Clyde first considered a program at Confederation College, but then realized he should continue his studies at Lakehead University.
“I’m going to be studying the Native Access Program and hopefully move forward to Indigenous Learning,” Clyde said.
Clyde credited the “fun activities” at DFC for helping to keep him on track.
“DFC is a special school,” Clyde said. “It’s like a community here, a community of friends and family. There’s only 150 students a year here. It’s way more better than being in a huge school where there’s a thousand and two hundred kids.”
Clyde encouraged other youth to focus on their education goals.
“Just don’t give up,” Clyde said. “I gave up last year and I didn’t graduate. But I came back in September and I was determined to get that Ontario Secondary School Diploma.”
Jayleen Beardy, Aaron McKay and Jessica Mekanak from Bearskin Lake also graduated from DFC along with Joel Aysanabee, Miranda Aysanabee, Misti Harding, Ronald Quill and Kevin Rae from Deer Lake and Marita Barkman and Raven Munroe from Sachigo Lake.
“It is a very good feeling,” Munroe said about graduating. “All those sleepless nights and fighting hard for my work, it’s paid off. I worked hard for what I’ve got now today.”
Munroe said the principal and staff at DFC are “very supportive.”
“Without them, I wouldn’t have graduated,” Munroe said. “I have a child so my principal went out of his way to give me a helping hand with daycare. He helped me because he wanted me to graduate, he wanted me to be successful for my daughter.”
Munroe said it was difficult finding daycare for her 15-month-old daughter, but she managed to succeed with her goal to graduate.
“It feels like I have a thousand pounds off my back,” Munroe said. “I’m going to college in the fall for construction. I hope that I can be successful in building houses back on my reserve and doing all the construction work on my reserve.”
Munroe encouraged other youth to complete their secondary school education as soon as possible, noting that she required six or seven years to complete high school.
“It’s better to get it done while you have the chance,” Munroe said. “Try to do it in four years because it’s going to start bringing you down and it’s going to get harder and harder.
If you just keeping going, your hard work will pay off and you’ll feel better about finishing high school. Just get it over with — that’s all I can say.”
Kayla Kakepetum from Keewaywin; Judith Bottle-Masakeyash from Mishkeegogamang; Britney Fiddler, Darrell Fiddler, Jewels Fiddler, Breeze Goodwin, Cassie Linklater, Sage Mawakeesic, Brittany Meekis and Scott Meekis from Sandy Lake; Michael Mamakwa from Wapekeka and Kanesha Kanakakeesic from Weagamow also graduated.
Northern Nishnawbe Education Council executive director Norma Kejick said she felt like a “proud mom” as she watched the DFC graduates march on stage for the graduation ceremony.
“This is a real challenging time for First Nations education,” Kejick said. “There’s a rally that’s happening tomorrow (May 14) in Ottawa to bring awareness of ... Bill C-33 that is affecting our First Nations education. To have 23 of you sitting up here, that proves what we can accomplish when First Nations are in charge of the (education) system.”
Kejick said it is challenging for First Nations students to leave their communities to pursue their secondary school education in larger communities where they do not know any people.
“We’ve been working hard with the mayor and his council to improve the relationships that we have with Dennis Franklin Cromarty and the City of Thunder Bay,” Kejick said. “A lot of these students have overcome many obstacles, many challenges to be here. One of the students said it best today — we were saying that he looked different without his baseball cap on and he said: ‘I worked hard for this (graduation) cap that I’m wearing today.’ And a lot of them have
worked hard; all of them have overcome many struggles.”
Kejick thanked the communities, the parents and the grandparents for all the support they have provided to the DFC students.
“I want to thank the staff at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School for the continued support, for being the parents to these students,” Kejick said. “These students have come a long way and sometimes it takes that one person in their life to make a difference to help them succeed.”
[Correction: the print version and an earlier online version of this story indicated Clyde Moonias was from Webequie. He is actually a member of Neskantaga. Wawatay News apologizes for the error.]
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