Josée with a student in Rapid Lake © Courtesy of I Love First Peoples
By Josée Lusignan, Co-Founder and President, I Love First Peoples
I’ll never forget that cold day in February 2013, arriving in the Algonquin First Nation community of Rapid Lake, Québec, to meet with Jules, the Director of Education. Back home, my living room had become a maze of children’s gifts, piled to the ceiling because of a simple email I’d sent out to friends asking: “would you help me ‘do something?’” I could no longer bear knowing that children across Canada and near me lived in substandard houses without electricity or potable water, facing unfathomable struggles and inequalities.
Jules welcomed me with his two young granddaughters. Over the next few hours, the girls giggled with excitement as they played with the gifts I had brought. Jules’ eyes sparked joy at the sound of their laughter, his words and pensiveness conveying a profound devotion to the children of his community. That day, he said two things that have guided the course of our work: “If our children are to overcome poverty, they must complete their education. Josée, if you and your team can encourage our children to stay in school, our community is open to you.”
This February 2023, we will celebrate ten years of answering Jules’ call in 90 communities across Canada.
We called ourselves I Love First Peoples. A daring name, for sure. We wanted to stir Canadians, so they would question their relationship with Indigenous peoples—Who are they? What is my relationship to them? As an ally organization, we set out to bring the idea of “bridging” (reconciliation) into the homes of everyday Canadians.
This was yet unchartered territory, inviting us to conceive historic events, such as two ceremonies that inspired a movement to honour Indigenous peoples at NHL games in Toronto and Buffalo, both of which featured our dear friend, the late Fred Sasakamoose (first Indigenous player to the NHL and Order of Canada inductee).
A tour on the topic of residential schools and intergenerational trauma bringing elders in 45 remote communities to share their experiences as part of the Indian Horse pre-cinematic release; a tour on mental health and suicide amongst Inuit youth, bringing youth in 45 remote communities to speak out, as part of The Grizzlies pre-cinematic release; a celebrity campaign to raise awareness about suicide amongst First Nations youth, titled I Love Attawapiskat; and recently, an online event to bring global awareness featuring a conversation between Buffy Sainte-Marie, Massey Whiteknife (APTN’s Queen of the Oil Sands) and the Dalai Lama.
Yes, we have been daring in our passion for moving the conversation forward and engaging Canadians. Still, by far, our greatest accomplishment will have been our early ability to heed the wisdom of a former board member and chief who said: “Stop talking and listen to the words, listen to the silence.” These are the very foundations of reconciliation because there is so much for those of us who are settlers to learn.
As we set our sights on the next ten years, we look forward to sharing what we have learned and experienced and introducing new ways to further reconciliation. We will continue to create educational opportunities for youth and grow our very successful sewing labs across the North. We hope you will join us!
© Courtesy of Kw’umut Lelum Foundation Investing in the limitless potential of Indigenous youth Children are like flowers, beautiful, delicate, and unique. With nourishment and
I Love First Peoples empowers Indigenous children and youth to succeed through education and the motivation to stay in school. We bridge communities through practical projects that promote reconciliation and education. Through our celebrity platform, we also raise awareness about reconciliation across Canada and around the globe.