As a teenager, getting to school can be a challenge for many reasons.
For Lola Monague, and about 20-30 other kids from Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, that challenge involves waking up at 6 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. ferry to make it to school on the mainland an hour later.
Add to that the fact that last year, Monague and the other children spent 75 percent of the year in cabs to get to school, and the conditions were perfect to create a young activist.
The school bus provided by Beausoleil, or Chimnissing, was in such bad shape that it wasn’t road-worthy for three-quarters of the school year last year, according to the Grade 12 Georgian Bay District Secondary School student.
“It was an old bus. There was no heat. The windows didn’t shut, and it broke down quite often,” says Monague.
Monague says that an education director with the Beausoleil First Nation organized cabs that sat four people each.
“Often it wasn’t that organized, and (felt) unsafe,” the 17-year-old student explains.
“I’ve gotten a ride from people coming off the ferry so I wouldn’t miss any school. It didn’t make wanting to go to school any easier. Getting to school safely and on time is essential to education."
Frustrated with the difficult commute to school — one that takes longer as the weather gets colder, and the ferry relies on an icebreaker to help it get across the bay — Monague took matters into her own hands.
“I started a petition nine months ago on Change.org,” explains the high school student. “The petition got support from students and teachers and members of the community.”
Monague says the first response from Beausoleil First Nation was to buy a new bus.
“We didn’t see the bus until October or November this year,” says Monague.
Monague says that the transition from the school on the island to public high school is hard enough already without having to worry about how you’ll get to school.
The elementary school on the island is a one hallway school.
“We never had more than 100 kids in the school at one time,” explains Monague.
Beyond the sudden increase in population at school, many students from the island struggle with core subjects like math, science and English, according to Monague.
“I always encourage them to go for help, because we do have programs that offer help with certain subjects. “I have learned to love math,” she says. “Coming from the elementary school from the island [moving to public school on the mainland] is a hard transition.
“I felt like we were behind education-wise going into grade nine. There are things that could be improved."
The successful activist has more ideas to help kids from the island, like providing a place for kids to hang out on the island.
Monague says Right to Play is a great presence on the island, and she hopes education directors and council will do more for the youth.
Right to Play and Water First helped students on Christian Island gain a high school credit last year through land-based learning programs that connect youth with their culture.
Monague is hoping for more programming like this, and plans to write a letter to the chief asking for more support from education leaders and members on council for other kids going into high school off the island.
Monague feels that she learned a lot about teamwork while playing rugby last year at GBDSS.
“You don’t see the amount of work and dedication put into a sport like that. You grow close with the people you play with because of the amount of contact.”
Her love of the very physically demanding sport that requires tenacity, endurance, and team spirit has flourished since she first learned the sport last year.
And tenacity is clearly something that comes naturally to the young activist, who offered some advice to other young people looking to make change in their communities.
“My advice: There’s always going to be someone in your corner. You may start out alone, but you’re not going to end it alone.”
Monague is currently eyeing a future career in law or sport management. Whatever she pursues, many will likely be in the bleachers cheering her on.