The Nee-Chee kids talk about the white kids - the ones who give them dirty looks, who don't invite them to parties, who don't pass them the ball and then make whooping sounds within earshot. How can they all be expected to get along?
Wayne Woodhouse was one of the crowd until last year when, at 17, he dropped out of Grade 10 because other students were giving him "dirty looks." His friend, Doug Traverse, dropped out when he fell behind in class and his biology teacher raised his voice at him. "I'm not a little kid to be yelled at," he says, now back on the reserve and unemployed.
"I try to teach kids we all have differences. Just because you disagree doesn't mean it's because you're aboriginal and he's non-aboriginal. Just because this person bumped into you doesn't mean it's a racist problem."
The reserve kids blame a pervasive sense of white superiority at Ashern as the reason they eat at the Sharptail every day, or wind up staying home to watch TV. But to Randy Chartrand, racism is more a state of mind - "a false belief" promoted on reserves to make children fearful of the so-called "white" world. "It's just too easy to say this happened because I'm aboriginal."
Big and burly, Chartrand is Ashern's only aboriginal staff member. A Métis who teaches industrial arts, he is as hard-line on the school's racial tensions as Hull is conciliatory. In contrast to Hull's roots in a comfortable Fredericton suburb, Chartrand, 40, grew up in Winnipeg's rough-and-tumble inner city. Hull saw natives mostly on the hockey rink. Chartrand saw whites at the front of his classroom. He went to a Catholic school, but no one talked about race. The challenge was to get ahead. He became a carpenter and then took up a job teaching shop.
His first posting was to Grand Rapids at the north end of Lake Winnipeg where 80 per cent of his students were native. He, like some parents at Fairford, applied for a transfer so that his son could go to a bigger school with more courses, more teams and higher standards.
Ashern has three science courses in Grade 10. Chartrand's old school had one. Ashern has a library with two colour TVs and VCRs, computers in nearly every classroom, a fully equipped band room and a large woodworking and auto body shop. At Grand Rapids, there were only desks and chairs.
In his spacious carpentry shop, Chartrand shrugs at the mention of curriculum enhancements for natives. He believes the challenge in teaching is not about race; it's about bringing together strangers.
Although he has no posters, educational tools or special training, Chartrand is carrying out his own race relations program with what he calls a "hidden agenda." At the start of a term, he organizes students of different races to work together on projects, such as building a model bridge out of wood. More often than not, it's the first time the teens have had to talk with people from different backgrounds, let alone work together.
If race issues crop up, Chartrand jumps on them. "I try to teach kids we all have differences," he says. "Just because you disagree doesn't mean it's because you're aboriginal and he's non-aboriginal. Just because this person bumped into you doesn't mean it's a racist problem."
Last spring, a local boy and a native girl started arguing over whether two of their friends should be going out together. "Right away, it turned into a white-racist thing," Chartrand recalls. "I said, `Stop right there.' That is not the issue.' " He took the pair into the hall and kept them there until they were willing to apologize. "We have to work with young people to deal with it," he says. "After high school, where is there a public forum to be respectful?"
He knows his views would not be popular on the reserves around Ashern where, he says, "a wall" is built in children's minds at a very young age. So when they have problems at school, as just about every teenager does, too many of them pin it on race. "For me, it's just two students who disagree about something, but the wall is there, a racial belief to stand up for yourself."