When the children of Hiawatha First Nation were out of school because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim Muskratt wondered how she could help.
Muskratt, who owns Wiigwaas Crafts Supplies and Gifts in the community about 100 kilometres east of Toronto, said she worried about the children’s mental health not going to school or being able to interact with their peers and she also thought how that’s a lot for parents to carry as well.
One day she was in her store straightening out some craft supplies when she had an idea: she would put together craft kits for the children and deliver them with the help of her husband, daughter and granddaughter.
“We did it to help the parents and the kids,” said Muskratt.
“We do what we can do in the community because we knew how hard it was on the kids and the parents.”
From the end of March to the end of July, Muskratt handed out kits to about 40 children in the community between the ages of two and nine.
The crafts ranged from paint kits, treasure boxes and bird houses to dreamcatchers and sun catchers.
Muskratt also went down to the shore of Rice Lake, which the reserve is situated on the north side of, and collected flat rocks for the children to paint.
“I ordered paint and paint brushes and little aprons for them to wear,” she said.
“What I put on the note was ‘Paint a rock and leave it in somebody’s mailbox that is special to you to tell them you’re thinking about them.'”
When seniors in the community began receiving painted stones in their mailboxes, some were confused at first but then found out about the activity from family members.
“They were really happy,” said Muskratt.
“A lot of seniors said that really made their day and made people realize they weren’t really isolated, that people were thinking about them, especially the kids in the community.”
Since her family was paying out of pocket for the craft supplies, they decided to hand them out bi-weekly. In May and June three community members pitched in some cash when they heard that children were receiving the kits.
Once a month, Muskratt also hands out Mississauga language resources to households.
“We’re trying really hard to bring out Mississauga dialect back into our community,” she said.
“When language was first taught in school a lot of us didn’t know that there were different dialects; we thought language was language and it was spoken the same all across Canada.”
With the help of some Mississauga dialect language speakers from Curve Lake First Nation, Muskratt has been working on learning the language herself and wanted to share that with the community.
She said there’s been a lot of positive feedback from that as well.
The craft kits have been set aside for now as the children in the community prepare to return to school but Muskratt said she would do them again if the need arises.
‘None of us were prepared’
Hiawatha First Nation member Katie Wilson, who has two daughters, said the pandemic puts a strain on everyone.
“None of us were prepared for what a pandemic would do to us mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually,” she said.
“As a parent, you strive to protect and help your children, but in such unprecedented times, sometimes you just simply don’t know what to do to keep their spirits up.”
Wilson said what Muskratt has done for the children is amazing and that the childrens’ faces lit up when they knew another package was being delivered.
“They rush to the mailbox to find their newest treasures and crafts. My girls can’t wait to dive into whatever surprises await them in their bags,” she said.
“The happiness and joy that radiates from a child is like no other medicine in the world.”
Amanda Sager-Billings said she thinks one of the best crafts her children got was the rock painting activity.
“It was to make people of the community know that they are loved and someone was thinking about them,” said Sager Billings.
“There really are no words for her kindness.”