Students at one Saskatoon high school are hoping their latest school project extends far beyond a simple Christmas gesture.

Mount Royal Collegiate teacher Belinda Daniels’ Cree language class are making Christmas cards for aboriginal youth who will be spending the holidays behind bars. The students hope the cards show the incarcerated youth how a loss of cultural identity relates to the high rates of aboriginal incarceration.

“When you lose your culture, you lose your identity. You don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know much about your people or your ancestors,” grade 10 student Lyndon Ernest said.

Ernest said the class was inspired after attending We Day earlier this winter in Saskatoon. We Day is an annual event hosted by Free the Children, an international charity, featuring numerous activist speakers and performers. Students earn their ticket to the stadium-sized event by helping out with a local or global charitable cause.

“I guess for us it was learning about the injustices that people were facing in different countries, and then as well as the injustices that aboriginal people face in Canada,” Ernest said. “They talk about their movement and how it started with one person in one place, and we figured, well, why not start something like that here?”

Daniels said the residential school system played a major role in eroding First Nations cultural knowledge.

Her students initially learned to tell First Nations stories orally. Their hand-painted cards will share those stores in written form.

“When you're not knowing your purpose, this is when it becomes easier to get involved in drugs and alcohol,” Daniels said. “This is when it's easier to be involved in crime, because there's no connection bringing you back to your sense of being.”

Grade 11 student Brandon Bedard is eager to see how his four cards —including one detailing the story of the buffalo and its hump — are received by the youth.

“I think it's going to brighten up their day. I hope they write back, and tell us how it affected them, or how they took it,” he said.

Bedard is eager to hear their stories.