Traditional Games were taught by Lamarr Oksasikewiyin of Sweetgrass First Nation, Sask,. Pictured from L-R are: Jordan Neshawabin, Brooke Collins, Wilfred Ernest Tangie-Redbreast, (out of view is Kailyn McKay), Amadeus Neshawabin, Ethaniel Wesley and Taylor MacMillen.
Article and Photos by Xavier Kataquapit
The Wabun Youth Gathering for senior youth was held at the Elk Lake Ecolodge in Elk Lake, Ont. from Aug. 13 to 17. It brought together older youth from the Wabun Tribal Council area to socialize, learn about culture and language and take part in a series of educational workshops.
The event, currently in its twelfth year, was for young people ages 14 to 19 from Wabun First Nations in northeastern Ontario.
“This was a very exciting week for all of us as there was a mix of three different types of education that we provided for our youth,” said Faye Naveau, regional crisis coordinator for Wabun Health Services.
“It is so special to see these young men and women every year and to watch them become strong individuals… It feels good to help these youth in building their knowledge and experience, but also in fostering their self confidence and sense of well being. These young people are amazing and it is a pleasure to see their growth year after year.”
Three different workshop events were rotated throughout the week to provide participants with a variety of activities. A series of personal wellness, drug abuse awareness and healing strategies were provided by a Community Wellness Development Team (CWDT). This team included facilitators Ron Kanutski, team member; Crystal Morrison, consultant / youth role model; and Janey Puurula, team coordinator.
CWDT, under Dilico Anishinabek Family Care based in Thunder Bay, is an education and support program for northern First Nations to deal with opiate drug abuse issues. Cody McGregor of Whitefish River First Nation, Manitoulin Island, provided a series of Native language sessions for youth.
McGregor, who is a trained Native language teacher, also produced original musical performances and was DJ for evening entertainment and dances. Lamarr Oksasikewiyin of Sweetgrass First Nation, Sask., introduced youth to traditional games and activities. Oksasikewiyin, who is a traditional knowledge keeper and teacher, has accumulated knowledge of over a hundred indigenous historic games.
Alicia Topp, for the Tobacco Wise program, which is part of the Cancer Care Ontario’s Aboriginal Tobacco Program, provided an afternoon informational session on smoking cessation.
Elder Daisy Naveau of Mattagami First Nation assisted organizers by acting as chaperon, support worker and by leading in daily ceremonies.
Pictured from L-R are: Debbie Proulx-Buffalo, Wabun Health; Elder Daisy Naveau, Mattagami FN; Taylor MacMillen, Kaytlyn Julien, Faye Naveau, Wabun Health / Event Organizer and Crystal Morrison, Community Wellness Development Team (CWDT).
“I felt good in seeing our young people learning about our past and especially our language. Our youth need to remember our past and where we come from. There was good feeling here and a positive spirit and that is exactly what our young people need,” said Elder Naveau.
Brooke Collins, a 16-year-old participant from Matachewan First Nation took part in many traditional games during the event.
“One of my favourite activities this week was in learning about the traditional games from Lamarr as he made everything fun and super interesting. It was also special for me to learn about our traditional language from Cody also. I’m just thankful to Wabun and all the organizers for giving us these opportunities every year to learn, to make new friends and create new memories with everyone,” said Collins.
The planning and organization of the gathering involved many people. Chaperons included Sue Alton of Matachewan First Nation; Kevin Saunders of Brunswick House First Nation; Cindy McKay, Mattagami First Nation; Jessica Vaillancourt, Mattagami of First Nation and Theresa Laffrenier of Beaverhouse First Nation.
“We are very thankful to our Elder Daisy Naveau and to all our chaperons who take time from their busy lives to look after our youth at this annual event,” said Jean Lemieux, Wabun Health Director.
Language learning through fun entertainment was provided by Cody McGregor (standing at far right), of Whitefish River First Nation, Manitoulin Island. Pictured L-R back are: Ashley Gignac, Jenna Harnack and McGregor. In front are: Kailyn McKay and Neebin Prince.
“We would not be able to accomplish this without the help of so many people from our leadership, our office, our communities and the families of the youth participants. Most of all, we are grateful to the youth for their participation and enthusiasm year after year. This gathering is the result of support and encouragement from all of our Wabun chiefs and our executive director Jason Batise.”
The senior youth also enjoyed social events and free time to renew old friendships and foster new ones. Traditional singing and drumming was also a highlight that was led by organizer Faye Naveau, Debbie Proulx-Buffalo, Mental Wellness Team Worker for Wabun Health; Crystal Morrison and youth singers: Kaytlyn Julien, Taylor McMillen, Rianna Alberta, Dreyden Saunders and Ethaniel Wesley.
This event was made possible through the vision and dream of Wabun Elder Thomas Saunders of Brunswick House First Nation who lobbied for a youth gathering. Sadly, he passed on before his dream came to be, but his legacy lives on.
Wabun Tribal Council is a regional territorial organization which represents the six First Nation communities of Beaverhouse, Brunswick House, Chapleau Ojibwe, Flying Post, Matachewan and Mattagami in Northeastern Ontario.
A Community Wellness Development Team (CWDT) held a series of workshops on wellness and mental health during the Wabun Youth Gathering Senior Week in Elk Lake Ontario. Pictured standing in centre is Ron Kanutski, CWDT Team Member leading youth in a workshop.