By Xavier Kataquapit
It really takes people to make change for the better in our society. Happily, I have known so many people over the past few decades that have been working and devoting their energies to making life better for Indigenous people. One effort I have experienced really stands out.
Sixteen years ago, the Wabun Tribal Council developed its first Wabun Youth Gathering to bring together the young people of the Wabun First Nations. I was there early on documenting the event and I have been following it over the years.
As is the case with all good ideas and efforts, it took some amazing people to find the funding, develop the concept and put the effort together to make this annual gathering happen. It all started when Jean Lemieux, the Health Director at the time who met with the late Elder Thomas Saunders of Brunswick House First Nation. He asked Jean to put in place a gathering dedicated to assisting Wabun youth in learning the cultural and traditional teachings of the Indigenous peoples of the area. That plea struck a chord with Jean, and she decided to move ahead with the idea.
The Chiefs of the Wabun First Nations all agreed this was a necessary and important idea and then Executive Director Shawn Batise supported the project. With the assistance of staff, First Nation members and Elders, Lemieux dedicated much time and effort in producing the first Wabun Youth Gathering, which was held in Mattagami First Nation in August 2007.
The leadership of Wabun, community members, Elders and participating youth all knew this gathering with its teachings and healing message was something everyone needed. The pathway for a continuation opened up with a lot of hard work drawing from people with a variety of skills and the gathering became an annual event.
Wabun was one of the first organizations to develop this type of ongoing annual event dedicated to Indigenous youth with cultural and traditional teachings. Over the years so many wonderful Indigenous facilitators with all types of skills in terms of traditional and cultural knowledge with an involvement in healing and life information came to these gatherings. The results were positive right away and I was amazed at how much the youth could take away from these sessions to assist them in terms of new skills they learned and knowledge of who they were as Indigenous people.
The Wabun Elders were a huge part of what made these gatherings a success. Every year I was so happy to see Elder Vina Hendrix of Matachewan First Nation, who has the special distinction of having attended every single Wabun Youth Gathering. She was always like a magnet for the youth who were drawn to her kind and strong personality. Another important Elder that attended for many years was the late Elder Marie Boucher of Matchewan First Nation.
I was reminded of how important our Elders and traditional teachers are and I had the pleasure of meeting many of them from the Wabun territory over the years. Community support was always important, and chaperones made sure to invest their time and energy to accompany the youth and assist the organizers with running the event.
The Wabun Youth Gathering has spawned many others across the country and that is a wonderful thing as I see more and more proud young Indigenous people discover their traditions and culture as well as life skills that help them on their journeys.
This year’s Wabun Youth Gathering is organized by Josee Forget, Regional Crisis Coordinator, and led by Wabun Health Director Angie Collins, together with their health team members Faye Naveau, Tony Miller and Debbie Proulx-Buffalo. The annual event gets major support from Executive Director Jason Batise and the Wabun Chiefs.
New generations of Wabun youth keep showing up on the land to learn about their culture and traditions and they forge bonds with young people from all the other Wabun communities. These bonds last forever. Often over the years I feel so proud to meet Wabun people who were just kids years ago when I met them at the Wabun Youth Gatherings and they are doing great things, working and assisting their communities.
I am reminded that great things that move our society and our people forward are the result of the ideas, commitment and dedication of great people. So Meegwetch to Jean, Shawn, Jason, Angie, Faye, Josee, Vina, Marie, all the chaperones, facilitators and Chiefs of Wabun for being the great people that created such a positive force in the lives of Indigenous youth.
Most of all I say Meegwetch to all the Wabun youth over the years for allowing me to share in their healing, learning and time on the land surrounded by good people. You give me hope in a world that is full of chaos and despair at times.