By Xavier Kataquapit
After dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for a few years now, the worry of world war on my mind and obvious dangers now threatening due to climate change, I still have hope that things will work out in the long run.
I am feeling like that this week because I had the privilege to connect with a group of happy, curious and wonderful young people during the Wabun Youth Gathering in Mattagami First Nation.
I was welcomed to the 15th annual gathering by Indigenous youth, leaders, Elders and chaperones who made me feel like part of a huge family. The weather was mostly sunny and warm and there was a positive feeling as I met with everyone. It was good to see these young people learning their traditional and cultural teachings. It was also great to see them in a beautiful space on the land and the sand shore of Lake Mattagami. The youth had the chance to swim, play games, canoe and learn about the plants and creatures on the land.
I have been attending this gathering for many years and I have to come to know a lot of people and also witnessed hundreds of young people grow up over time. Wabun Tribal Council was one of the very first organizations to recognize a need to create a youth gathering so many years ago.
As always, good things happen when someone steps up to make them a reality. In this case we must be grateful to Jean Lemieux, health director for Wabun for the past couple of decades as she is the one who led the development of this gathering from the very start.
She was inspired to develop this event from the wisdom and encouragement of the late Elder Thomas Saunders of Brunswick House First Nation. Elder Saunders wanted to see these gatherings take place to connect youth, adults and Elders together to keep the Wabun communities strong and close to their culture and shared history.
I was fortunate to see Jean at this year’s event and we all learned that she was retiring after having been with the tribal council for 31 years. We all owe so much thanks to Jean for dedicating so much of her life to provide services and care to the people of the Wabun Tribal Council. Jean was always ready to push the limits to create much-needed services and programming dedicated to educating, healing and lifting up our people.
I thank her husband Jack and their family for allowing all of us the opportunity to work with Jean. She and the Wabun health care staff have made life better for Wabun members and other Indigenous people right across the country.
Jean comes from a family of people who work on many levels to make life better for everyone. She has had the good fortune of being mentored over the years by her mother Elder Vina Hendrix who is one of the best loved and well-known Elders in the north. It is a great advantage in life to have someone like Vina as a mother and teacher and I know she has always been proud of the great accomplishments Jean has made to Indigenous people’s lives over the years.
I am happy to know that our Elders are always present at any events, gatherings or meetings we take part in. The fact that our Elders are always with us shows that we value their life experience, knowledge and wisdom. It is in particular evident when there are youth gatherings and meetings where I am always amazed at the connection the youth feel with our Elders.
Vina has always had a very kind and open way to welcome youth to her side and in conversation. She makes a point to pass on positive and encouraging words and sentiment and that makes a huge impact on our youth just starting off in life and dealing with so many challenges and so much stress and confusion.
Vina, Jean, all the leaders, Elders, organizers and supporters of the Wabun Youth Gathering need to be thanked for their work devoted to spreading the spirit of hope to so many young Indigenous people. The new coordinator of this year’s event, Josee Forget, Wabun Regional Crisis Coordinator, did a great job in keeping the gathering alive. Thanks also to Faye Naveau for being there for everyone for so many years.
Of course, most of all, we should be grateful to the Wabun youth who come to this event every year to learn about their Indigenous culture and traditions.
Chi-Meegwetch to all of you and we are all looking forward to next year’s Wabun Youth Gathering. In the midst of worldwide threats and confusion we will meet to teach, learn and care for each other.