Ceremony commemorates beautiful and meaningful renovations made at MSS

From left, Rainbow District School Board trustees Margaret Stringer and Linda Debassige, along with RDSB director of education Norm Blaseg, pose for a photo at the entrance to the new smudge room at Manitoulin Secondary School.

M’CHIGEENG – A small gathering of students and staff at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) and representatives of the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) gathered for the grand unveiling of the wonderful renovations made at the school, including the OneKWE/Kwest sculpture outside the main entrance to the school and the smudge room beside the lobby inside. 

“It is a little upsetting that we have had to keep this special event to such small numbers because this is a huge celebration for Manitoulin Secondary School, the entire Island and the Rainbow District School Board,” said MSS principal Jamie Mohamed in his opening remarks.

“We are very excited to be here to officially unveil our newly renovated school,” continued Mr. Mohamed. “I would like to thank everyone who has been part of this project, committee members, school and staff, all our guests here today from the RDSB and thank the students, staff and community members for your patience and understanding. We are very much looking forward to be able to use all of the newly renovated facilities.”

MSS has recently undergone a $5.5 million renovation project that saw visual enhancement and transformations to its student-facing spaces, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes overhauls to systems including its electrical and plumbing networks and much more. 

The ceremony began with Grade 12 student Savanah Eshquib delivering a speech acknowledging the Three Fires Confederacy. 

“We would like to acknowledge all our honoured guests here today, RDSB trustees Linda Debassige and Margaret Stringer, superintendent of schools Kathy Wachnuk, director of education Norm Blaseg, RDSB special projects manager Sandi Ackroyd and elder Josh Eshkawkogan,” said Mr. Mohamed.

“Today is a good day, said RDSB Trustee Debassige. “We were delayed a couple of times on the project, but it’s alright because things happen when they need to.” 

Trustee Debassige acknowledged the board’s reconciliation plan and said it is important to acknowledge the past, to move forward. She noted how important it is to recognize the deeper significance of the renovations. “You can have renovations that are new and beautiful, but it is important to remember the important teachings.” 

She said students need to remember that “every day is a step in your journey of learning. Every day is a choice you can make for your future. Walk in kindness, compassion and respect.”

Elder Josh Eshkawkogan offered some teachings about the significance of change in a smudge ceremony in recognition of the new outside sculpture at the entrance to Manitoulin Secondary School.

“It is such a pleasure to be here on this beautiful November day to take part in the official opening of the renovations here at (MSS),” said Trustee Stringer. “Since its opening 51 years ago, MSS has been an exceptional place for teaching and learning, a school where students are inspired and nurtured to achieve their full potential. This renovation project updated its teaching, learning and living spaces and made it even more welcoming and engaging for student than it was.”

“This project is the result of collaboration and input from many parts of the Island community,” said Trustee Stringer. “We have certainly seen the community vision realized here at MSS through the purposeful design—from the entrance, to the foyer, to the courtyard, to the entire school and in the natural elements, from timber, to cedar to limestone.”

“The revitalization of MSS reflects its rich past, its proud present and its promising future, and I want to  thank everyone involved, from students, staff, community, elders to artists and Elder Josh Eshkawkogan  in helping this vision become reality,” continued Trustee Stringer. “Special mention and thank you to Sandi Ackroyd, manager of capital projects (RDSB).”

Mr. Eshkawkogan offered some teachings about the significance of change and how the spaces would contribute to that in a smudge in recognition of the outside sculpture. 

Mr. Mohammed welcomed a smaller number of guests inside to the new sacred fire and smudge room, where Mr. Eshkawkogan talked about change and the seven sacred directions. A second smudge took place as seven students made medicine bundles, which were tied together with sweetgrass braids.

He then led a pipe ceremony inside the smudge room and provided teachings about the sacred fire and water.
Mr. Blaseg, the director of education for RDSB said, “I would like to thank all those involved in this project, this has truly been a community effort. I know in the next few years when the pandemic is over, the community will see the value and the merits of this redefinition of MSS. I hope we can celebrate all living together and use these spaces as a jumping off point in the spirit of mutual respect.” 

“It’s a great opportunity to bring the Island together and celebrate the culture and richness this will bring,” said Mr. Blaseg.