Eight vie for Wiikwemkoong chief

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory band election will be held both in-person and by mail. Polls open at 9 am until 6 pm on July 30 and on Saturday, August 20 from 9 am to 8 pm at the Wiikwemkoong chief and council chambers at 19A Complex Drive in Wiikwemkoong. All votes will begin being tallied at 9 am on August 21. The results will be declared following the count. Vying for the position of chief are incumbent Duke Peltier and challengers Jean Oshkabewisens, Gladys Wakegijig, Rachel Manitowabi, Francis Mandamin, Joseph M. Wabegijig, Amsay Osawamick and Daniel Roy. The Expositor has reached out to the candidates for chief to learn about their platforms. The following are the two responses we received by press time Monday.

Rachel Manitowabi for ogimaa-kwe

WIIKWEMKOONG—Having spent the last six years serving as Wiikwemkoong band councillor, Rachel Manitowabi says she feels moved by the Creator, and the support of her community, to run for ogimaa-kwe in this month’s election.

Ms. Manitowabi has been a community-minded person since her early 20s, serving on numerous community committees. That love of community, and being a mother of two sons and an aunt, were two of her first motivating factors in running for council six years ago.

“I look at the community in a way where I want all children to be happy, healthy and safe,” Ms. Manitowabi says.

“I decided to run because I feel I can bring a different, possibly fresh approach to bringing the community together,” she tells The Expositor.

A traditional woman, Ms. Manitowabi sees room for the incorporation of more Anishinaabe principles in both governance and services. She acknowledges the use of the Seven Grandfather Teachings, but says she can see more opportunity, giving the example of the circle concept—inviting those with expertise, or even a special interest in, a specific topic or issue to discuss it and find solutions. This would allow for more community consultation, and not just those in governance would be involved—elders and youth, too.

Ms. Manitowabi says the community has been responsive to her bid as ogimaa-kwe and door-knocking. “I’m hearing issues on housing, health and safety, and a need for services that are more responsive.”

“Good relations” is at the core of Ms. Manitowabi’s platform.

“I just want the best for the community,” she shares. “I’m trying to implement seven generations ahead.”

Guiding her in everything is all that she has had the privilege to learn and gather from her elders over the years. Ms. Manitowabi says she is of the generation that went visiting with community elders with her parents as a child. If they weren’t playing, the children were asked to sit and listen to the things those elders had to say. “Listening, taking it all in, and being respectful.” She carries those principles on to this day.

Ms. Manitowabi is also passionate about language. “Our survival as a people is crucial to our language.” Ms. Manitowabi believes that there is only a short amount of time left to save Anishnaabemowin. Part of her mandate is getting the language to the youth.

Climate change and the role of the Anishinaabe People as being caretakers of the land is also key to Ms. Manitowabi’s mandate.

It’s twofold, she says. Taking care of the land the people have been given, and being ready for what is inevitable. For instance, are the community’s houses able to cool their inhabitants in extreme heat and keep them warm in severe cold? Is there community infrastructure to offer cooling centres in case of a heat wave?

“I’m trying to bring a voice to those who are vulnerable,” Ms. Manitowabi says, noting that she sees a need for more programs to help those dealing with the effects of intergenerational trauma. While she acknowledges the many good support services that do exist, Ms. Manitowabi says she sees room for improvement, such as a single point of access.

“I also would like work towards the development of supports to ensure the helpers in our community have access to employee assistance programs as well as a culturally based form of helping within Wiikwemkoong,” she says. “We have multiple forms of historical systemic oppression as Anishinaabek and although we are a strong, resilient and proud people, we also need to ensure we have a strong base of services that support our people as well.”

Ms. Manitowabi also wants to support work toward diversified business opportunities both in terms of small business as well as on a larger scale with appropriate oversight and support, to build economic development and employment in Wiikwemkoong.

The daughter of the late Josephine and Eugene Manitowabi, Ms. Manitowabi says she has felt guided by the spirit of her mother, who passed away just last year, and the Creator to make the move from councillor to ogimaa-kwe. “When I reflect back, I think Creator has been preparing me for this.” Ms. Manitowabi has been nominated for chief previously, on more than one occasion. This past winter, Ms. Manitowabi decided she would not run again for councillor.

“My heart wasn’t prepared before (to run for chief), but my mother gave me a guiding principle that I never forget: ‘you’re not finished when you think you’re finished. It’s up to the people to say when you’re done’.” It was then that she realized what she was meant to do.

“I am where I’m supposed to be,” Ms. Manitowabi continues. “It’s up to the Creator and the people to say what I’m supposed to do now. Even if I’m not elected, it’s been a process that I’ve absolutely enjoyed. I’m so happy to have gone through this process.”

Ms. Manitowabi says she’s heard from the community that they are ready for a change. “I have the utmost respect for Ogimaa Duke (Peltier) and what he’s accomplished over the last 10 years.” She says she made a point of calling him to share the news of her intention to run and to wish him well. He, in turn, did the same for her.

Ms. Manitowabi says she knows there are many other community issues to support “with transparency, accountability and with the band membership’s input.”

Gladys Wakegijig for ogimaa-kwe

WIIKWEMKOONG—Gladys Wakegijig is currently an elected Wiikwemkoong band councillor but says she has a lot more to contribute to lead the community.

“I am presently one of the official voices to speak for the people of our community at duly convened band council meetings,” she said. She is running for the position of ogimaa-kwe in the August 20 election. She has acted as chief previously, back in the early 2000s. “I’ve been at the leadership table for awhile now.”

“My dedication and commitment is strong because of the connection I have to our community,” Ms. Wakegijig stated. “Throughout my career as a band councillor, I have had the honour and privilege to work with many of our band council committees: housing, health, justice, education, public works, the Islands, and the Wikwemikong Heritage Organization. I have gained extensive knowledge serving on band committees and have had the opportunity to be informed by band programs of its services and delivery to band members. These opportunities have provided me with great experience and insight on band members needs and directives, for today and for the tomorrows,” she said. Ms. Wakegijig wants to be the ‘voice of the community.’

“I want to hear you (members of Wiikwemkoong),” Ms. Wakegijig said. “We need to move forward together. “

Ms. Wakegijig, who lives in Buzwah, currently works for Wiikwemkoong’s justice program. She is a fluent Anishnaabemowin speaker and stresses the importance of “acknowledging and upholding our culture and traditions, and will continue to learn from the language keepers, the medicine keepers and the Anishinabek people of our lands,” she said. “Just this past weekend, we had a huge loss. We lost three elders who were fluent language speakers.” She offers condolences and prayers to all three families. “We have to strengthen and enhance our focus on developing fluent speakers.”

Economic development is crucial for the future of Wiikwemkoong, Ms. Wakegijig said. “We need more jobs, more job placements and more self-employment opportunities.”

She wants to address issues of homelessness and overcrowded homes in the community. “No one should be living in a tent during the winter, especially in -25°C cold weather,” she pointed out. Ms. Wakegijig would like to see more youth programming and more engagement with youth. “Idle time is not good,” she said. “Our youth need something to do. They need to keep busy. They need to feel the success, the feeling of belonging and the connection. They need the feeling of having fun playing. There needs to be laughter,” she said.

One of the most concerning issues Ms. Wakegijig would like to address is illicit drugs in the community. “This is a big concern here, and this is not only happening here. It’s everywhere. The focus of community wellness must continue.”

“I want to continue my hard work and dedication for our community,” said Ms. Wakegijig.