AUNDECK OMNI KANING— The disconnection between First Nations children taken into care and their culture has been fingered as a major cause of a failure to meet those children’s needs, but Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services (KGCFS) is meeting that challenge head on by reconnecting children with their roots.
As part of that ongoing strategy, KGCFS hosted a 2015 Cultural Day Event and designation ceremony at the Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) community park. The event was forced inside the new AOK multi-use complex following the sunrise ceremony (performed by Craig Abotossaway) due to Friday morning’s inclement weather, but the rain did little to dampen attendees’ spirits.
Emcee Jim Fox introduced the eagle staffs and flags, brought into the circle ‘powwow’ style while a welcoming song was sung by the community drum.
A thanksgiving and family value teachings talk was delivered by AOK elder Georgina Nahwegahbow (originally from Sagamok First Nation, now residing in AOK) and translated into the language by elder and language teacher Nancy Debassige.
“I am privileged to have been invited to participate in this cultural conference,” said Ms. Nawegahbow. “When we thought about this talk, we thought about the family because the family is very crucial right now. Today, we have all kinds of families, mixed families, single parent families a long time ago family was very important in the community. Families took care of one another, there were a lot of extended families. A lot of grandparents would live with the family, so the family would be quite large.”
Ms. Nawegahbow noted that traditionally, the elderly would be looked after by the family. “Native people were a very caring society,” she said. “Now in the 2000s, that is being gradually eroded. Our families are disintegrating, we are too caught up in the larger society.”
Ms. Nawegahbow said that women are the backbone of the family. “Although some might disagree, it takes a woman to have a well-managed family. Men have their own roles.”
The elder noted that there are many different cultures in the world and that each has their own traditions and ways, differences which as a courtesy the Anishinaabe accept. “But we, as well as everyone else, get caught up in the larger society,” she said.
Ms. Nawegahbow used the example of female dress as an example. “Native women always had their clothes in different tribes that reflected the land that they lived in,” she said.
The elder decried the prevalence of exposed cleavage and short dresses at traditional ceremonies. “You hold your breath when they bend over to see if their boobies will fall out,” she quipped.
Other examples Ms. Nawegahbow cited included traditional foods, the prevalence of electronic “gadgets” and the need to disconnect to connect children back to the land from which their people, culture and traditions sprang.
Kina board member Diane Abotossaway spoke on some of the history of the organization, noting the 20-year odyssey that led to the point today where the organization has responsibility for children in care. “It has been over 20 years,” she said. “I am proud to say that we are taking care of our children and will be for many years to come.”
Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier, who bore his community’s eagle staff into the hall, thanked everyone for coming to the event and noted that “government interference into our families is not warranted. We can take care of our own and keep our families together.”
Mr. Fox recognized the other chiefs that make up the KGCFS family, including Whitefish River Chief Shining Turtle, Sheguiandah First Nation Chief Richard Shawanda, M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare, Sheshegwaning First Nation Joe Endanawas, Zhiibaahaasing First Nation Chief Irene Kells and host community Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere.
Executive director Denise Morrow thanked the leadership and spoke of the “exciting days ahead and noted the importance of culture and culturally restorative practices.”
Ms. Morrow introduced Michael Miller, executive director of the Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services and president of the Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario, who spoke of the important work being conducted by Native child and family services across the province.
Throughout the two-day event a series of workshops and teachings took place, including storytelling, dance, drum, the rites of passage and seven stages of life, quill working, two spirit identity, hand drum teachings, songs and techniques, sweat lodge teachings, bundle teachings, Native languages, traditional healing, cedar bath teachings, traditional gifts, Seven Grandfather teachings, raindance teachings, tikagan teachings, eight point star teachings, grieving and spirituality, yoga for beginners, paper mache masks, non-toxic personal care products and an archery demonstration.