Photos by Giovanni Capriotti

M’CHIGEENG—Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services (KGCFS), with the support of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario (ANCFSAO) and various dignitaries and guests, celebrated the designation of Kina Gbezhgomi (as of April 1) as a children’s aid society at a special ceremony in M’Chigeeng First Nation last week.

“This is a very important time, an historic moment,” said master of ceremonies Chris Pheasant. “I would like to welcome you all to this glorious celebration. We started this day with a sunrise ceremony—giving thanks to the Creator. This is part of our cultural restorative practices that define us—this is who we are and through Kina, we will be providing traditional cultural restorative practice in the form of service delivery.”

Effective April 1, 2015 Kina Gbezhgomi (which oversees the child welfare of Manitoulin’s seven First Nations and their band members in the Manitoulin and Sudbury Districts) was designated as a children’s aid society pursuant to subsection 15(2) of the Child and Family Services Act. The designation has resulted in KGCFS assuming child protection services for seven First Nation communities in the Manitoulin area.

Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere, left, and M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare, right,  presented Kina Gbezhgomi Child and  Family Services  Executive Director Denise Morrow with a painting by David Migwans of M’Chigeeng during the official  ceremony marking Kina Gbezhgomi as a children’s aid society.
Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere, left, and M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare, right, presented Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services Executive Director Denise Morrow with a painting by David Migwans of M’Chigeeng during the official ceremony marking Kina Gbezhgomi as a children’s aid society.

The celebration began with a performance from the Mndioo Mnising Anishinabek Kinoomaage Gamig followed by a welcoming song from the drum group the High Eagle Singers.

“Welcome chiefs, councillors, guests and all the staff here from Kina,” said M’Chigeeng Chief Joe Hare. “I never thought I would see so many people working together to take care of our children. This is a great responsibility for you to carry forth.”

“This idea of a First Nation organization to look after our children was born right next door in the old community hall some 25 years ago,” continued Chief Hare. “For this day to arrive took so long, but with the help of leadership throughout the years we kept the goal in mind and kept working away at it. Working with the reps of various ministries, we got to where we are today. Welcome all to this historic occasion.”

Students in the Mnidoo Mnising Anishinabek Kinnomaage Gamig, an Ojibwe immersion Kindergarten program, perform a preamble and song.
Students in the Mnidoo Mnising Anishinabek Kinnomaage Gamig, an Ojibwe immersion Kindergarten program, perform a preamble and song.

Chief Hare presented Kina board Chair Kevin Mossip with sweetgrass as a “constant reminder of the duty and obligation we have taken to look after our children, as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.”

Chief Hare, along with Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere, also presented Kina Executive Director Denise Morrow with a painting by David Migwans of M’Chigeeng.

Elder Gordon Waindubence performed a pipe ceremony and spoke about the importance of Kina’s designation.

Mr. Mossip spoke on behalf of the Kina board stating, “as we gather here today, it is a real testament to how we have all worked together to achieve this goal.”

Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier noted what a historic day the occasion was.

“Today we are fully taking back the responsibility for the children in our territory,” said Chief Peltier. “I am looking forward to our children living in our homes and continuing to nurture our families. I have full confidence in Kina’s staff and board. In the short two weeks since the designation, I have already seen a difference. I am very confident that Kina’s model will be successful—incorporating our knowledge base to ensure our children stay in our homes.”

Chief Corbiere and Zhiibaahaasing First Nation Irene Kells also commented on how special the designation was, with Ms. Kells adding, “This is what can happen when there is one mind, one vision of the people in our communities and we work together.”

“This journey has been years in the making,” noted Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation Patrick Madahbee. “We stuck to our guns, but this journey isn’t over. We are working towards total jurisdiction of our children.”

The High Eagle Singers play a welcoming song at the start of Kina’s designation celebration at the M’Chigeeng Community Complex.
The High Eagle Singers play a welcoming song at the start of Kina’s designation celebration at the M’Chigeeng Community Complex.

“Over the years a lot of people have been involved in making this day possible,” continued Chief Madahbee. “We are embarking on one of the most important issues facing our families and communities. This is a real milestone as we are getting back jurisdiction and I hope this is the start of us getting back other jurisdiction. This designation is a shining example of what is going to be happening across the province, across Canada.”

Colette Prevost, executive director of CAS of the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin, offered heartfelt words of congratulations and support for Kina.

“Congratulations are in order to the many people who light the path to where we are today,” said Ms. Prevost. “We have been on a common journey, but I realize that we have not always had the same experiences. Today we stand together in recognition of where we have come. I am humbled by your determination and moral courage. I have witnessed countless examples of the strength of leadership. In us you will always have a partner to call on and a sister who will walk with you on this journey.”

Minister of Child and Family Services Deputy Minister Alexander Bezzina remarks on the significance of Kina’s designation as a children’s aid society.
Minister of Child and Family Services Deputy Minister Alexander Bezzina remarks on the significance of Kina’s designation as a children’s aid society.

MCYS Deputy Minister Alexander Bezzina and MCYS Assistant Deputy Minister Rachel Kampus delivered greetings on behalf of the Ontario government, presenting a framed designation certificate from the MCYS, signed by the ministry to Mr. Mossip.

Other special guests who offered their congratulations to Kina were MCYA North Region Director June Kelloway-Tarrant, MCYS Program Supervisor Silvana Nelli, Karen Hill of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, Carrie Tabobondung of the ANCFSAO and Teresa Stevens and Julia Redsky of Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services.

The celebrations concluded with a thanksgiving and travelling song, followed by a traditional fest.

As The Expositor previously reported, a transition is being made with the closing of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) of the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin (CAS) office in Little Current and transferring a share of its caseload to Kina Gbezhgomi between this month and June. The Little Current office will be closed completely with staff layoff effective mid-June. Though there will be no longer a Manitoulin office, CAS will still have jurisdiction for non-First Nation families on the Island who will see services via remote access through a staff of two that will be reintroduced.