TORONTO—It was quite the home run for Manitoulin Island at this year’s Meritorious Service Decoration (MSD) (civilian division) awards at the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite in Queen’s Park as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell pinned medals on several individuals from Island communities.
Among the recipients were Lakeview Principal Neil Debassige and M’Chigeeng Anishinaabe historian Alan Corbiere, who were nominated and selected in recognition of their dedication to Indigenous language/cultural revitalization as demonstrated by the Anishinaabemowin Revival Program at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng. Both men, notes an email from the LG’s office, “are instrumental in the program development and continuous support and dedication to the success of the program and language vitality.”
Other recipients from Manitoulin’s shores included Josephine Mandamin, a Wiikwemkoong elder whose inspiring water walks have highlighted the importance of protecting water as one of our most sacred resources and Autumn Peltier, a Wiikwemkoong youth who has brought protection of the water onto the global stage (Ms. Peltier is also selected as an Ontario Community Newspapers Association Junior Citizen this year, see story Page 1); and Dr. Dawn ‘Meemee’ Harvard (daughter of Order of Canada member Jeanette Corbiere Lavell) for her leadership at the grassroots level in advancing basic human rights of Indigenous women and her work in advocating for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and support of families going through the process.
“It was quite a surprise when we walked through the door,” said Mr. Harvard. “We didn’t know who else was receiving the award before we walked in the room.”
“Manitoulin really knocked it out of the park,” agreed Mr. Debassige. “There were so many people from the Island there; it was fantastic, great!”
“It was a great honour just to be in the room with people like Josephine Mandamin and Autumn Peltier,” said Mr. Harvard. “Josephine was my mentor as I was starting out as a youth. I was full of fire and fury and she taught me to walk with grace. I was proud to see three strong women from Wiikwemkoong being honoured in this way.”
Mr. Debassige said that it was a humbling experience to receive the honour, but went on to stress that he and Alan were accepting the honour on behalf of the entire community of people who worked to bring the Anishinaabemowin Revival Program to fruition.
“I think I can speak for both Al and I on this, we were only part of the players in the ARP,” said Mr. Debassige. “When you look at how system change happens, the process it takes, there are so many people who deserve to be part of this honour.”
Mr. Debassige went on to cite “Sandra Tiabossigai, M’Chigeeng chief and council, the M’Chigeeng Board of Education, Clarisse Pangowish, Gail Pyette, Evelyn Roy, Melvina Corbiere, Louis Debassige, Ted Corbiere, Nancy Debassige, the whole development team, and the implementation team, Lorraine Debassige, Eria Bebonang, and Gail Pyette again, and then there will be the whole revision team. We are just starting the process,” he said. “So I can only accept on behalf of the entire team.”
As for the number of recipients coming from the Island, Mr. Harvard shared what she and the other recipients were thinking. “There must be something special in the water on Manitoulin,” she laughed.
The MSD awards “enable the Governor General to honour people who have performed a deed or activity in a highly professional manner which brings benefit or honour to Canada. The MSD does not recognize a lifetime contribution but, rather, a deed or activity that was performed during a short period of time,” noted the Lieutenant Governor’s office.
“So often we see awards going to captains of industry, people who have made millions for their companies,” said Mr. Harvard. “These awards are a rare opportunity to see people being honoured just for doing the right thing. Even if it wasn’t always popular at the time, they still stepped up to do the right thing.”
With three strong Anishinabe-kwe coming from Manitoulin, Mr. Harvard expressed the hope that such accolades for young Indigenous women will be come even more common in the future.