M’Chigeeng is important on its own merits, not for drug thugs

M’Chigeeng First Nation is a stellar community: it is certainly the educational hub of Manitoulin, boasting the headquarters of Kenjgewin Teg, one of Ontario’s handful of Indigenous Institutes and the only one in Northern Ontario, founded and nurtured in the community.

It’s home to its own elementary school, Lakeview, and although Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) is located just beyond the community’s border, its address is M’Chigeeng and there have been many productive partnerships between MSS and its neighbour over the years.

M’Chigeeng is also Manitoulin Island’s arts and culture hub, the home of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, Weengushk Film Institute where young people come to learn about and participate in the film industry, and there are more art galleries per capita there (at least four) than anywhere else on the Island.

M’Chigeeng First Nation has benefited from prudent leadership through the decades and the legacy of various administrations is obvious: the arena, the business centre and community hall complex (all associated with the arena,) good parks and beaches, hiking trails, up to-date water and sewer treatment facilities and a brand-new grocery store.

The Manitoulin First Nations tribal council, the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, was started here and its first administrator was a citizen of M’Chigeeng. Similarly, M’Chigeeng is the headquarters of the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service.

Private business abounds; Manitoulin Physio and E. Corbiere and Sons Construction come to mind as large employers in addition to the myriad of service and retail businesses that serve not only their own community but the greater Manitoulin Island.

This impressive list establishes M’Chigeeng as the important and diverse community that it is.

But just as important regional centres like nearby Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay suffer perils of homelessness and drug abuse, so too does an otherwise stellar community like M’Chigeeng.

The fatal shooting last week and the prompt capture of five suspects as they attempted to flee the Island after this event gives perspective to this less desirable situation that the community has been dealing with in recent years, as have several other Island communities.

What sets this incident apart is that besides being a fatality, it was the second such shooting event within a three-month period.

What is disturbing, and frustrating to the M’Chigeeng Chief and Council and the UCCM Police, is that the actors in these sordid events have brought from elsewhere their violent rivalries to play out in M’Chigeeng.

M’Chigeeng citizens, members of this unique and culturally and educationally significant community, have shared with this newspaper that the activities that have culminated in gunplay and death by gunshot are, in fact, the result of rival, southern Ontario factions, vying for prime position to sell drugs.

In other words, a turf war.

The community’s leader, Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige, continually pleads with her constituency, if they have information about drug dealers or where they might be found, to share it with police or with chief and council.

M’Chigeeng is an important place. It is unique in giving voice to regionally significant educational, business, health and cultural institutions. There is much for its citizens to be proud of.

But Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige is right on track in her expectations that her community’s good citizens will help to eliminate the curse of drug dealers that has culminated in gun violence, one death, another person wounded and no doubt the visitation of much misery through drugs on individuals who would in most cases prefer to be leading normal productive lives in the community of their ancestors.

M’Chigeeng has so much to be proud of, built by generations of good leaders. It is not a place that deserves to be famous, for however short a time, for hosting a drug dealer-fueled turf war.

In case you’d like to remain anonymous in sharing information you might have about these issues, here is the contact number for Crime Stoppers: 1-800-222-8477.