National Indigenous Peoples Day inaugural celebration held at MHC

Elders Geraldine Ense McGregor and Thecla Neganegijig provide food teachings. Ms. Ense McGregor, left, demonstrates a birch bark offering basket.

MINDEMOYA – National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportune time to celebrate Indigenous culture and raise awareness at the same time, said Tim Vine, vice-president corporate support services and chief financial officer for Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC). The MHC’s inaugural celebration was held on Monday at both Little Current and Mindemoya sites.

Mr. Vine opened the celebration by acknowledging “Robinson-Huron Treaty territory and the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Mnidoo Mnising, specifically the communities of Aundeck Omni Kaning, M’Chigeeng, Sheshegwaning, Zhiibaahaasing, Sheguiandah, Wiikwemkoong and Whitefish River. We recognize and deeply appreciate their historic connection to this place,” he said. “As settlers, this recognition of the contributions and historic importance of Indigenous peoples must also be clearly and overtly connected to our collective commitment to make the promise and the challenge of Truth and Reconciliation real in our communities and in particular to bring justice for murdered women across our country.”

He thanked Noojmowin Teg Health Centre and M’Chigeeng Health Centre for their support and thanked Geraldine Ense-McGregor, Thecla Neganegijig, Blain Corbiere and Phoenix McGregor as well as MHC’s Cultural Safety, Inclusion and Engagement Committee.

The committee was formed less than a year ago; there was a similar committee in the past but it wasn’t as active. “We’ve reformed it as part of our plan to embed First Nations culture in our hospital practices,” said Mr. Vine. “They make recommendations for making the hospital more inclusive, so that there’s space for everybody.”

“This day provides an opportunity for us to advance reconciliation, which is important as 40 to 50 percent of the Island’s population is Indigenous and so are 50 percent of our patients,” he said. “We recognize that it is important to celebrate Indigenous contributions to Canada and the rich and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples. National Indigenous Peoples Day offers everyone an opportunity to deepen their understanding and awareness of the unique adversities that Indigenous peoples face and have overcome. MHC is excited to celebrate its first inaugural acknowledgement and celebration of this day.” 

Ms. Neganegijig, Ms. Ense-McGregor and her granddaughter Skyana Behm offered a prayer song. Guests enjoyed cedar tea and strawberries before elders Ms. Neganegijig and Ms. Ense-McGregor provided a teaching on traditional food offerings and making birch bark spirit plates for the offering. Traditional foods of strawberry, wild rice, fish, corn and bannock or scone (more modern than traditional) were prepared by MHC staff, who made enough to provide a traditional meal for patients to share in the celebration. Ms. Ense-McGregor demonstrated making tiny birch bark baskets without pins or fasteners and Ms. Neganegijig explained the origins of the traditional foods offered.

Manitoulin Health Centre co-CEO Paula Fields, right, joins a women’s hand drum group from Whitefish River First Nation at the hospital’s inagural Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations held at the Little Current site. Celebrations were held at both Mindemoya and Little Current hospital sites.

“We offer the food today when we are remembering our loved ones, for the children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School, for those already found and those not yet found at other residential schools across the country,” Ms. Ense-McGregor said. “Anybody can make an offering. Everyone has a spirit. Our family members. The patients who have passed on from the hospital here. They all pass through the western doorway and can help us in this realm.”

The singers again offered prayers to thank the spirits for their help and closed the doorways to end the 2021 event. 

Mr. Vine was pleased with this first annual celebration at MHC. “Just to see the amount of interconnectedness here on the Island is really remarkable,” he said. “It’s great to have a place that is so strongly and predominantly influenced by Indigenous heritage. That’s really wonderful.”