Rainbow Board unveils MSS renos

Elder Josh Eshkawkogan, far right, gives a talk in the new smudge room during the renovation unveiling.

School now boasts smudge room near entry

M’CHIGEENG – Staff and students at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) welcomed a small slate of guests and Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) executives to the school this past Friday, November 6, to commemorate the grand unveiling of newly completed renovations at the high school, most notably the OneKWE/Kwest sculpture outside the main entrance doors and the smudge room next to the lobby.

“It is a bit upsetting to have to keep today’s event to small numbers (due to COVID-19 gathering size restrictions), because this is a huge celebration for Manitoulin Secondary School, the Island and RDSB,” said MSS principal Jamie Mohamed at the start of the ceremony around the outdoor sculpture.

As shared in the September 2 edition of The Expositor, MSS has recently undergone a multi-year, $5.5 million renovation project that saw visual enhancements and transformations to its student-facing spaces, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes overhauls to systems including its electrical and plumbing networks.

The outdoor remarks began with Grade 12 student Savanah Eshquib delivering an acknowledgement of the Three Fires Confederacy, who are the traditional inhabitants of the lands on which MSS stands.

Mr. Mohamed thanked the many guests who attended the grand unveiling, including elder Josh Eshkawkogan, RDSB Manitoulin trustee Margaret Stringer, RDSB First Nation trustee Linda Debassige (who is also ogimaa-kwe of M’Chigeeng), RDSB capital projects manager Sandi Ackroyd, superintendent of schools Kathy Wachnuk and education director Norm Blaseg.

“We’re very excited to be here today to be able to celebrate and open the newly renovated areas for students, staff and the Island community,” said Mr. Mohamed.

“Today is a good day. We were a bit delayed from our opening time, but that’s okay because things happen when they need to,” said Trustee Debassige, who mentioned the board’s reconciliation plan.

“We have to acknowledge our past, recognize our future and move forward in a good way together,” she said.

Trustee Debassige said it was important to acknowledge the deeper significance of the renovations, rather than the new spaces themselves, and thanked RDSB for creating physical reminders of important teachings.

“Every day is a step in your journey. Every day is a choice you can make for your future,” she said. “Walk in kindness, compassion and respect.”

Trustee Stringer spoke next, thanking the students and staff for their hard work and patience to seeing the project on the 51-year-old school through to completion despite the challenging state of the world.

“This school is truly representative of the community that it serves. The revitalization of (MSS) reflects its rich past, its proud present and its promising future, and I want to thank everyone involved—from students to staff, community members, elder Josh (Eshkawkogan) and the artists—in helping this vision become reality,” said Trustee Stringer.

She gave special kudos to Ms. Ackroyd for including diverse voices in the planning project and bringing people together for the common goal of a positive transformation of the school.

Mr. Eshkawkogan offered some teachings about the significance of change and how the spaces would contribute to that effort during a smudge of the outside sculpture.

Mr. Mohamed then invited a smaller number of guests to reconvene inside in the new sacred fire and smudge room, where Mr. Eshkawkogan furthered his teachings about change and the seven sacred directions. Another smudge took place as seven students created medicine bundles, which were then brought together as a single unit tied with sweetgrass braids.

Mr. Eshkawkogan also led a pipe ceremony inside the smudge room and gave teachings about the interactions between the sacred fire and water.

Following the smudge, those in attendance got an invite to move into the adjacent room for some light refreshments before the day’s events concluded.

“I know in the next few years when the pandemic is over, the community will see the value and the merits of this redefinition of MSS,” said Mr. Blaseg, the director of education. “I hope we can celebrate all living together and use these spaces as a jumping-off point in the spirit of mutual respect.”

He cited Manitoulin’s demographics, a near-even split between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents, as a key factor as to why the Island was the ideal place to include a space such as this within a school.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring the Island together with all the richness this will bring,” he said.

Although the public will not be able to immediately enjoy the new spaces at the school, with all outside events being cancelled for the foreseeable future during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school executives said they hoped to welcome community members as soon as it is safe to do so.