Rainbow Lodge celebrates 40th anniversary of helping individuals overcome challenges

Algoma-Manitoulin- Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, centre, is joined by the board of directors and friends as she presents a congratulatory certificate to Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre (Rainbow Lodge) Executive Director Rolanda Manitowabi on the occasion of the Lodge’s 40th anniversary celebrations at Thunderbird Park.

WIKWEMIKONG—Born out of a crisis that faced the Wikwemikong community 40 years ago, the Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre Inc. (Rainbow Lodge) has assisted more than 4,000 individuals and their families to deal with the challenges of addictions during the four decades of its existence.

On Friday, August 26 staff, board members and volunteers were joined by politicians and community members at Thunderbird Park for a celebration of the lifesaving success that has been the hallmark of the work being done by Rainbow Lodge since its inception.

Master of ceremonies Chris Pheasant kept the celebrations going smoothly, beginning with a lunch at noon until after a dinner feast at 7 pm, providing a steady banter and explanation of the events going on that kept everyone well in the loop.

Many of those joining the celebration were dressed in powwow regalia and the events of the day officially began with a grand entry and the posting of eagle staffs while host drum High Eagle and guest drum Thunder Earth provided the songs. Honour songs were sung for the many staff and volunteers of the Lodge along with healing songs for those whose life’s journey took them through the programs offered by the Lodge.

“There are so many people who we have to celebrate,” said Rainbow Lodge President Andrea Wemigwans, “full-time, part-time, volunteers and students, all seeking to make our community a better place. Today we take time celebrate the contributions of all of these people.”

Ogimaa (chief) Duke Peltier spoke for several minutes in Ojibwe about the importance of following the path to good health. “I want to thank all of the people for coming here to celebrate 40 years of great work,” he said, calling for applause for the staff and volunteers, noting that they have all played a large part “particularly at a time when the community is looking for re-introduction of our ways into our lives. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all of the staff for continuing to help them to find their path. We all get there in our own ways.”

Anishinabe Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee recognized the eagle staffs and other sacred objects that were present at the ceremonies and acknowledged “the foundations of what we celebrate today, family and the recognition of the value of life.”

Rainbow Lodge Executive Director Rolanda Manitowabi thanked everyone who came to the celebrations on behalf of her team the staff and the board. “Thank you to all those from our community and those visiting from other communities,” she said. “Thank you Joe Corbiere for the pipe ceremony this morning to get us started in a good way. We acknowledge and remember the many people who have first started Rainbow Lodge, the late Chief Ron Wakegijig, the late David Osawabine and those who have been instrumental in building its reputation of sincere helping, those such as Peter Manitowabi, Alex Fox, Glen Corbiere, Clarence Pangowish, Lorney Bob, Willie Trudeau, Joanna Manitowabi, Hank Mandamin, the late Al Shawana and Ben Spanish and so many, many more.”

“For about 420 people of our own community, Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre Inc. has been a place of work, of serving on the governing board, or a place where students have done their school placements,” she said. “We acknowledge and thank every single one of those who have worked for, or served, on the governing board, or a place where students have done their school placements.”

Ms. Manitowabi noted that Rainbow Lodge has been many things to many people over its 40 years, but that for her personally it has been “12 years of continued growth and learning, of working with an amazing team, and a place of constant change.” She recalled her first day on the job when she was welcomed with “a breakfast, a card and flowers. It was an amazing feeling.”

While the day was very much about the many staff and volunteers, Ms. Manitowabi stressed that it was also about the “the clients who choose to come into treatment, they are absolutely to be celebrated for their courage in seeking help, for their bravery to go from surviving to choose living and for the fortitude to strengthen their wellbeing.”

Ms. Manitowabi also recognized the many volunteers who helped organize the 40th celebrations and make them the success they were, including: “Alfreda, Cheryl, Yvonne, Martha, Matthew, Wanda, Stuart and all the others.”

Ms. Manitowabi pointed to a large prayer wreath constructed by Bruno Recollet and a message book in which well wishers were encouraged to write down their thoughts and to construct a medicine bundle to attach to the wreath which would be displayed at Rainbow Lodge.

“Sometimes it is a very difficult job to work in this field,” she said. “Our team often listens to stories of hurt, abuse and trauma. Sometimes high expectations for quick fixes can be unrealistic, yet our staff carry on, they must continue to be authentic, they must continue to take care of themselves to avoid burnout. I certainly hold out team in high regard.”

Bea Shawanda, one of the original founders of Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre Inc., was on hand to recall the early years of the organization and how it came to be, harkening back to 1976 and the suicide epidemic that saw Wikwemikong “splashed across the newspapers” which she said she regarded as “the worst thing you could do to a community, to shame them” instead of highlighting what a resilient community it truly is.

Convinced to return to the community, or perhaps blackmailed (“they said the Lodge would close if I did not come back to run it”), Ms. Shawanda noted that the experience of running the centre was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of her life. She noted that adjusting mainstream approaches to dealing with addictions and community healing to more culturally appropriate and inclusive methods often led to struggles with her Alcoholics Anonymous trained staff.

One anecdote she recalled involved a planned boat trip for a group of school children that nearly foundered when it was realized that they not only did not have enough life jackets for the children, but also had no funds or resources to buy the needed equipment.

“I looked around at the houses, I saw the ones that had two cars, two boats, two snowmachines in the yards,” she recalled. “Those were the houses of the bootleggers in the community.”

Writing a letter to the bootleggers, Ms. Shawanda appealed for money on behalf of the children. Suddenly, envelopes with cash began coming into the centre. “We raised $1,300,” she recalled. “Every single bootlegger responded.”

Ms. Shawanda recalled the slave auctions where the local hockey team donated the receipts from their games and where the members of the community, big and small, offered their services for hire.

In a series of humorous anecdotes Ms. Shawanda recalled the dog shows the Lodge would put on as fundraisers. She recalled the entry of the late Angus Pontiac one year when he took his dog across the stage relating a story in Ojibwe and in English (he wanted points for being bilingual, she explained) where he was increasingly intoxicated. The dog would stagger across the stage on cue, and ended up at the end of the story on his back with his tongue lolling out and his legs in the air. “They won that year,” she deadpanned.

In each of the last 40 years community members have been winning back their lives, for themselves, their families and their communities,” she noted. Many of those who have gone through the programs at Rainbow Lodge have gone on to hold important positions and jobs both within the community and elsewhere.

“Everything we did was with passion,” she recalled. A passion that lives on in the organization to this day.