Wiikwemkoong cultural camp goes online

Over a dozen people joined On the Rock Fitness Center’s first-ever Zoom workout session from the comfort of their homes over the weekend, just one of the many ways Islanders are staying connected in this time of physical distancing. photo courtesy of On the Rock Fitness Center

 Plenty of services, entertainment accessible through the web

MANITOULIN – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused numerous events to be cancelled on Manitoulin Island and across the country, but dedicated and inventive organizers have not settled for cancellations and instead have found innovative ways to move their offerings online or create new opportunities altogether.

Wikwemikong Heritage Organization (WHO)’s popular cultural immersion camps were one of the early programs to shift online after the in-person events were cancelled. Rather than inviting people to learn traditional skills with language immersion in person, WHO instead filmed its workshop facilitators working on their various topics.

“Our staff is from a younger generation and that’s where the idea came from,” said WHO program manager Doris Peltier. “The facilitators were here already, so we thought we might as well utilize them.”

The technology-focused team at Wiikwemkoong’s Anishinaabemowin immersion program helped out by filming various workshops and activities, beginning with a fun jig around the community to introduce the video series, and the camp was organized in partnership with Wasse Naabin Youth Centre. In the age of technology, the teams were able to edit and upload all the footage from home. The videos are hosted on YouTube and also available through WHO’s Facebook page.

Every one of the topics that was planned to be discussed at the camp have been turned into videos, with the addition of a couple of videos that were added along. Once the videos are all done, there are plans to compile them into a single set on the W.H.O Productions YouTube channel.

Ms. Peltier said turning to traditional teaching would be a major source of help during the pandemic, both for food and nutritional sustenance and as a way of gathering traditional medicines.

“If we follow the seasonal activities we’re normally doing, our food supply is already here. Right now people are making syrup and when the spring comes, there’s all this planting we can do, hunting and fishing. Even a lot of people are ice fishing now—we constantly have food to share with others,” she said.

Robbie Shawana has been hosting several Facebook Live concerts from the comfort of his Assiginack living room recently.

Wiikwemkoong’s Mary Lou Manitowabi has also posted several independent live videos on Facebook from out in the sugar bush.

Live online streams have proven useful for other instructional purposes, such as Noojmowin Teg’s Thursday afternoon streams with child nutrition co-ordinator Cody Leeson. The broadcasts take place at 1:30 pm on the Noojmowin Teg Facebook page where Mr. Leeson offers tips and answers questions about using foods you might have stored away in your pantry.

Community leaders such as Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin and Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier have hosted short Facebook Live streams to inform community members about the current state of COVID-19 and the Township of Assiginack continues to hold regular COVID-19 Facebook Live events with Dr. Mike Bedard of the Assiginack Family Health Team.

Debajehmujig Storytellers has begun offering traditional teachings in regular Facebook Live streams from its “isolation booth.” Sam Brennan started it off with an introduction to making bucking solution, a liquid used when tanning animal hides to help remove hair. The next day, Ashley Manitowabi hosted a seed planting live stream during which he shared techniques and traditional teachings, and Ms. Brennan continued her series with a demonstration of fleshing and graining the hide.

Music has been a popular creative outlet during this time. Manitowaning musician Robbie Shawana has already performed a series of Facebook Live concerts from his home in the spirit of the National Arts Centre’s #CanadaPerforms campaign, which is a $200,000 fund made in collaboration with Facebook that will offer some funding to selected Canadian artists as they perform virtual concerts. 

This fund is intended to help recoup the lost revenue from cancelled shows as well as offer Canadians the live music experience as a comfort during challenging times. Last week, Mr. Shawana was featured at the end of a CTV Northern Ontario newscast.

Although their gigs are cancelled for the foreseeable future, conductor Chris Theijsmeijer organized a virtual rehearsal for The Island Singers earlier in March. There were a couple of minor hiccups at the start but it proved to be a useful tool and Mr. Theijsmeijer said the positive feedback has encouraged him to try it again soon.

Jean Ward and husband Jamie had to close up the Main Street Café in Kagawong but they have posted some music to their Facebook page to offer some smiles during the physical distancing period.

For those trying to stay fit, there is no shortage of virtual fitness and dance classes. Bay Estates Yoga on Manitoulin has begun to stream and post yoga classes and exercises on its YouTube and Facebook pages, and On the Rock Fitness has recently experimented with paid online classes as two local examples.

For a little light entertainment, Anchor Inn cook and trivia host extraordinaire Caitlin Young hosted a special trivia night last Wednesday. Although there were no prizes up for grabs, it offered many viewers a fun evening diversion.

Religious gatherings were among some of the earliest-affected community events when public health officials first warned against taking part in large meetings. Several Island churches host online services through Facebook, including Mindemoya Missionary Church, Grace Bible Church, Little Current United Church and Tehkummah Pentecostal Church.

Municipalities and governing boards around Manitoulin have also switched to holding virtual meetings.

Away from Manitoulin Island but just as accessible thanks to the connectedness of the internet, places such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, the Toronto Zoo and Ripley’s Aquarium have been hosting virtual walk-throughs and animal live streams online for free.

The National Film Board and TVO have plenty of films available on their websites that can be viewed free of charge.

The Expositor has recently launched the Share a Smile message board online and in our print edition. If you’re looking for a way to connect with someone on Manitoulin, why not write a nice message and pour some kindness into the world? You can also tell other Islanders what you’re doing to make the most of your physical distancing time.

Email your comments to editor@manitoulin.ca or phone them in to 705-368-2744.