WIIKWEMKOONG—When big changes were coming to the Wiikwemkoong Canada Post office, including a move to a new modern home in the Wiikwemkoong small business centre mall, Postmaster Samantha Recollet decided to make it her goal to have the signage reflect the unceded nature of the Wiikwemkoong territories. She knew it would be an uphill challenge, and that it might mean paying for things out of her own pocket, but she decided the cost would be worthwhile and decided to soldier on.
“It was a pretty hectic time,” she recalled of the move. “We had about six weeks to make the move.”
Ms. Recollet anticipated some corporate push back on the Anishinaabemowin signage. Moving a large corporation off of policy established for decades, if not a century and a half, did not sound easy. “English and French are the official languages of Canada,” noted Ms. Recollet. “But I felt that this is Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory—in blunt terms it is not owned by Canada.”
But in the end there wasn’t all that much resistance to the idea, and to Ms. Recollet’s immense relief they picked up the signage tab as well. In fact, her immediate supervisor was among her first supporters. “He was very supportive of the idea, but he wasn’t at all sure the head office would go for it,” she recalled.
As a secondary level post office, the postmaster is expected to source and supply the building in which to locate and that unit must meet stringent specifications. “They pay for it, but it is up to you to find it,” explained Ms. Recollet.
As a Grade 1-Level 2 office, the Wiikwemkoong Post office doesn’t have as much merchandise as might be found in larger centres, but the new location is clean and professional—and the signs are bilingual, English and Anishinaabemowin.
“Our language being the first language, it was very important that is recognized,” said Ms. Recollet. “Growing up I didn’t learn my language at home,” she said. “The residential school system made our parents afraid to teach us the language. We took some of it in school, like French, but it isn’t the same. We would play bingo, sing songs, but it wasn’t like an everyday kind of learning where you really understand it to hold a real conversation.”
Anishinaabemowin generally got used more when her parents or other caregivers were frustrated with her behaviour or were trying to get her to do something. “It would be telling us to be quiet, or sit down, or eat your vegetables,” she laughed. “As I grew up and had children of my own I wanted to get back into the language. I got some of it in high school, but my older sisters didn’t get it so much.”
Ms. Recollet was very active in trying to learn her language while at Manitoulin Secondary School. The Rainbow District School Board was finally giving full credits for the Anishinaabemowin classes, just as they did for French. “I was a teaching assistant for Stewart Roy (the Anishinaabemowin teacher hired by the board to teach at MSS).”
Ms. Recollet has always been very active and proactive in her life, although she admits to making some less than perfect choices in her younger years. One thing she does not regret was becoming Miss Manitoulin in 2004.
Now Ms. Recollet is the postmaster at Wiikwemkoong, and thanks to her tireless efforts that is exactly what the sign on the door reads, along with the traditional informal greeting “aanii,” welcoming community members into the offices in their own language.