Wiiky PPE industry will create 50 new long-term positions

FN Procurement Inc. President Matthew Owl cuts the ribbon at the official opening of the new personal protective equipment facility. photo by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG – The grand opening of a FN Procurement factory in Wiikwemkoong’s new light industrial park will not only bring 50 new long-term jobs to the community, but the ribbon cutting on the facility symbolically opens the route to a bright new future of hopes and dreams.

The Thursday, November 27 opening barely interrupted the steady flow of newly dubbed FN-95 masks emanating from a plant which, at full capacity, provides more than 1,000,000 masks a day—not only a made-in-Canada solution, but bearing a made in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory label.

Wiikwemkoong director of operations Kevin Wassegijig acted as master of ceremonies for the ribbon cutting event, welcoming a host of dignitaries that attended either in person or by video conference links. “It’s an exciting day here in Wiikwemkoong,” said Mr. Wassegijig, who noted the unceded territories’ slogan is “a proud progressive community.”

Among the dignitaries providing remarks were Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes who attended by videoconference; Ontario Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo, Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare, Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, who attended in person, along with FN Procurement Inc. CEO Matthew Owl and Dent-X president Jimmy Emms.

Wiikwemkoong councillor and elder Margaret Manitowabi delivered an opening invocation with a prayer for the community and all of those who would be working at the facility.

“The building has already been blessed by one of the spiritual people in our community—Joseph Corbiere,” said Councillor Manitowabi, before delivering a prayer to the Creator in Anishinaabemowin. 

Ogimaa Duke Peltier opened his remarks also in Anishinaabemowin, welcoming the community and its partners and thanking the dignitaries who were in attendance.

“It gives me great pleasure to welcome Jimmy Emms and Jeff May,” said Ogimaa Peltier, noting that the partnership between Dent-X and FN Procurement enabled welcoming them as the first tenants of the new light industrial park. He noted that First Nations have been historically excluded from economic opportunities in the past and characterized the location of the facility on First Nation territory “a step toward reconciliation.”

“Like all other Ontarians, our Anishinabek citizens appreciate the security of a full time job and all the benefits,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “Who doesn’t want or need a regular paycheque? From the health benefits to a sense of meaning and purpose, we all need stability and security.”

Ogimaa Peltier noted that in addition to the benefits it will bring to his community, the facilities will provide significant economic spinoffs for all of Manitoulin and surrounding communities.

After noting the day’s events were the culmination of 15 years of strategic planning, the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories chief went on to offer special thanks to Mary Lynn Odjig of Wikwemikong Development Commission (Enaadmaagehjik), business development manager Nikki Manitowabi and director of operations Kevin Wassegijig for his work on administration.

The president of Dent-X thanked everyone for the warm welcome they had received in the community, going on to note that the staff had been trained at the company’s Vaughan facilities “and passed with flying colours.”

FN Procurement Inc. president Matthew Owl said “it is an absolute honour and a privilege to be able to bring economic development to the North, and it is long overdue.”

Mr. Owl also thanked the Enaadmaagehjik contingent and band chief, council and staff, noting that their efforts were “instrumental in bringing opportunity here.”

“I look forward to the opportunities coming to the North,” he said.

AFN National Chief Bellegarde thanked the elders and the leaders in his language, as well as the many dignitaries. “You are creating opportunities, you are creating jobs,” he said. “We need the masks you are creating. There is only one economy, it is time we once again become producers.”

The grand chief said the three Ps are important; not only profit, but the effects on people and on the planet are also keys to success.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald took part in the event from her vehicle on the side of the road while travelling to her home community. She had recently toured the light industrial park and was effusive in her praise for the initiative. “Not only will your products preserve health, they will save lives.”

A pre-recorded video message from Ontario Premier Doug Ford brought congratulations on behalf of the province. “I am proud to support great partnerships like this one,” said the premier. “You are a true example of what we can achieve when we come together in the fight against COVID-19.”

MP Hughes brought her congratulations as well by video conference, noting the riding is quite blessed by having the facilities in Wiikwemkoong and Sagamok (the site of a second FN Procurement PPE operation).

Anishnabek Nation Grand Council Chief Hare noted that “Wiikwemkoong works! We have had more sad times than happy times in the past, but we are making gains on that, and this is one of them.”

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha delivered thanks to the Creator in Anishinaabemowin, noting how inspired he is to hear the language being spoken, but brought gales of laughter when he noted that he always suspects the speakers are talking about him. He noted that at an earlier feast in the community, he saw a level of pride in the young eyes around him.

Associate Minister Tibollo delivered a poignant address, stressing the important role that economic opportunities such as those coming with the new PPE facility play in building strong, vibrant and healthy communities.

“This is remarkable,” he said. “The one P we heard that is most important to me is people. When we look to try and find solutions, we have to look beyond just the therapies and supports that help the individual.” The social environment in which community members live is of great importance, he noted. “We have to look at the issues of attachment, the family issues, we have to look at the social issues; if we do not address those issues, we will never find solutions to mental health and addictions.”

Associate Minister Tibollo said that when Ogimaa Peltier told him what was happening he stood up and was pacing because he recognised that this would be “giving people the opportunity to regain hope, to believe in themselves, to feel strongly that they are capable and strong to do things.” He referred to the new facility as the “planting of seeds” that would, in time, have an important and long-lasting impact on the mental health of the entire community. “These changes will take time, but you have to start somewhere,” he said. He pointed out that the solutions “have to come from within the community.”

“South Bay electrics have been key to getting us hooked up today,” said Mr. Wassegijig, adding another partner to the mix at the conclusion of the ceremonies. Following the expressions of congratulations by the dignitaries, the blue safety suit-clad staff came out to greet those attending the ceremonies, following which a tour of the facility was held.