by Xavier Kataquapit
THUNDER BAY – The Wabun Youth Gathering featured the Winter Wisdom Retreat at a wilderness setting at J & L Retreat on Minisinakwa Lake near Gogama. The gathering which featured senior youth from Wabun Tribal Council First Nations was held from February 20 to 24 in the middle of a rare freezing rain storm which tested all participants.
The retreat started with facilitator Byron Edgar, a Traditional Teacher from Ottawa, who instructed the youth on the building of a sweat lodge and teachings involving participation in this ancient cultural practice. During the week Zoe Barrett and Mike VanEgmond of Shared Value Solutions Ltd. of Guelph, Ontario, conducted multi media teachings and theatre based creative role playing for the youth.
Ron Kanutski, a Social Worker and Cultural Teacher from Lake Helen First Nation conducted a survival program. This involved the construction of a traditional lean-to, building of a signal fire and instruction on how to survive in the cold and snow on the land in an emergency. Workshops on addictions and bullying were also conducted over the week long event. A poem writing contest was also featured by Xavier Kataquapit.
“I enjoyed being here and participating in learning new things and I was so excited to find out that I won the poetry contest. I have been writing poems for some time now and just keeping them to myself so to be honoured for my poetry made me feel very good,” explained Koral Saile, Mattagami FN.
Chief Walter Naveau of Mattagami First Nation and his wife Cathy participated in the event which was held near their community.
“It warms my heart to see our youth benefit from traditional teachings here out on the land in a safe and positive environment. I have watched our young people grow over the years and I know that many of the good things happening in their lives has to do with our people returning to our traditional and cultural teachings. I thank our youth, our organizers, facilitators, Elders and chaperones for all the good work they do,” commented Chief Naveau.
Senior youth participants took part in many workshops and survival teaching sessions and also had the opportunity to work with facilitators one on one for personal issues.
Elders, who led the group in prayers and participated during the week of teachings included Nancy Neshawabin of Brunswick House FN, near Chapleau and Leonard Naveau of Mattagami FN.
“It is good to see our young people being helped to learn about their original traditions and culture. Many of us as Elders recall a hard life growing up on the land years ago and I myself remember at the young age of 12 helping my family out in our logging business. I helped to peel logs that we cut and hauled out of the bush by horse. It is good to be able to share our knowledge with our young people,” explained Elder Neshawabin.
Elder Naveau, has been assisting Wabun youth for many years with traditional and cultural teachings as he is a well regarded gatherer, hunter, trapper and fisherman from his community. He has also been a key figure in instructing and teaching young First Nation people on the operation of heavy equipment and various types of machinery and tools. In addition he is part of the Naveau family of musicians and still plays guitar and sings.
“I like to do what I can for our youth. I see things getting better for them and many are getting good jobs in the mining and forestry areas so they can provide for themselves and their families. It is good to be here this week to see our youth having fun and learning at the same time,” said Elder Naveau, who is also a past Chief and Council member of Mattagami First Nation.
Faye Naveau, Regional Crisis Coordinator for Wabun Health Services, organized the event with the support and direction of the Wabun Chiefs and Wabun Tribal Executive.
“I want to give my thanks to our Wabun Chiefs and Council members, Jason Batise, Wabun Executive Director and Jean Lemieux, Wabun Health Director for their continued and steadfast support of our Wabun Youth Gathering. I see our youth moving ahead every year with these gatherings and I know one day in the near future they will be our leaders and managers. It is very satisfying to be part of this process of traditional teachings and healing,” commented Faye Naveau.
Chaperones for the event included: Myra McKay, Darlene Naveau, Tracy Naveau, Kelly Naveau and Sandra Sandrin.
“I congratulate everyone who participated in this winter senior youth gathering and I also want to remind everyone that our youth gatherings were born out of a dream and vision of Elder Thomas Saunders of Brunswick House First Nation. Although he has long passed on, his vision is still alive and full of hope for our future generations of youth with these gatherings,” said Health Director Lemieux.