Beaverhouse First Nation youth took part in the 14th Annual Wabun Youth Gathering at the community’s Dorothy Lake traditional grounds near Kirkland Lake recently. The gathering brought together several local youth over a two-day event in mid-August to take part in sharing teachings and stories with Elders, craft making, and games.
The annual Wabun Youth Gathering is normally held every summer as a large event that brings together many youth from several participating Wabun First Nations. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s event was held in multiple stages in the Wabun territory with a new reduced format to protect youth and participants.
“Thanks to our staff at Wabun Health, our Executive Director, Jason Batise, our Chiefs and Beaverhouse leadership we managed to continue with Wabun Youth Gathering in a limited way during this pandemic,” commented Jean Lemieux, Wabun Health Director.
Normally, Wabun Health hosts the events at a central gathering for two different age groups every summer but due to the requirements of physical distancing, keeping a minimal size to gatherings and in favouring holding outdoor activities, the format of this year’s gathering was changed. The organizers instead opted for hosting several smaller gatherings in Wabun’s member communities.
Organizers instituted the wearing of masks or face coverings, maintaining physical distancing as much and as often as possible, spacing everyone six feet apart during all activities, and encouraging and teaching youth to regularly wash hands and use hand sanitizer.
“It’s important for us to continue this annual tradition in order for us to maintain that connection to our young people and to show we are still here for them, even with all these restrictions in place,” explained Faye Naveau, Regional Crisis Coordinator for Wabun Health Services.
The events were headed by Naveau and Debbie Proulx-Buffalo, Mental Wellness Coordinator, Wabun Health with the assistance of Wabun Health staff in Timmins. The annual event brings together Indigenous youth from the Wabun Tribal Council First Nations in northeastern Ontario to provide educational workshops on culture, heritage, outdoor activities as well as presentations on mental health and wellness. This year’s event welcomed youth to take part in soapstone carving activities as well as sharing in personal teachings and storytelling from Elders and presenters. Naveau explained that the event was also an opportunity for everyone to speak and share their stories, thoughts and feelings in a safe environment.
Beaverhouse FN has participated in every annual event for the past 14 years and has seen several of their community youth graduate from the event to become adult chaperones who are now volunteering at the gathering.
“Our youth have taken part in these gatherings for several years now and we are seeing the results of the positive effects on them. These gatherings have allowed our young people to celebrate their culture as well as connect with other Indigenous youth they can relate to and share their lives with. We are grateful that Wabun provides this event every year and now with the changes that have happened with the pandemic it is even more special to see that they are still able to help our young people,” said Chief Wayne Wabie, Brunswick House FN.
Beaverhouse FN youth came together for the two-day event to be with family, friends, and Elders to learn about their heritage.
“It feels good to learn about our Native culture and our language. Thanks to everyone for having this event for all of us,” said 13-year-old Madison Batisse.
Traditional teachings and history were provided by Beaverhouse FN Elders Burt and Darquise McKenzie. Elder Burt McKenzie has been involved in his community development for many years and once served as Council member for the First Nation.
“It’s important to have these events because it allows us to teach our youth about their past, their history, their heritage, and their language. I grew up learning about the culture and our language and it felt good to have an opportunity to share that history with these young people,” said Elder Burt McKenzie.
The organizers were assisted by local First Nation staff and volunteers including Hunter Lemay, Taylor McMillan, and Nathanial Tinny.
“It was fun to be part of the gathering growing up and now it is exciting and special to be taking part as a chaperone. It makes me feel good to connect with others every year at this gathering,” said McMillan.
The Wabun Youth Gathering originated through the vision and dream of Wabun Elder Thomas Saunders of Brunswick House FN who lobbied for a youth gathering. Sadly, he passed on before his dream came to be but his legacy lives on.
Wabun Tribal Council is a regional territorial organization which represents the six First Nation communities of Beaverhouse, Brunswick House, Chapleau Ojibwe, Flying Post, Matachewan and Mattagami in Northeastern Ontario and it is directed by its respective Chiefs.