Maggie and her mom Caroline at the elder’s feast.
Tuesday 4:14 PM
An interesting day today.
I met with Maggie Sakanee this morning, a remarkable woman. She is held in high regard in the community and for good reason. A couple of months ago the provincial and federal governments announced some funding that will someday see a women’s shelter built in the community that is named after her daughter Corinna, who died at her own hand at age 15.
People in Neskantaga speak very freely about suicides and might seem unaffected by it but the damage it causes is devastating. Imagine that you lived in a closed community with your entire extended family, 250 or more. Imagine that two or three members of your family killed themselves each year; often one right after the other. The community suffers great trauma with each one of these tragedies. Each death leaves no one untouched. Everyone suffers, in complete silence. First Nations people simply do not talk about these things and the wounds never heal.
Maggie has worked at the school as an educational assistant and how works with the mental health unit as a counselor and serves on the Education Committee. Bonnie considers her a friend and a person who does not mix words; she speaks clearly and concisely, but never out of turn. Brian says that you will never find a First Nations person who will presume to speak for the community. They make no half-baked promises and never offer empty praise.
We talked to her about the summer day camp we ran and asked if we should do it again. Her response might be considered lukewarm by some, but coming from a first nations person it was positive. She said that the kids had a good time and that the kids would love to see the team come back. She thought it was well done. Her suggestion was that we run a program that focussed on self esteem. “Our kids have a great struggle with self esteem”
In 1961 Maggie was taken from her family in Lansdowne House when she was 6 years old and raised in a residential school in Thunder Bay. The next time she returned she was 13 years old and had graduated from Grade 8. She no longer spoke any Ojibway and her mother spoke no English. “I had lost my entire heritage and had to try and relearn it all”
I have heard these stories but had never met anyone who had lived them. Maggie is my mother’s age. If this had been my family I would have been one of the ones who were raised by adults who had never had parents.
After lunch we went to the Neskantaga Education Centre for the Christmas Concert and I got some great footage. Many of the kids from the day camp are out of town but I saw a number of kids that the team would recognize: Kayla, Torina, Nancy, Shania, Charmaine, Geoffrey, Sunshine, Desmond, Thomas and others.
I met some new friends as well. Landon appears to be about three and was quite interested in my video camera. When he saw his own face on the viewfinder he was mesmerized and stopped to investigate. He and his cousin Lashauna were quite interested in me and told me about Diego and Dora the Explorer. Children in the north are convinced that Dora is a First Nations kid. When she speaks Spanish they simply assume that she is speaking some unknown native dialect. Most young people know little if any Ojibway or Oji-Cree.
The Children’s program was very charming and delightful, but sad at the same time. Nearly 20 kids participated in the JK / SK / Gr. 1 presentation. About 12 Grade 2-3’s sang a song and 10 Grade 4-5 kids did a dramatization of ‘Twas the night before Christmas’. Only 4 girls in Grade 6-7 were present to hold a huge map of the community that they had drawn and only two girls in Grade 8-9 came forward. Our birthday lists show about a dozen children in each of those last two age groups. That would make the elementary school drop-out rate about 90%. Bonnie says that in a community this size there might be one high school graduate every year or two.
On the way out of the school I saw a mural on the wall that read:
We do not inherit the land from our ancestors,
we borrow it from our children.
Girls Drumming Group ‘Yellow Standing Flower’
Thunder Bird Drummers
Families leaving after the Christmas Concert