16th Annual Wabun Youth Gathering Junior Youth Event Celebrates Culture And Traditions

The 16th Annual Wabun Youth Gathering was held in Elk Lake, Ontario in a week long event from July 17 to 21 for over 60 First Nation youth at the Elk Lake Ecolodge. The event was organized by the Wabun Tribal Council Health Department with the support of the tribal council’s member First Nations. This is the first half of a two part gathering featuring junior participants from age 8 to 13. An event for senior youth will be held in August.

“It’s important to have this annual event for our young people. This annual gathering keeps them all connected in a time and place where they can have some fun while also learning healthy teachings and learn from each other. It also gives them structure and a sense of caring knowing that we are here to look after them and look out for them. We also want them to understand that there are people around them in their home communities that care about them and want the best for them,” explained Josee Forget, Wabun Regional Crisis Coordinator and event organizer.

Organizers wanted to give youth participants plenty of exposure and awareness of cultural teachings and traditional activities.

“We did lots and I got to meet new people and it all made me feel good. It’s important to be here because you get to learn about your past and your ancestors. I want to thank my family for bringing me here and for all the people that have helped me,” said 13 year old Sheldon Saunders of Brunswick House FN.

Traditional games including several unique cultural games, spear throwing and archery was taught by Lamarr Oksasikewiyin, of Sweetgrass FN, Saskatchewan. Oksasikewiyin is a cultural teacher who has done these programs for 16 years and brings a wealth of traditional and cultural knowledge to young people. Activities and lessons that focused on health, well being, traditional teachings and cultural awareness were also led by Wabun Health staff including Debbie Proulx-Buffalo, Tony Miller, Faye Naveau and Catherine Vinkle-Brunet, as well as community teachers and leaders including Holly Woodhouse and Troy Woodhouse both of Flying Post FN.

Traditional spiritual and ceremonial events were led by Elder Vina Landy-Hendrix of Matachewan FN. Elder Landry-Hendrix has the special distinction of having attended all 16 Wabun Youth Gathering events and young people from all the communities have grow accustomed to seeing her every year.

“This is an important event for me to see every year. It gives us a chance to show our young people our culture and history and to allow them to hear our language, the language of their ancestors. They already see so much of modern culture which is why it makes it even more important to have these events where we can show and teach them about their past, their heritage and where their families came from,” commented Elder Landry-Hendrix.

The week long event also included a presentation on literature, art and illustration with published author Nancy Cooper of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation. She gave a reading from one of her books ‘Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome’ and led a group discussion with the participants.

Wabun Health Director was on hand to experience the gathering and noted her children have and still are benefiting from the annual event. Her daughter Katie attended this year.

“It’s important to have this annual event for our children and bring them closer to our Elders and traditional teachers to share their cultural knowledge,” said Collins.

Thirteen year old Katie Collins explained, “We learned about culture and I got to learn about traditional games. My favourite activity was swimming. I’m happy to be here as I get to learn about where I come from and our history.”

Youth had plenty of other activities to keep them busy during the week including ball games, slime making, soap stone carving, sharing circles, bubble soccer, a foam party and daily gathering at the water front for swimming.

Chief Chad Boissoneau of Mattagami FN attended the event to meet with Wabun Youth and show his support for the annual event.

“Our young people look forward to this annual event. My son Brent attended many years and went through the junior group when he was young, then the senior group and later attended as a chaperone. Now I’m seeing my grandchildren attending and it is really special to see this small event 16 years ago grow to become such an important annual gathering,” said Chief Boissoneau.

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. The first gathering was held in Mattagami FN in 2007 through the leadership of past Health Director Jean Lemieux of Matachewan FN. Sadly, Elder Saunders passed on before his dream came to be.

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.