Artist’s portraits of Wiikwemkoong chiefs unveiled

Ogimaa Duke Peltier holds up a portrait of the late Ogimaa Ron Wakegijig during an unveiling of portraits of former community leaders during the 57th Wiikwemkoong annual cultural festival. Nine portraits were unveiled, while a 10th will be unveiled later in August. photos by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG—The Wiikwemkoong Annual Cultural Festival is a great opportunity to gather the relations and celebrate stories and enjoy a sense of community, so what better time to unveil portraits of the former ogimaa (chiefs) of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories?

Current Ogimaa Duke Peltier acted as master of ceremonies for the unveiling of the completed portraits of nine recent former chiefs. Those nine chiefs’ portraits include paintings of Ronald Wakegijig, who served seven times as chief between 1970 and 2000; Henry Peltier 1978 to 1980 and 1990 to 1992; Arthur E. Manitowabi who served four terms between 1992 and 2001; Walter Manitowabi 2002 to 2004; Hazel Fox-Recollet 2008 to 2012; Margaret Peggy Pitawanakwat 1997 to 1998; Gladys Wakegijig 2001 to 2002; Robert Corbiere 2004 to 2008; and Duke Peltier 2012 to the present. They will be joined later in August by a portrait of the late Alphonse Shawana, 1988 to 1990.

“Every year the council tries to do something special,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “This year we felt it was important to acknowledge the contributions each of these exceptional individuals who each made such a difference to our community.”

Ogimaa Gladys Wakegijig is a current band councillor who remains active on council. She congratulated all of the leadership for their stand of unity.
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“Over my 11 years on council I have heard many stories of the leadership of the past,” he said. “I could visualize who they might be, but I could not see their faces.”

The portraits, created from an amalgam of photographs supplied by family members and gleaned from archives, each tell a story of who the person depicted.

Some of the former ogimaa were present at the ceremony, while others were represented by family members.

“It is important to take back our history,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “Mookmanish was the earliest of our leaders portrayed, now we just need to fill in the gap between him and those we have here today.”

The artist commissioned to create the stunning series of portraits is Francine Peltier, a member of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories who currently resides in Toronto. Ms. Peltier was on hand for the unveiling and said that she was honoured to have been given the commission to create the portraits. “I want to thank everyone who came out here today,” she said. “It was an honour to be given the opportunity to do this project. I learned a lot about the community and it feels good to bring everyone together.”

Former Ogimaa Walter Manitowabi is not only a mentor of the current chief, he is also his uncle.

“Congratulations to Francine,” said Nikki Manitowabi, business development specialist/advisor at the Wikwemikong Development Commission and an artist of note herself. “I am excited to see another artist in our community. I think it is important to recognize the many talented people who are documenting our community—telling our stories ourselves.”

Ogimaa Eugene Manitowabi said that he was honoured by the inclusion of his portrait, but noted that the unveiling brought back many deep emotions, recalling the “young guns” of which he, Ogimaa Ron Wakegijig and Ogimaa Bobby Corbiere were known at the time. “I have been deeply honoured to have been allowed to represent my community in my small way,” he said.

Ogimaa Margaret Peggy Pitawanakwat was the first female chief of Wiikwemkoong, serving between 1997 and 1998. “Chi-miigwetch to Francine,” she said. “She is a beautiful woman.” As for being chief, Ogimaa Pitawanakwat said that it was “the most meaningful thing you can do in your community,” she said.

Ogimaa Gladys Wakegijig spoke in Anishinabemowin and in English, concluding by saying, “I want to thank each one of you for standing together in unity.”

Ogimaa Robert Corbiere is one of a number of former chiefs who attended the unveiling.

Ogimaa Corbiere spoke of how the portraits demonstrate “the talent of Wiikwemkoong.”

He went on to extoll the community for remaining strong in its language and strong in its culture and how Wiikwemkoong is recognized throughout Canada and the world for its strengths and its talent.

The artist has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Toronto from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University. She works primarily in graphite and charcoal in her portraiture work. She is also an accomplished painter, whose paintings focus on abstracting patterns in nature and explores gender, feminism and post modernism. Her cultural background is described as a “pivotal source of inspiration for her work.”