M’CHIGEENG—There may have been a torrential downpour going on outside the Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute building but the smiles were bright and sunny inside as Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré announced FedNor would be investing a total of $863,000 in three Island First Nations projects.
Chiefs Patsy Corbiere of Aundeck Omni Kaning, Linda Debassige of M’Chigeeng and Andrew Aguonie of Sheguiandah joined Mr. Serré, FedNor officials and Island band employees during the August 2 announcement. Chief Debassige introduced Mr. Serré, who was making the announcement on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for FedNor.
“It is great to see so many students here,” said Mr. Serré, who acknowledged the traditional territories of the Anishinaabek.
Mr. Serré noted that the $712,572 FedNor funding being invested in M’Chigeeng was “to assist Indigenous entrepreneurs in M’Chigeeng First Nation develop and grow their businesses.” FedNor had provided funding for the construction of the business centre currently underway, this funding will assist with the operations of the centre.
“We wish you and your community success with this endeavour,” he said. “You should be proud of what you have accomplished and we would like to help.”
Both Mr. Serré and Ogimaa Debassige acknowledged the work of FedNor and in particular Community Economic Development Officer Arik Theijsmeijer, who Chief Debassige said “went above and beyond to assist.”
Mr. Serré went on to note that a M’Chigeeng First Nation member from Ottawa will be returning to the community to open a pharmacy in the new business centre.
In addition to the funding for the M’Chigeeng business centre, there was a $100,000 investment to provide members of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation “greater access to health, fitness and cultural programming at the community’s cultural and recreation centre, and $50,594 to improve Sheguiandah First Nation’s cultural park and provide local families with a safe, modern and accessible community space.”
Mr. Serré noted that not everyone is celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, particularly Indigenous peoples who were heavily impacted by the residential school era and its legacy, but expressed hope that reconciliation can take place going forward. “As Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said, ‘Education got us into this mess and education will get us out’,” he said.
“Miigwetch for your powerful message,” said Ogimaa Debassige to Mr. Serré. She thanked the staff and Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute for arranging the announcement ceremony on short notice.
Ogimaa Debassige pointed out that the business centre, which will include the long sought goal of a grocery store, was a project that grew from the grass roots of the community. She recalled the vision of a grocery store was prevalent in the community when she was a “little girl.” Ogimaa Dedassige credited the work of her community’s previous leadership in laying the groundwork for the current project coming to fruition.
Ogimaa Debassige recalled the words of the Honourable Carolynn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, who said to her “think outside the box” when it comes to moving the community forward. “It is nice to see the government listening to the needs of communities,” she said. Making communities healthy again will require innovation to come from the grassroots.
Ogimaa Patsy Corbiere noted that her community built their multiuse centre over the course of 2015-2016, a $4.5 million project located beside their ballfield that benefitted from both federal and provincial funding. That allowed a centralization of recreational facilities for families. But the fitness centre equipment that had to be moved into the new facilities was old and in sore need of repair. Not only will the funding assist in bringing in new equipment, it will also assist in securing LED lighting for the facility to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.
Ogimaa Corbiere thanked Kathy Bebamash, her community’s economic development officer and Mr. Theijsmeijer, without whose hard work “this would just not have happened. He went above and beyond.”
Ogimaa Aguonie acknowledged the other chiefs and commended everyone for working together to make things happen in their communities. “We have never really capitalized on our own community’s location,” he noted. Sheguiandah First Nation is cited on the main Highway 6 corridor leading from the ferry in South Baymouth through Manitoulin to Espanola and Highway 17.
He referenced the work of Cynthia Trudeau, his community’s economic development officer.
The FedNor funding will assist with beautification of the community, particularly in relation to the powwow grounds. “While $50,000 might not sound like a lot of money, it is a big deal to a small community such as ours,” he said. He noted the work being accomplished by students in his community to eradicate and control invasive phragmites to reclaim the community’s beach.
In her closing remarks, Ogimaa Debassige noted that building a relationship of trust between the First Nations and the government is the starting point for building reconciliation. Government, she said, must build greater flexibility into their approach to dealing with First Nations communities. Cookie cutter solutions and approaches will not meet the needs of the communities.