WIIKWEMKOONG—On Thursday, March 29, friends and family gathered at the Rainbow Ridge Golf Course to celebrate the achievements of eight Wiikwemkoong community members. These eight individuals successfully completed the six-month Ni Aabizikaan “Moving Forward” Employment and Training Program, a partnership between Enaadmaagehjik and Canadore College, funded by the National Indian Brotherhood Trust Fund.
The evening began with Wyatt Bell hand drumming and singing in the procession of program graduates into the ceremony; this was followed with a prayer by elder Jerry Kaboni.
Ogimaa Duke Peltier then welcomed the evening’s guests and addressed the graduates. During his address, Ogimaa praised the graduates for their hard work and their will and determination to complete the program and encouraged them to “continue learning about (themselves) and learning about new things–that’s why we walk on earth.”
Dallas Bondy, board member for Enaadmaagehjik/Wikemikong Development Commission, also spoke and wished the students continued success in their endeavours. Ni Aabizikaan “Moving Forward” Program Coordinator, Don Spraggett, presented the graduates with their certificates after saying a few words of congratulations.
The program graduates are: Theresa Abigail Aiabens, Trina Kagige, Macy Manitowabi, Warren Manitowabi, Cynthia Ominika, Garnet Otosquaiob, Jonathan Peltier and Cassandra Shawanda.
Jonathan Peltier, named by his class as the class valedictorian, thanked his fellow graduates for making the experience such a positive one and gave a very moving presentation in which he spoke of the journey which brought him to this evening. Mr. Peltier explained that while there will always have challenges in life, “you cannot be held up or held down by the complexities of your life, because at the end of the tunnel is your reward and going for what you want is a commitment which takes discipline.” He closed his presentation with a reminder to all that “Creator’s greatest gift to all of us is giving us the capability to learn and to use that knowledge to move forward.”
After the Valedictorian speech, Christianna Jones, apprenticeship coordinator with Enaadmaagehjik and Gary Larsen, Ni Aabizikaan “Moving Forward” Program Coordinator presented the special recognition awards:
Abigail Aiabens received the Laughter Award; Cassandra Shawanda received the Determination Award; Cynthia Ominika received the Courage Award; Warren Manitowabi received the Resilience Award; Trina Kagige received the Enthusiasm Award; Jonathan Peltier received the Leadership Award; Macy Manitowabi received the Vision Award; and Garnett Otosquaiob received the Most Improved Award.
Each of the graduates also received a scholarship to pursue their goals.
In a surprise presentation, Ms. Aiabens presented her fellow graduates, and the program coordinators with personal gifts. All of the women who graduated received ribbon skirts and the men who graduated received ribbon shirts; all were adorned with appliqued feathers and hearts. Ms. Aiabens, who said that she didn’t really feel prepared for the program and found it to be “a struggle to be learning again; writing; and using computers” was moved to make the gifts because of all the great support that she received from her fellow students and program coordinators. She also received great support from her family which made her think “Ok! I got this!” Her continued laughter through the program, including laughing at her own struggles had the rest of the class laughing with her. Her personal philosophy is that “we need to laugh at ourselves–we need to live, laugh, and most of all love.”
Mr. Larsen acknowledged the immense help and support of Judy Manitowabi of Canadore College as well as the Enaadmaagehjik staff in carrying out the program.
During the six-month program, students received Academic Upgrading/Secondary Credits/GED Prep; work-related safety and skills training, including Health and Safety training; First Aid/CPR; Service Excellence; WHMIS; Smart Serve and other training related to employment; two one-week work placements in chosen areas of interest; a five-day on-campus program audit and mentoring experience at Canadore College; two college credit courses: Cultural Heritage (ISP 100) and Communications (COMM 125); computer skills training (introduction to Microsoft Word and Excel and Power point) and Anishnaabemowin/Cultural Classes.
Four of the graduates have been accepted into post-secondary training at Canadore College for school in the fall; they will be working with the Canadore College Indigenous Poverty Reduction Education Program; and four of the students have already begun finding employment in the community and Wii-ni n’guch-tood LMS, the employment and training funding source, is working with them in the process.