WIIKWEMKOONG – The smiles outshone the late summer sun as members of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory gathered for a ground-breaking in preparation for the Seven Generations Healing Lodge. The healing lodge is the culmination of a vision that first began 24 years ago in response to a survey of community needs and was a result of collaborative efforts between a number of community services and programs.

The Seven Generations Healing Lodge will offer cultural programming, counselling supports and will support community members and families to deal with the impacts of trauma, but the final decision on what form those programs and supports will take will be up to the community itself, noted Ogimaa Duke Peltier.

Ogimaa Peltier went on to outline some of the intensive lobbying efforts and history that went into bringing the healing lodge into reality. “This facility will go forward with the recommendations from a 1995 report on how to deal with family violence,” he said. “I don’t think I need to go into the issues faced by the community at that time, but we see the physical facility our leadership has brought forward. He recalled the avalanche of negative headlines that brought the community to national attention in the 1970s, many of which are reflected in the headlines we see today in Northern Indigenous communities.

“Thank you to the great number of the volunteers that have come to council many times in support of the healing lodge,” he said.

When the confirmation of the funding arrived earlier this August, Ogimaa Peltier said that it came “essentially out of the blue during an August 12 conference call. The first thing they said was ‘we have $5.9 million to construct a healing lodge.”

Ogimaa Peltier recalled the barely contained excitement expressed by Ngwaagan Gamig Recovery Centre Executive Director Rolanda Manitowabi. “She couldn’t wait to tell her staff,” he said. “I told her ‘yes, you can tell your staff and you can share the news with our community.’ Whatever services we need in the community; you can find in this facility.”

Bill Assinewai, Wiikwemkoong technical services manager, addressed the crowd on behalf of the band administration noting that the facility will be “for the community, working in the community.”

Members of the healing lodge steering committee and Rainbow Lodge staff look over the plans for the new Seven Grandfathers Healing Lodge, a $5.9 million project that has been 24 years in the making. photo by Michael Erskine

Diane Jacko, program manager for Nadmadwin Mental Health Clinic acknowledged the work that went into the non-stop efforts to secure the healing lodge. “Mary Jo, Rolanda and chief kept going until they said yes,” she laughed.

Committee chair Dorothy Wassegijig Kennedy spoke for the committee, which included Darren Trudeau Peltier, Hank Mandamin, James Manitowabi, Gordie Odjig and Stuart Assinewai. “I am all excited right now,” she said. “Happy and excited.” She recalled how she returned to the community in 1995 to begin working on Aboriginal Health and Healing, but was dismayed at the title she was given: sexual abuse co-ordinator. “I didn’t like the title,” she said. “They said ‘how about family violence co-ordinator?’ I didn’t like that title either. They said, ‘well why don’t you get some people together and work on the issues’.”

“I don’t believe in doing anything by myself,” she said, so she set about consulting the community on what needed to be done. The survey indicated the high numbers of people who knew the violence taking place in the community “especially youth and elders. That’s probably why I stuck it out,” she said. “With this healing lodge we can begin doing work on these projects.”

Anishinaabe Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare spoke at length in Anishinabemowin before switching to English for the benefit of those who do not know the language. He expressed the excitement expressed by the chiefs of the Anishinabek when they learned that the healing lodge would be built in one of the Anishinabek Nation communities.

Federal NDP candidate Carol Hughes was introduced as the incumbent MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and she expressed her pleasure at being able “to play a small part in bringing that funding to you.”

Ms. Hughes noted the lateral damage caused to families by addictions and violence. “It affects families, it affects communities,” she said.

Chuck Peltier, business development and lease property manager at Enaadmaagehjik (Wikwemikong Development Commission) spoke on behalf of Nikki Manitowabi and relayed how proud the organization is to have played a part in the planning for the project.

Finally, Ngwaagan Gamig president Chris Johnson came to the microphone to offer his thoughts. “I am really proud of how far I have come,” he said, referencing his youth growing up in Toronto. “I had nowhere to go,” he said. “Then I came here, then I met all of the wonderful people here and discovered so much positivism in the community—and it’s growing.”

Following the speeches, community members gathered for a celebratory feast catered by Hiawatha Catering.

Ogimaa Peltier noted that the band will be consulting the community on programing and services and that the plans for the building originally submitted for the funding application will be fully costed before the shovels actually go into the ground. “We only have so much money,” he said. “We have to make sure we get the best use out of it for the community.”