Trillium Foundation awards $75,000 to Wikwemikong Foodshare

MPP Michael Mantha with Foodshare Coordinator Debbie Mishibinijima, Christiana Jones, WDC apprenticeship coordinator and Jocelyn Bebamikawe, WDC Employment Coordinator

WIIKWEMKOONG––Wikwemikong’s Foodshare program was developed to encourage and assist community members to start growing their own food locally. That idea is fast becoming a movement to help people relearn skills and gain back the knowledge necessary for sustainable living on the land.

That gardening is both powerful and empowering is the message Algoma-Manitoulin- Kapuskasing MPP Michael Mantha brought to the Indigenous Agriculture Gathering for Earth Day last Friday at the Wiikwemkoong arena as he announced a $75,000 seed grant to Wikwemikong’s Foodshare program on behalf of the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF).

“The Trillium Foundation is a fabulous community-oriented initiative,” said Mr. Mantha. “It’s nice to see they focus on things that really raise awareness.”

He remembered going to camp as a child and young man. “I would walk in the bush, build my snare, pick berries,” he said. “That’s what I would buy clothes with.” As a father, he’s tried to expose his children to the same activities, not realizing that what he was doing was teaching.

“As a representative, I always remember going into schools where nothing was going on for kids,” he continued. “They need to keep busy to keep out of trouble. What better way than gardening?”

Wiikwemkoong celebrated Indigenous Agriculture Day with a full day of presentations and a funding announcement from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Front row (from left): Dallas Bondy, MPP Michael Mantha, Dorothy Mishibinijima, Debbie
Mishibinijima, and Tim Ominika.

He noted that C.C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay was recognized for growing fish. The children were very excited to raise the fish and felt pride and ownership. “That’s my fish, they would say. I grew that fish,” Mr. Mantha explained. “Think how that empowers a child. You instill those nurturing values: that’s my fish; that’s my environment; that’s my community. That’s powerful. That’s what gardening does.”

“The children watch,” Mr. Mantha continued. “They talk to their friends about it. Those are that types of values that programs like this encourage. It helps to build a better society for our kids. Instead of growing up on games they get more into this. They get their nails dirty. There’s nothing wrong with dirt.”

Mr. Mantha believes people need to get out into the environment, share stories, eat and dance together more. “We’ve strayed away from that for far too long,” he said. “I tip my hat to those who worked hard to secure this funding. Congratulations to all who were involved.”

Tim Ominika, Wiikwemkoong band councillor, welcomed MPP Mantha to the community on behalf of chief and council. “This is a very historical moment for our community,” he said. “We’re doing our own programming based upon our own community needs.”

Mr. Ominika is thankful for the support of the OTF. “I feel we are moving in the right direction of sustainability and empowering our people,” he continued. “This is a great opportunity for the knowledge sharers in our communityto pass on information to our youth. The Lands department is supporting our youth in the school system and the youth are learning how to be self-sustaining.”

He thanked Foodshare Coordinator Debbie Mishibinijima for all the work she was doing with the Wikwemikong Development Commission (WDC), for her vision on how to move forward.”

Ms. Mishibinijima noted her long connection to gardening. “I grew up driving a tractor,” she said. “My father and mother were gardeners. My brother carries on as a farmer. He has a three sisters garden.”

Foodshare is partnering with the diabetes prevention team, Amikook Seniors’ Centre, Ontario Works, Debajehmujig, Family Centre, Addictions Servicknowledge sharers in our community to pass on information to our youth. The Lands department is supporting our youth in the school system and the youth are learning how to be self-sustaining.”

He thanked Foodshare Coordinator Debbie Mishibinijima for all the work she was doing with the Wikwemikong Development Commission (WDC), for her vision on how to move forward.”

Ms. Mishibinijima noted her long connection to gardening. “I grew up driving a tractor,” she said. “My father and mother were gardeners. My brother carries on as a farmer. He has a three sisters garden.” Foodshare is partnering with the diabetes prevention team, Amikook Seniors’ Centre, Ontario Works, Debajehmujig, Family Centre, Addictions Services and Wiikwemkoong’s Department of Lands and Natural Resources. “We are bringing our resources together to advance food sovereignty,” she explained,” along with the $75,000 seed grant from Ontario Trillium Foundation. Ms. Mishibinijima acknowledged MPP Michael Mantha, the helpful staff at Enaad-maa-jik, the presenters for sharing their knowledge and the outstanding work of Christiana Jones (WDC) and Jocelyn Bebamikawe (WDC) for their efforts in writing the grant proposal.

Ms. Bebamikawe is very excited to be moving forward with both the Foodshare program and the greenhouse project (that also has received funding). “It’s great for the students and elders in the community to access the programs and reinvigorate our agricultural sector,” she said. “We’ve always been involved with agriculture. We are a community of farmers, of maple syrup producers. These programs are allowing youth to re-engage with historical practices. This will help them with their futures.”

Dallas Bondy spoke on behalf of the WDC board. “Today’s conference is a sharing of ideas and information,” he said. “We are also here to acknowledge the OTF for the grant we have received.”  The seed grant will be put toward the Foodshare program to establish community gardens and to assist in the development of healthy food and food education to community members. “The one-third Foodshare model was an excellent choice and will work within our community to create partnerships and allow band members to work together as we always have,” explained Mr. Bondy. “It will ensure that this community initiative is a success for this year and that it continues to make Wiikwemkoong a healthier, more connected and more selfsufficient community in the years to come.”