The 16th Annual Wabun Youth Gathering was held July 17-21 in Elk Lake, Ontario, for over 60 First Nation youth. This was the first half of a two-part gathering featuring junior participants from age 8 to 13. An event for senior youth will be held in August.
“It’s important to have this annual event for our young people,” explained Josee Forget, Wabun Regional Crisis Coordinator and event organizer. “It keeps them all connected in a time and place where they can have some fun while also learning healthy teachings and learn from each other. It gives them structure and a sense of caring knowing that we are here to look after them and look out for them.”
Organizers wanted to give youth participants exposure to cultural teachings and traditional activities.
“It’s important to be here because you get to learn about your past and your ancestors,” said 13-year-old Sheldon Saunders of Brunswick House FN.
Traditional games, including spear throwing and archery, were taught by Lamarr Oksasikewiyin of Sweetgrass FN, Saskatchewan. Oksasikewiyin has taught these programs for 16 years.
Elder Vina Landy-Hendrix, who has attended all 16 Wabun Youth Gathering events, led ceremonial events. Young people have grown accustomed to seeing her every year.
“This is an important event for me to see every year. It gives us a chance to show our young people our culture and history and to allow them to hear the language of their ancestors. We can show and teach them about their past, their heritage and where their families came from,” commented Landry-Hendrix.
The event included a presentation on literature, art and illustration with author Nancy Cooper of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation. She read from one of her books, Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome, and led a group discussion with the participants.
Wabun Health Director Angie Collins noted that all her children have benefited from the gathering. Her 13-year-old daughter Katie attended this year.
“It’s important to have this annual event for our children and bring them closer to our Elders and traditional teachers,” said Collins.
Katie explained, “We learned about culture, and I got to learn about traditional games. I’m happy to be here as I get to learn about where I come from and our history.”
Mattagami Chief Chad Boissoneau’s son Brent attended the Wabun event over several years, he said, “and went through the junior group when he was young, then the senior group and later attended as a chaperone. Now I’m seeing my grandchildren attending and it is really special to see this small event 16 years ago grow to become such an important annual gathering.”
The Wabun Youth Gathering originated from the vision of Brunswick House Elder Thomas Saunders, who sadly passed on before his dream came to be.