It takes people to make change for the better in our society. Happily, I have known many people over the past few decades who have devoted their energy to making life better for Indigenous people. One effort I have experienced really stands out.
Sixteen years ago, the Wabun Tribal Council developed its first Wabun Youth Gathering to bring together the young people of the Wabun First Nations. I was there early on documenting the event and I have been following it over the years. As is the case with all good ideas it took some amazing people to find the funding, develop the concept and put the effort together to make this annual gathering happen.
It all started when Jean Lemieux, Wabun’s health director at the time, met with the late Elder Thomas Saunders of Brunswick House FN. He asked Jean to put in place a gathering dedicated to helping Wabun youth learn the cultural and traditional teachings of the Indigenous peoples of the area. That plea struck a chord with Jean and she decided to move ahead with the idea.
The Chiefs of the Wabun First Nations all agreed this was a necessary and important idea and then Executive Director Shawn Batise supported the project. With the help of staff, First Nation members and Elders, Lemieux dedicated much time and effort in producing the first Wabun Youth Gathering which was held in Mattagami FN in August 2007.
The Wabun leadership, community members, Elders and participating youth all knew this gathering with its teachings and healing message was something everyone needed. The pathway for continuation came from hard work by people with a variety of skills. And that’s how the gathering became an annual event.
Wabun was one of the first organizations to develop this type of annual youth event focused on cultural and traditional teachings. Over the years many skilled Indigenous facilitators devoted to passing on healing and life strategies attended these gatherings. The results were positive right away. I was amazed at how much the youth learned new skills at these gatherings while gaining vital knowledge of who they were as Indigenous people.
The Wabun Elders were a huge part of what made these events a success. Every year I was so happy to see Elder Vina Hendrix of Matachewan FN, who has the special distinction of having attended every single Wabun Youth Gathering. She was always a magnet for the youth, who were drawn to her kind and strong personality. Another important figure was the late Elder Marie Boucher of Matachewan FN.
I was reminded of how important our Elders and traditional teachers are and I had the pleasure of meeting many of them from the Wabun territory over the years. Community support was always important, and chaperones made sure to invest their time and energy to accompany the youth and assist the organizers.
The Wabun Youth Gathering has spawned others across the country. That’s a wonderful thing as I see more and more young Indigenous people proud to discover their traditions and culture as well as life skills that help them on their journeys.
New generations of Wabun youth keep showing up on the land where they forge bonds with young people from other communities. These bonds last forever. Over the years I see Wabun people who were just kids when I first encountered them at the Wabun Youth Gatherings. They are doing great things, working and assisting their communities.
These great things are the result of the ideas, commitment and dedication of great people. So, Meegwetch to Jean, Shawn, Jason, Angie, Faye, Josee, Vina, Marie, all the chaperones, facilitators and Chiefs of Wabun for being the great people that created such a positive force in the lives of Indigenous youth.