Indigenous leaders question Near North Board’s response to vandalism

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By Jennifer Ashawasegai-Pereira

Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative

The Near North District School Board recently decided to act months after a noose was hung over the entrance to the Shaputuan (elongated teepee structure) at Parry Sound High School and after students spoke out .

In an update posted Aug. 5 on the Near North District School Board’s website, the board states, “Near North District School Board

(NNDSB) shares grief over Shaptotaun vandalism

(sic) at Parry Sound High School (PSHS) and would like to provide an update regarding these incidents. The NNDSB is proud of the relationships it continues to cultivate with many First Nations. In the Parry Sound area, the council works with Moose Deer Point, Wasauksing, Shawanaga, Magnetawan and Henvey Inlet First Nations. Students from these First Nations and other Indigenous communities attend PSHS.

The school board indicates that the First Nations of the region have been consulted. Although two Gimaawog (Chiefs) in the area have confirmed receiving an email letter from the school board, they say a letter is not a consultation.

Shawanaga First Nation, Gimaa Adam Pawis, highlighted what his community seeks in consultation: Free, Prior and Informed Consent, otherwise known as FPIC, which is part of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples (UNDRIP).

Gimaa Pawis also pointed out that while the only Indigenous administrator has been consulted, that person is not speaking on behalf of Shawanaga First Nation. “Just as I don’t speak on behalf of other First Nations. It’s not my place,” he said.

Chief McQuabbie also noted that he received a letter from the school board and agreed that a letter is not consultation. HIFN Gimaa McQuabbie didn’t hear about this particular incident until late June. Had he heard about it much earlier, Gimaa McQuabbie said he would have investigated further.

On the Shaputuan incident, Gimaa Pawis added, “If it was a church, the whole town would be in turmoil? The security system was not repaired after the first incident? The board failed to secure ALL students.

Meanwhile, in the update, the school board said it would deal with the incident: “Plans are underway to coordinate a talking circle to recognize the requirement for culturally safe spaces and healing in the new school year when the Shaptotuan returns to school and re-establishes itself.

Wasauksing First Nation Superintendent Adam Good wrote a letter to school board officials, Director of Education Craig Myles and Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Melanie Gray that he shared with Metroland Media.

In the letter, Good questioned the board’s decision to hold a “talking circle.” In part, the letter reads: “If a healing circle is to take place, when and who will be the conductor(s)? Where will it be held? Who will be invited? What supports are in place and will be in place during this healing circle? Will the proper protocols be followed and have you ever coordinated a healing circle before?”

Good also worries about the effect such a circle would have on students if it was not held in a culturally sensitive manner with the appropriate resources.

He said Wasauksing First Nation is designed to hold such a circle through its restorative justice model, which includes mental health workers. Elders in the community are also interested in the process, as the racist incident has caused triggers for residential school survivors.

Many eyes are on this issue and many Anishinabek will be watching how the council handles it, Good said. He thinks the question can be used as an educational opportunity. Good also offered to help with a healing process so that young people feel safe and supported as they return to school.

Anishinaabe Kwe Jennifer Ashawasegai-Pereira is a freelance journalist with the Local Journalism Initiative who lives and works from her home in Henvey Inlet First Nation, Robinson Huron Treaty Territory.

Jennifer Ashawasegai-Pereira is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who works at the PARRY SOUND NORTH STAR LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive funding from the IJI.

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