Naicatchewenin chief eyes cultural resurrection

By Mike Stimpson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
thunder Bay Source

A 14,700-square-foot culture and learning centre will give Naicatchewenin First Nation some much needed tools for a cultural resurrection, Chief Wayne Smith says.

A $2-million Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation grant for construction of the facility was announced last week. The accompanying news release quoted Smith speaking of a “resurrection” in Naicatchewenin.

“Resurrection basically means because we’ve lost a lot of these cultural and traditional teachings,” Smith explained in an interview this week. “We lost our language. It’s always been our goal to bring it back up and revive what we once had.”

How did so much get lost? Well, Smith said, that’s complicated. But residential schools and the “’60s Scoop” are part of the story of how First Nations such as his lost much of what they had, culturally speaking.

The ’60s Scoop, which actually occurred from the 1950s to the ’80s, was the widescale removal of Indigenous children from their homes, and their placement in non-Indigenous homes to be raised.

“We’re trying to revive and get our children to start practising the teachings out there, because that’s where we need to go,” Smith said.

“And I think with this facility, along with the teaching of our elders and proper resourcing, we will be able to do that moving forward.”

Once built, the culture and learning centre will serve multiple functions for the Treaty 3 community north of Fort Frances. Smith said the key focuses will be education and training, cultural and traditional teachings, family well-being, and child and family learning.

He said he hopes all Naicatchewenin community members will benefit through knowledge and skills for a healthy lifestyle with pride in their identity and culture.

“This building is going to be dedicated towards culture and learning for our community,” he said.

“And that’s always been in the community’s long-term vision and goals, to educate and to put training and cultural learning into place for our people.

“It is also going to provide a whole for the community environment, for healthy child development, strong family connections and culturally appropriate training opportunities for our community members.”

Smith said the First Nation plans to begin construction of the facility in 2024.