Neebing, Ont. — Camp Nanabijou, which was located on Jarvis Bay Road years ago, was created by Xavier Michon as a safe place for Indigenous youths, offering activities for encouragement and education.
Michon’s son Geordi Pierre, who attended the centre as a child, has grown the operation into the School of Indigenous Learning (SOIL), which is now located under the scenic Nor’Wester Mountain escarpments on Little Pigeon Bay Road in the Township of Neebing.
Pierre and his school were part of a Neebing business tour earlier this month where he spoke about the importance the centre has made in many lives.
“It all started with the (Camp Nanabijou) friendship centre. We reminisced and thought about how much of a good time we had at the safe space,” Pierre said. “We had a talent show, recreation night, cultural night and craft night. I always believed that we should have something like that, but to change it up for more of a learning curve.”
Pierre says he had a dream about starting a school and began a six-year search for the property.
“I met the beautiful people Beverly and John Miller-Croft, who owned property and they actually waited a year and a half for me to purchase it,” he said.
“We have 250 acres out there on prestige land. We have a 40-foot waterfall in the back and we have a lookout there that we do our fasting on. Teachings with women take place at the waterfall because they’re the protectors of our water. And we’ve had more than 2,000 people come through there now. It’s really catching on. We’re so proud.”
The school offers a wealth of Indigenous information for its participants that includes a topics under leadership and mental health, knowledge and history, skills and crafts, teachings and traditions. Pierre says all the teachings that they pass on at the school are teachings of the Ojibwe people of this territory.
“We’ve had people coming from as far as Beaver House, the New Brunswick coast, northern communities and we just got a booking from a men’s group coming from Toronto and another group from Kitchener and Waterloo,” he said. “People are coming from all areas and we even had one group drop in from the (U.S.).”
Pierre, who is a trained sheet metal worker, has funded the initiative himself.
“This started on my own dollar,” he said, “One of the highlights of this place is that we have not seen any government funding at all. This is all grassroots, community-driven.”
He said the school has grown substantially, although they have not really been promoting it.
“We’ve grown and we’ve really not reached out. We feel like the creator is going to send the people that need to be there and they’re going to come. We don’t do any advertising or anything. It’s all word of mouth,” he added.
Pierre pointed out that “lots of good healing goes on out there,” specifically with the teaching “of our kids.”
“It’s built for our youth. But we’ve seen a lot of adults come out here. Lots of healing takes place including name-giving ceremonies and inductions into clan systems. We’ve just seen the place turn into an amazing place for everyone,” Pierre noted.
The school offers a variety of programs, some that last upwards of a week. One of the school’s biggest supporters is the Ontario Native Women’s Association, which has been integrating many programs into the school. An (animal) hide program is on the near horizon.
“We’re very happy working with them,” Pierre said. “They’ve got so many different things going on. We’re just so proud that it’s turned into what it is.”