Fall harvest on SGEI grounds

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Seven Generation Education Institute (SGEI) hosted the fall harvest for the first time at the Fort Frances campus. The two-day event took place on Wednesday and Thursday.

Last year, this event was held virtually by creating five videos on traditional medicines, gillnetting, the organization’s drum and staff, residential school experience and Treaty 3. Previously, the Fall Harvest event was held at the Nanicost building on Agency one land.

The event had 15 stations: Treaty knowledge, fish preparation, geese and bear grease, bannock making, wild rice dancing, wild rice winnowing, wild rice finishing, Grandfather drum, deer preparation, traditional medicines, storytelling, Honour our Children, Metis games and bannock on a stick.

Fall harvest, or Dagwaagini-maawindoosijigewin, is a cultural experience that shows the Anishinaabe fall harvesting practices to students from the Rainy River District School Board, Northwest Catholic District School Board and area First Nations schools.

Brent Tookenay, SGEI CEO, said the Fall Harvest is a unique opportunity for students to learn about Treaty 3 and food sovereignty and participate in traditional practices.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” Tookenay said. “The purpose of the Seven Generations Education Institute is to give people the opportunity to learn about our traditions, culture and language in a setting that [includes] elders and knowledge keepers. Everybody is supporting this from our communities.”

The event, Tookenay added, brings all community knowledge to one place and with the students, teachers and members of the public participating in the Anishinaabe lifestyle.

“In this country right now there’s an opportunity for the country to learn from the Indigenous people,” Tookenay said. “For decades and centuries the knowledge, language, culture and traditions have been devalued by the country by trying to take that away from the Indigenous people.”

Tookenay said this can really make young people growing up understand the best of both worlds instead of just one way and saying the culture of the Indigenous people in Treaty 3 does not really matter.

This will in return allow them to understand the value culture has, and how it is centred around them as Anishinaabe people.

This opportunity to learn is what Tookenay said he missed as a student, as there was very little the schools offered on First Nations cultures and practices in Canada.

“But we don’t want it to be just an event,” Tookenay added. “We want it to be something that is taken back to the classrooms and talked about more. There’s more learning that comes with it. It’s important for non-Indigenous people to learn that, but it is also important for Anishinaabe students to learn from their people in their communities the value of knowing these things.”

Elders and knowledge keepers are a crucial part of the Fall Harvest, and Tookenay said seeing them interact with children on how they did things shows their resiliency.

“Most of the elders have been through the residential school and they would get the ruler across the knuckle if they spoke their language,” Tookenay said.

This year’s harvest is different, being the first one after COVID-19, but also after the discovery of the unmarked graves across Canada’s residential school sites.

One of the stations, Honour our Children, was where participants had the opportunity to hear a residential school survivor speak about their experience in the system. Also, in the Treaty knowledge stations, participants engaged in a meaningful dialogue about Treaty 3 and what it means to everyone within the territory to clear up misunderstandings.

Tookenay said this is the time for everybody to listen and support First Nations communities.

“It can’t be just the First Nations people driving things for change,” Tookenay said. “Things can’t be bogged down in policies, everybody has to help with the solution here. It needs to be led by our First Nations people and supported by others.”