Anishinabek leaders question Near North Board's reaction to vandalism

·3 min read

The Near North District School Board has recently decided to take action a couple of months after a noose had been hung in the entrance to the Shaputuan (elongated teepee structure) at Parry Sound High School and after students spoke out.

In an update posted on Aug. 5 to the Near North District School Board website, the board states, “Near North District School Board (NNDSB) shares the pain caused by the vandalism of the Shaptotaun (sic) at Parry Sound High School (PSHS) and wishes to provide an update regarding these incidents. NNDSB is proud of the relationships it continues to cultivate with many First Nations. In the Parry Sound area, the board works with the First Nations of Moose Deer Point, Wasauksing, Shawanaga, Magnetawan and Henvey Inlet. Students of these First Nations and other Indigenous communities attend PSHS.”

The school board indicates that First Nations in the area have been consulted. While two area Gimaawog (Chiefs) confirmed they did receive an emailed letter from the school board, they say a letter is not consultation.

Shawanaga First Nation Gimaa Adam Pawis pointed out what his community looks for in consultation: Free, Prior and Informed Consent, otherwise known as FPIC, which is a part of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Gimaa Pawis also pointed out that if the one Indigenous trustee was consulted, that person does not speak on behalf of Shawanaga First Nation. “Just like I do not speak on behalf of other First Nations. It’s not my place,” he said.

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

About the Shaputuan incident, Gimaa Pawis added, “If that was a church, the entire town would be in an uproar … The security system was not repaired after the first incident … The board failed to secure ALL of the students.”

Meantime, in the update, the school board indicated it will be addressing the incident, “Plans are underway to co-ordinate a talking circle to acknowledge the requirement for culturally safe spaces and healing in the new school year when the Shaptotuan arrives back at the school and is set up once again.”

Wasauksing First Nation Chief executive director Adam Good wrote a letter to school board representatives director of education Craig Myles and superintendent of teaching and learning Melanie Gray, which he shared with Metroland Media.

In that letter, Good questioned the move for the board to hold a ‘talking circle.’ In part, the letter reads, “If a Healing Circle is going to happen, when and who will be the conductor(s)? Where will this be held? Who will be invited? What supports are in place and will be in place during this Healing Circle? Will proper protocols be followed, and have you ever co-ordinated a Healing Circle before?”

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

He said Wasauksing First Nation is set up to hold such a circle through their restorative justice model, which is complete with mental health workers. Elders in the community are also interested in the process as the racist incident has caused triggers for survivors of Indian Residential Schools.

A lot of eyes are on this issue and many Anishinabek will be watching how the board handles it, Good said. He believes the issue can be used as an educational opportunity. Good has also offered his assistance in a healing process in order for youth to feel safe and supported when they return to school.

Anishinaabe Kwe Jennifer Ashawasegai-Pereira is a freelance Local Journalism Initiative reporter who lives and operates from her home in Henvey Inlet First Nation, Robinson Huron Treaty territory.

Jennifer Ashawasegai-Pereira, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star