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UNFC program aiming to infuse Ojibway culture

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Although the United Native Friendship Centre here offers many culture-base programs, a new resource one is being implemented to help further infuse the Ojibway culture into all it offers.

“I see it as an opportunity to provide more cultural awareness to the staff and all the programs, and to bring that forward to the people that we serve,” noted executive director Sheila McMahon.

Roger Fobister, who started at the UNFC last month, will be heading the Cultural Resource program, which he said came out of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

He said the new program aims to “provide increased access to culture and culture-based programs and service delivery to urban indigenous children, youth, and families that fosters a strong sense of well-being and positive indigenous identity.”

“[It] represents a great opportunity to research and develop a cultural program and implement them,” Fobister explained.

“Especially after the continuing assimilation affect of cultures, right from residential schools to the existing school systems,” he added, referring to the powerful nature of mainstream culture.

“Right now, as an Ojibway person, we have to live two cultures in this modern day,” Fobister said. “We need the English language to have a job, so we need to speak English.

“Then we need our Ojibway language for our identity as an Ojibway culture.”

Fobister said they also need to practise their customs and traditions as an Ojibway culture.

“So this program is an opportunity to go back and search what we lost in terms of culture and language, and document that for future generations and apply that within this modern day that we’re living.”

Fobister noted the Ojibway culture is an ancient one that goes back thousands of year.

“And it’s remained as an ancient culture until the time that the modern wage economy started to take hold in Canada, in general, but also in the Fort Frances area, in this traditional Ojibway homeland,” he remarked.

Fobister has an extensive background, working 20 years in the education system as both a chairman of a school board and as a director of education for Grassy Narrows First Nation.

Most recently, he was chief of Grassy Narrows.

When he was the director of education at Grassy Narrows, Fobister conducted some research of the band’s Ojibway history and culture.

What he developed was a seasonal cycle calendar of the Ojibway people at Grassy Narrows, which is the same one of the Ojibway people of Fort Frances (Rainy Lake Ojibway).

Called the “Ojibway Life Cycle: The pursuit of the Seasonal Cycle,” the calendar is modelled after the wall calendar of mainstream society.

“It’s a lunar cycle system, based on the cycle of the moon,” Fobister explained, noting the tribes followed the seasonal cycle of the land to survive.

“Each season of the land provoked a migration in different directions for the tribe to split according to clans and family groups to go and harvest,” he said.

“The land provided for the Ojibway people, and the rivers and waterways provided the means of migration as they followed the seasonal cycle.”

Fobister said this life cycle describes the life of the Anishinaabeg after the Treaty #3 signing in 1873 up until the wage economy took hold and they began to participate in the economy, and mainstream economies and mainstream government jurisdiction began to take over the land.

But he noted most Ojibway people have left this way of life. “And this wasn’t that long ago,” he stressed.

Fobister said an anthropologist’s definition of culture includes seven elements: land, language, government, arts/literature, customs/traditions, education, and social systems.

“So if we really want to know our culture, then we have to understand these seven elements,” he reasoned, adding he plans to research these elements as they pertain to the Ojibway history.

“We need to bring that knowledge to today, and then start to pick and choose that part of the culture that we could live today alongside the mainstream culture.”

Fobister will be educating the staff at UNFC so they can bring the knowledge and culture to all the programs offered there.

“We will look at developing a culture-based work plan with them,” he said, noting he also will conduct healing circles, offer cultural counselling, and arrange ceremonies.

Fobister added the UNFC also will start to operate using the seasonal cycle calendar.

“In order to get a true sense of our Ojibway culture for the people that we service, we better be following this seasonal cycle calendar and celebrate according to what happens on the land,” he stressed, though adding they also will respect the wall calendar of mainstream society.

For instance, UNFC held a fall feast last week but also can celebrate Thanksgiving if they wish.

“So we will follow two types of calendars,” Fobister reiterated.

“The drums, pow-wows, feathers are just a tiny portion of our culture,” he stressed.

“There’s more to it and you have to understand the total culture.”

Fobister also noted aboriginal children are losing the language.

“English is taught as the first language,” he said. “If they were living according to the seasonal cycle calendar, Ojibway would be their first language because they were immersed in it.

“We’re under major pressure from mainstream society and we’re slowly leaving our culture behind,” he warned.

But Fobister is going to do his best to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“We have to research the culture in order to start to make some change,” he remarked.

“If we don’t know where we can from, how are we going to move forward?” echoed McMahon, adding she believes the cultural resource program will provide a better understanding of the aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultures coming together.

“We still have a lot of work to do in that area,” she conceded.

“[But] I really believe that if we start teaching our kids at a younger age, then they can have that sense of pride as they get older.”

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