When the Naotkamegwanning (Whitefish Bay) First Nation Women’s Group decided to promote unity and healing within their community, they went about it in no small way.
In fact, their Olympic-style celebration has taken on a life of its own this week in the community of 800, located east of Highway 71 between Nestor Falls and Sioux Narrows.
The six-days of sports, spirit, and fun— designated as the Naotkamegwanning Winter Games—got off to an enthusiastic start Monday with the arrival of the Games’ torch.
It had been carried through the community to the Baibombeh School by members of the senior girls’ volleyball team, which recently returned from the all-Ontarios in London.
The flame will remain lit at the school throughout the week.
“They ran the torch for us with community vehicles driving behind and honking horns. It raised our spring spirit, if you will,” enthused Games co-ordinator Howard Copenace.
“We hope to promote unity of community between children, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, and elders,” added Copenace, a prevention worker on the reserve.
“A [loss of unity] was a problem we were starting to see in our community. We were slowly drifting apart,” he noted.
A family pancake breakfast is slated each morning at the Sabatise Vision Child Care Centre, followed by games and activities at various locations around the community.
The fun includes traditional games and dances, floor hockey, volleyball, broomball, three-legged races, smoosh, and sack races. Also on the agenda are wagon rides, Jell-O eating, a slingshot target contest, a spaghetti-eating contest, and a crib tournament among many others.
Isobel White, another of the organizers and a member of the women’s group, expressed gratitude to the band, council, and elders for their support, noting many people had volunteered their time to help out with the daily events.
White also said she hoped women’s groups in other First Nations would take the initiative to start such a “unified effort” in their own communities, noting the importance and significance of a female voice in developing a good societal environment.
“Women are the ones that are the backbone of family. They know the family system, and the needs and feelings of the children,” she stressed, noting the need to quash boredom by promoting activity.
“This group of ladies got things going,” echoed Copenace. “The lady is the bearer and the caregiver of the child. She sees the community as a whole.”
Naotkamegwanning Chief George Crow, who gave his welcoming remarks during the opening ceremonies Monday, is hoping the week-long event will become an annual one.
He also admitted the focus on unity and community spirit would have to be incorporated elsewhere throughout the year to have a lasting impact there.
“This is just a start. We need to improve in other ways—to communicate better,” Chief Crow said. “I’d like to see this [event] carried out annually.
“Getting the children and the elders together . . . I feel it completes the circle,” he added.