Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong held its annual recognition banquet at Couchiching First Nation last Thursday, lauding the accomplishments of those who benefit from its programs.
Based in Kenora, Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong is the training and employment delivery agency whose purpose is to assist Treaty #3 communities and individuals address their training needs in order to meet employment goals.
The agency offers programs for individual and community-based training, a self-employment program, youth programs, and programs for the disabled.
The recognition banquet was held this year at the Couchiching multi-use facility, with band councillor William Perrault acting as emcee.
Following dinner provided by Tess’ Kitchen, youth representative Jeremiah Windego presented the youth essay/speech contest winners—Janine Geyshick (Grade 9/10) and Ben Morriseau (Grade 11/12).
This was followed by the presentation of youth bursaries, with awards for:
•Best Overall Combined Academic and Attendance;
•Excellence in Academics and Sports;
•Excellence in Academics and Cultural Preservation; and,
•Excellence in Academics and Community Involvement
A total of 18 youths were recognized.
“This is Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong’s way of encouraging students to stay in school and work towards personal excellence,” said program supervisor Shirley Kelly.
“You are our lifeline,” she told the youths.
The second half of the program included the awarding of certificates to the program’s 11 individual graduates, who each sought training in a particular field of their choosing, including a band manager assistant, a hairstylist, and a water treatment plant operator.
Next, program officer Norma Necan presented the awards for successful participants in the self-employment program. Four entrepreneurs were recognized for obtaining funding and successfully opening their own businesses.
“Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some remarkable individuals” Necan said. “We’d like to congratulate these entrepreneurs and encourage you to utilize their services.”
Executive director Maureen Seymour recognized some of the instructors who make the programs and training possible.
Awards were presented to Iskatewizaagegan #39 First Nation and Naicatchewenin First Nation for participating in training programs for people in forestry and wood manufacturing.
Program officer Marlene Elder recognized the community contacts who work on the reserves across Treaty #3 to help make the programs a success.
“They’re the ones who give us feedback on what works in their communities because they know their communities,” she said, calling them “unsung heroes.”
Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong president Tony Marinaro personally handed out all the awards of the evening, then took a moment at the end of the program to recognize some of the past directors, including Buddy Loyie, who was the first chairman of the board.
Sandra Bruyere, a former program officer working out of Fort Frances who recently retired, received special recognition from her former co-workers.
“She’s made such a difference for this organization. We are going to miss her,” Seymour said.
“She had a lot of integrity. She works for people, there’s no question,” echoed Marinaro. “Thank you for the many years of great service.”
Treaty #3 Ogichidaa Arnold Gardner, of Eagle Lake First Nation, provided some closing remarks.
“Ogichidaa,” loosely translated, means “protector of the people and protector of our lands,” Gardner explained.
“I’m really happy to be here representing the nation,” he added. “It makes me really proud that our nation, as communities, we do these kinds of things.”
Gardner acknowledged the accomplishments of the youths who were honoured earlier.
“It takes a lot of dedication and a good attitude,” he said. “I think we’ve developed a place now where we’re really proud.
“What a great night this is. Give yourselves a pat on the back, each and every one of you.
“It makes me feel good that the Creator and the Spirits are making beautiful things happen through us,” Gardner concluded.
Elder Alan White presided over the closing ceremonies, including the drum group Footprint.
The banquet also was a celebration of Shooniyaa Wa-Biitong’s 15th anniversary.