The elders of Seine River First Nation developed a vision and declaration outlining how they could better the community 20 years ago.
Part of that vision was realized through the construction of a brand new 8,000 square ft. multi-use cultural centre located at the First Nation, where a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last Thursday (Sept. 12).
“This is just a part of what the elders wanted to do-to be able to teach the youth our language and traditional teachings in the community,” said Seine River councillor John Katabay in a speech following the ribbon cutting.
Seine River First Nation hopes to further improve the community to meet the plans outlined in the declaration, although building the $5 million centre was an important step in achieving part of those plans, Coun. Katabay noted.
“It's really important that we do get our language back and a lot of our traditions,” he remarked.
“It seems like we're falling through the cracks at times and we want to be able to get that back for our youth, and for our elders.”
In addition to preserving culture, the centre will act as a place of reconciliation for residential school survivors, a location to display local art, and a gathering place for sacred ceremonies.
“We harvest wild rice, we hunt, we trap, and each time we cut some timber or we harvest deer, moose, or fish we do ceremonies to make sure that we please the spirits of the moose and the deer, so we can continue to hunt and fish for future generations,” Seine River First Nation chief Tom Johnson explained.
He says the centre will also act as a tourism destination for visitors of the community to learn about it's history, culture, and land.
“We want to make sure we bring the whole district together,” Chief Johnson noted.
"As one district, we can really prosper and go a long ways moving forward, for all our future generations in Fort Frances and Atikokan—even into Emo and Rainy River.
“It's just a good story for the district and we would gladly share our story to the next community over,” he added.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, community members, political figures, elders and those who helped build the centre joined together with the First Nation's Chief and council to celebrate the milestone.
“I had the opportunity to work with some really good people on this project, I think it's time we had a success story,” Coun. Katabay lauded.
The facility took four years to build and in part, was made possible through investments from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and FedNor.
Although building the brand new facility wasn't without its obstacles.
“It's a challenge getting contractors to come out here to do a job for us,” noted Coun. Katabay, who says this is due to the location of Seine River First Nation.
“There's always added costs they have to take into account—which is travel—and sometimes when there's government money involved, it seems like everything gets inflated.”
Chief Johnson said they went through a few contractors based out of Fort Frances and Thunder Bay before finding Winnipeg-based companies NDC Construction Ltd. and Cohlmeyer Architecture, which built the facility to the First Nation's specifications.
“It was a very positive relationship," Chief Johnson lauded. "They came out and really understood our dreams and aspirations.”
Another challenge in the centre's development was demolishing the former cultural and tourism centre to make way for the new facility.
The centre, meanwhile, will create close to 10 jobs for the community, of which is an economic development officer.
“That person will be in charge of setting up economic development opportunities for our community,” Chief Johnson noted.
It is hoped that the multi-use cultural centre will open its doors to the public in the spring of 2020.