When the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation (BON) celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day on Tuesday, it was also an opportunity to celebrate the grand opening of a brand new facility that local leaders say will continue to bring the community together for celebrations and ceremonies, and for healing.
“I think it’s important that our people gather, and make space for healing, make space for language, and make space for cultural revitalization, and this is going to be the centre of what we do moving forward,” BON Chief Gordon Bluesky said on Tuesday, at the grand opening of the community’s brand new multi-use arbour and powwow grounds.
The facility, which cost approximately $959,000 to build, has been named Maamawittaawiinan, or “gathering place” in Ojibwa, and it will now be used to host events including powwows, Treaty Days, cultural and land-based teachings, and other traditional ceremonies and celebrations in the First Nations community that sits along Highway 59, about 65 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
June 21 is celebrated annually as National Indigenous Peoples Day across Canada, so Tuesday’s event was an opportunity to celebrate both the day and the brand new facility, which Bluesky said has been needed in BON for years, as previously most celebrations were held in an empty field located next to where the new facility now stands.
“Something we’ve identified as needed for our community for a long time is a multi-use venue that could accommodate future powwows, gatherings and land-based learning, and events for our communities and surroundings areas,” he said.
“This is now our gathering place, and a place I know we are going to be utilizing into the future, a place that we are going to be using to celebrate language, and culture, and dance, and community.”
The facility includes stands for spectators, artificial turf, lighting, an emcee booth, as well as a large open area for dancing and for ceremonies.
Bluesky said on Tuesday that a lot of credit for getting the facility built has to go to the community’s previous council, and to former Chief Deborah Smith, who chose not to run for re-election, but who Bluesky said was “instrumental” in a lot of the work that went into getting the project started and completed.
“I take no credit for what we see here today,” Bluesky said. “I’m here to fulfill my duties, and to take part in the ceremony, and acknowledge the work that has been done, but a lot of credit has to go to the work of Chief Smith.”
Smith spoke at Tuesday’s event about the years of work that went into planning and building the facility, which she said she and others have been working on getting built since 2018.
“A lot of credit has to go around, and there are a lot of people who are the reason we see what we see here today and see this vision finally realized today,” Smith said.
The costs to build the facility came mostly from $890,000 in funding from the province and the federal government, while BON put up $69,000.
Politicians from several levels of government came to BON on Tuesday to take part in the ceremony, including Selkirk Mayor Larry Johannson, who said he believes the facility will also be utilized by people in surrounding communions, including in the city of Selkirk.
“I am proud to be here on this day,” Johannson said. “The city of Selkirk has more than 30% Indigenous population, so we want to continue to work with Indigenous communities and partner with Indigenous communities, and I know this facility will be utilized by people from all over this area, so it’s a great thing.
“For us, reconciliation is something we want to be working on continuously, and it is something we will always continue to work on and work towards together with Brokenhead, and with all Indigenous communities.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun