Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre going strong after 45 years

·4 min read

The Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre celebrated its 45th anniversary this October.

The non-profit organization, located at 150 Brousseau Ave., provides language, resource and education services.

The centre was established in 1975 under the Grand Council Treaty 9, now known as Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN).

The organization, funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, is governed by a board of directors who represent each tribal council of the NAN territory.

Dianne Riopel, the centre’s executive director, has been with the organization since the beginning.

“I like working with the people. They’re funny, their culture is interesting. We always learn every day,” Riopel said. “It’s fun to work here, too. And what I like also is we work as a team. We work together.”

It used to be a busy, large organization with more than 30 employees and people like writers coming in for research and reference work, she said.

The organization's Resource Centre started as a private research library for Grand Council Treaty 9. It features a variety of collections ranging from materials for young readers and periodicals to rare books and video and DVD collections. There are also vertical files, which are now being digitized.

About 6,500 titles are currently available for loan to NAN and non-NAN members as well as organizations, non-profits and students.

“Now, with the new technology and all kind of research you can do on the Internet, it’s not as busy as before but there’s a lot of information here that is not on the Internet and this is the place where they can find it,” Riopel said.

Currently, there are five employees left at the centre.

“We try as much as we can to have different projects on the go. But we have to make sure that within the staff, we’re able to take care of these projects. And I don’t want the staff to be overwhelmed,” Riopel said.

In partnership with a Toronto-based Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario, the organization is now working on a project to transcribe and translate over 300 video interviews with Elders from NAN communities.

“At that time, they were only cassettes. Now, they’re all digitized and are being translated in English and some of them are in Cree, Oji-Cree and Ojibway,” Riopel said.

One of the centre's projects this year included NAN Songbooks with some Christmas songs. The language department developed one songbook in Cree and another in Oji-Cree/Ojibway languages.

Another finished project includes terminology booklets, which contained terms and definitions in Cree, Oji-Cree and Ojibway on political, electronic, education, mining and environment subjects.

The language department also developed about 500 booklets for older people living at care homes.

“Sometimes you have a nurse and the old person, and he’s trying to tell you how he feels and she’s trying to ask him what he needs. So, there is a lack of communication because of the language,” Riopel said. “So what we did, we made a booklet of different kind of words, translated in English or Cree, so that they could communicate with each other. That was a good project.”

Some booklets were distributed to the hospital and care homes, including Golden Manor and Extendicare Timmins, as well as to Northern College.

“It’s all kind of stuff: about how you’re feeling, medication, position, bathroom,” the organization’s executive secretary Kim Piche explained. “It’s like a little resource book.”

Some of the major projects, that Riopel and Piche say they’re proud of, include creating the Omushkego Cree app and the Promises, Promises board game. The app is available for both Android and iOS users, while the game can also be played online.

“I find a lot of high school students are playing this game. It’s cool for them,” Piche said.

Each week, Piche and Angela Shisheesh, a Native language coordinator, also post short Cree lessons on Facebook.

As for the centre’s education program, it helps develop curriculum and resource materials for NAN schools.

“We work a lot with the teachers up north,” Riopel said. “That’s our main target for services. We also service schools in town here, French school boards and English school boards. Kim does a lot of show-and-tell presentations to the schools.”

In the past, the centre staff used to travel and host education conferences or display and give away resources to teachers and educators.

“That’s how we got in touch with a lot of people from the NAN territory," Piche said. "That was a way to go but now with COVID, we haven’t travelled."

Although the number of workers at the centre has decreased and the non-profit has experienced funding cutbacks, it is “still surviving,” Piche said.

“It’s never the same,” she said about her experience working at the centre for 32 years. “You come in the morning thinking you’re going to do something and then, it’s never the same … We’re a family.”

For more information about the centre, visit occc.ca.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com