'This is wrong': M’Chigeeng school custodian walks for Honey Harbour students

Bethany Debassige, proudly wearing her purple CUPE T-shirt, sign in hand, walks the main street of Bracebridge with swarms of other purple shirts.

Twenty-five years old, the experience of standing up for herself is not new: “Our rights have been taken away; we are doing this to create change for the future.”

Debassige works at Honey Harbour Public School as a custodian. She is First Nations, originally from M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Debassige, born in Orillia, was raised, “off reserve” and returned to M’Chigeeng after the death of her father to reconnect with family.

Something was missing in Debassige’s life, and she knew it. At 23 years of age, sheparticipated in a life-changing educational opportunity on M’Chigeeng, where she learned her Anishinaabemowin language and culture.

Debassige speaks with inspirational wisdom and strength.

“This is wrong what the government is doing,” she said. “Taking away our rights; reminds me of the past, and it is completely wrong.”

Debassige welcomes being part of a union community. “I worked a minimum wage job at a pet store before,” she said.

Half of the student population at her school is First Nations. Debassige knows her job as a role model is just as important as cleaning the classrooms. “I have gone into the classrooms to share what I have learned about my identity and culture. The kids look up to me, they come and tell me about their day.” Bethany is an amazing young Indigenous woman making a difference as a school custodian.

Joyce Jonathan Crone is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter based in Muskoka. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Joyce Jonathan Crone, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star