Warning: This story contains distressing details about residential schools. A national residential school crisis line is available for support services 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419. Mental health supports are also available through Hope for Wellness at 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.  

Hundreds if not thousands of people together to share their journeys of healing with one another at the fourth annual Healing Your Spirit Powwow and celebration in Wauzhushk Onigum over the weekend 

The three-day annual gathering, hosted by Ogimaawabiitong (Kenora Chiefs Advisory), is a way for us to come together and honour survivors of residential schools and the thousands of children that never made it home, as well as to celebrate our military veterans and our youth.

“It brings a lot of healing to everybody, and it brings the community together to help celebrate who we are as Anishinaabe people,” says Reno Cameron, Cultural Coordinator with KCA.

“Healing the spirit. We’re all healing each other,” adds Cameron. “My spirit, your spirit, the drum, the children… everyone. And especially our residential school survivors. That’s what it’s all about. And it gets bigger and bigger every year.”

Dancers and drummers from Treaty #3, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and more all gathered in Wauzhusk Onigum’s Roundhouse as Chief Chris Skead led the weekend’s Grand Entry and celebrations, which kicked off with Treaty #3’s traditional healing and fight songs.

Dancing and drumming then filled the community before a special celebration was held for residential school and 60’s scoop survivors. Survivors shared their journeys of healing with the crowd and encouraged us to come together as smudged blankets were passed out to survivors and their family members.  

“As Anishinaabe people, especially in the residential school era, a lot of our people were affected,” explains Chief Skead. “You either were a survivor, were a child of a survivor, or your grandparents went to residential school. That’s just the way it’s been for Anishinaabe people.”

“But it’s gatherings like this that heal us,” he adds. “You see a lot of youth out dancing. You see people laughing, smiling and having a great time. That’s exactly what this is meant to do. Heal our spirit through our drums, our songs, our gatherings and our relationships with one another. I’m grateful to be a host of this beautiful event. It’s really special.” 

“This area is a good place for it because there was a residential school here,” notes Danika Crow, Cultural Services Manager with KCA.

“A lot of people that are dancing here are residential school survivors or they’re second-generation survivors. It’s a nice way to honour our parents and grandparents, heal together and move forward. And remember that we still have our culture. The dancing helps us heal and it’s just a good way to celebrate our way of life.”  

A number of raffles and giveaways also took place over the weekend, as well as a fish fry Saturday afternoon.  

Prizes up to $500 were provided for adult and youth dancers in a variety of traditional categories. Bryce Kejick of Iskatewizaagegan #39 served as Head Man Dancer and Swan Lake First Nation’s Emilie McKinney served as Head Lady Dancer for the weekend’s gathering. 

Crow notes it was great to see so many youth attend the celebration and participate in Anishinaabe customs, such as dancing, singing and taking part in ceremonial traditions.

“Our youth are our future generation. We want to teach them a good, healthy way to celebrate ourselves and keep our teachings going,” she adds. “Our elders are getting older. We want to make sure our youth see how we all grew up. It’s nice to see that our survivors still have that. We want to ensure our youth carry that on for us when we’re not here.”

KCA sends a huge Miigwetch to the community of Wauzhushk Onigum and Chief Skead for hosting the weekend’s gathering. Miigwetch also goes out to our drummers and dancers for sharing their songs and traditional dancing.

We would also like to send a big Miigwetch to staff and volunteers for helping set up and clean up, Gary Smith and Ricky White for emceeing, and our cooks, security, staff carriers and vendors for their support.

A special shout-out to the Blackstone Singers, Whitefish Bay and Whitefish Bay Jr. Singers, Hanisha and the Lake of the Woods Singers.

“Miigwetch to my amazing team Crystal and AJ for all their hard work and dedication,” adds Crow. “A special shout out to Mel, Karen, Shelly and Marilyn for supporting the three of us all weekend, as well as Billy and Jennifer for supporting our vision in coordinating our annual powwow.” 

This weekend’s celebration was the fourth annual Healing Your Spirits gathering on Powwow Island, just a few kilometres away from the site of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School. 

The facility sat on the grounds of the current Golden Eagle Bingo Hall and operated between 1938 and 1972 under the Roman Catholic Church. Roughly 6,000 children attended the school from sixteen Treaty #3 communities while it was in operation.

Records from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation show at least 36 students passed away while attending St. Mary’s, but the death toll is believed to be much higher. 

In January 2023, Wauzhushk Onigum leadership reported a total of 171 possible ‘anomalies’ found on their traditional territory after searching the lands of the former residential School. It was the first discovery of possible unmarked graves in Ontario.

Investigations for several other sites on the community’s traditional lands and private lands are underway, with locations being identified through the testimonies of survivors, archaeological assessments and more. The community’s Kaatagoging Survivors Group began their work in May of 2022.

In memory of St. Mary’s students:

Albert Joseph-Henry
Ambrose Skead
Amos Blackhawk
Antoinette Tap-Pee
Bernadette Strong
Cathline Thomas
Charlie Mechangabo
David Redsky
Elise Indian
Elizabeth Thomas
Jim Flim
John Jack
Joseph Blackhawk
Joseph Netawegabo
Joseph Thomas
Josephine Seymour
Josephine Shebawkwan
Joyce Bluebird
Louis Strong
Mabel Skeid
Margaret Peetawekijick
Mary Strong
Marie Therese Bob
Martha G Sukedjeweskang
Michael Charley Macheegabow
Nancy Keewatin
Norman Robinson
Peter Kapkagesik
Phillip Swain
Robert Thompson
Roderick Keesick
Rosaline Bird
Sarah Jack
Thos Wawanapetungs
Victoria Kelly
William Kennedy