Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell accepting gift from Chief Scott McLeod

Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell (right) accepting gift from Chief Scott McLeod (left).

By Laura Barrios

NIPISSING FIRST NATION—Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the representative of the Queen of Canada in Ontario, visited Nbisiing Secondary School during her visit to North Bay for Armed Forces Day on June 8, to participate in the celebration of the school’s 20th anniversary of operation and to speak on the power of education.

Her Honour arrived at Nbisiing Secondary School on Nipissing First Nation and was greeted by Chief Scott Mcleod, Deputy Chief Muriel Sawyer, Principal Monique Sawyer, and the Elders of the community for a full tour of the school. During the tour, Her Honour participated in a Anishnaabemowin lesson, where she gained insight on the complexity of the language and the importance of preserving the language in order to preserve the culture.

“There are many things that need to be improved: clean drinking water, education, healthcare…but I think one of the things that have struck me in talking to many of your colleagues, is that it is an issue first of language and of education that is so important,” noted Her Honour.

Her poignant statement regarding language and education rings truth and echoes the very issues that the Anishinabek Education System (AES) movement is working towards eradicating within Ontario. The AES will hopefully be successfully voted in, in the late fall, and come to fruition in the years to come in hopes of preserving the Anishinabek language and educating Anishinaabe students about their roots, and enriching not only their lives, but the lives of non-Indigenous people as well.

Nbisiing Secondary School, which celebrated its 20th anniversary of operation this month, is proof positive of the importance of incorporating language and culture within the curriculum in order to instill a sense of identity within the upcoming generation. Deputy Chief Muriel Sawyer believes that it is their readings, language, and traditional knowledge that are fused into the school curriculum that lead to success in each individual student, in the education institution, and in the community.

“Over 300 graduates have left this school walking and talking proudly with a stronger sense of who they are as Anishinaabe people,” noted Sawyer.

Tarah-Lynn Remillard, a currently enrolled student at Nbisiing, provided Her Honour, esteemed guests, students, and other attendees with thanksgiving in Anishinaabemowin.

“I came to this school wanting to know more about my language, my culture, and who I am. When I graduate, I hope to become a translator,” added Remillard, after her impressive thanksgiving delivery.

After the welcome song, performed by Nbisiing drummers and singers, Deputy Chief Muriel Sawyer invited a former student, Zachary Beaudette to share his experience at Nbisiing.

The 2009 graduate shared that his experience at the school was empowering; it instilled pride in knowing his roots and gave him the opportunity to know what it means to be Anishinaabe. He added that his goal is to teach the language in order to help save the language and ultimately, the culture.

“It’s hard to have a culture with no language…our whole culture lives in our language…our language is special,” stated Beaudette.

The 29th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, having formally been a teacher, addressed the audience with inspirational words of wisdom that resonated with all: the student, the graduate, the teacher.

“I do want to recognize the importance of education first and foremost…And the message I would leave with all of you is just how powerful education is. It is what opens doors for you. It prepares you; equips you to function in a world that is very fast paced, changing very quickly, very complex, very inter-dependent with so many people, not just in Ontario, in the world,” expressed Her Honour.

“But it is also the thing that will give you self-confidence to be able to perform; to be able to do what you want to do. And so, my hope for you would be what I was given as a gift, and that was a notion of importance of education and a strong feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to do,” concluded the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.