By Kelly Ann Smith
NORTH BAY—Satisfaction and gratification were evident on the faces of members of Nipissing First Nation as they watched Chief Scott McLeod, assisted by North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, raise their nation’s flag to a bird’s eye view of Lake Nipissing.
The event marked the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day.
Chief McLeod called the raising of the flag symbolic. “It is about the relationship we have with our neighbours here in the City of North Bay. Even though there is a boundary on a map that divides us, it really isn’t there when it comes to everyday life…this also celebrates the relationship between Mayor McDonald and me. Since I’ve been in office, he has been more than willing to work with us and he shows a lot of respect for our community,” stated Chief McLeod.
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald welcomed Nipissing First Nation members and recognized being on traditional territory. He expressed warmth for the leadership of former Chief Marianna Couchie, adding that he still calls her Chief. Chief McLeod quipped “We all do.”
Mayor McDonald commended Chief McLeod’s engagement in both his community as well as North Bay.
Donna McLeod-Shabogesic initiated the flag-raising ceremony in 2015 on National Aboriginal Day. “It is important for people to know that North Bay sits on the traditional territory of my people, the Nbisiing People, or Nipissing as you would know them, the original people. Last year we asked if we could do this every year. Mayor Al McDonald said absolutely,” said McLeod-Shabogesic.
National Aboriginal Day 2015 is when Maurice Switzer asked the mayor if the Nipissing First Nation flag could fly permanently in North Bay. Mayor McDonald replied that it was the right thing to do and welcomed an application to the city for the flag to be a fixture in North Bay. Then Chief, Marianna Couchie told the mayor she would be following up, immediately.
Chief McLeod says the flag of Nipissing First Nation will be flown at a permanent North Bay location. “I acknowledge my predecessor Chief Marianna who worked with the area mayors around Lake Nipissing to start building relationships. We needed the recognition that we are one larger community. Our economies are shared. Our friendships are shared. Our families are shared…taking over to have the flag flying constantly in North Bay is to me, a matter of pride. Thank you to those that started this, and my older sister Donna,” added Mcleod.
McLeod-Shabogesic is the sister of Chief McLeod. She arrived just after having coordinated a special event to commemorate National Aboriginal Day at her employer, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
“We had a traditional Feast. An elder came in to give a Feast Ceremony with feast teachings. The work that the government workers do might touch the lives of Indigenous People, so during the whole month of June we bring that awareness through education and partnerships with other Indigenous organizations. Each week had a different focus. We started out with Truth and Reconciliation, and then we had students from Nbisiing Indigenous students do Indigenous Games. The Métis Nation came to do a presentation on Métis culture and then the Feast was put on to celebrate National Aboriginal Day. We will have a closing ceremony to close off the month,” stated McLeod-Shabogesic.
Reverend Jane Howe of St.Andrew’s United Church was at the flag raising. “The United Church, in 1986, made our first apology to First Nation People’s for an abhorrent history. With that, we committed ourselves to walking a better path together. In 1988, our First Nation’s members didn’t accept our apology but said we will see how this will be lived out. We have been trying to live it out ever since. Coming to events like this helps build bridges of understanding to move along a better path,” added Howe.
NFN Councillor’s Brian Couchie and Cathy Bellefeuille witnessed the Nipissing First Nation flag rise high above city hall. Chief McLeod’s other sister Kelly McLeod and mother, Vita Young, was also in attendance.
Chief McLeod knows that soon the Nipissing First Nation flag will be back where it belongs, always. “We have been here thousands of years. Flying our flag here is an acknowledgment that this has been the land of Nipissing First Nation since time immemorial,” concluded McLeod.