All participants at the Kina maamwigdoo-wiikendaasmin – We Are All Learning Together TRC session at Nbisiing High School on Nipissing First Nation dancing in the Round Dance. Photo by Carol Couchie.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NIPISSING FIRST NATION—Kina maamwigdoo-wiikendaasmin – We Are All Learning Together, a Truth and Reconciliation public education series has exceeded the expectations of organizers.

The public’s enthusiasm to take part in local reconciliation learning efforts has encouraged discussions for planning to continue to keep up with the learning curve.

Cultural trainer George Couchie, a Nipissing First Nation (NFN) member, worked closely with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald and NFN Chief Scott McLeod to create a learning experience about Canada’s real history and Indigenous culture. Four sessions, each lasting about two and half hours, were held in February with the help of local North Bay and area school boards and community partners and Nipissing First Nation.

The fourth session was the Celebration and Feast event held at Nbisiing Secondary School. With a traditional feast laid, discussions centered on role models and sharing, followed by a Round dance with everybody moving to the drums.

Couchie recalls that after the celebration, the mayor was quite emotional.

“He came and talked to us afterwards about things that we have to keep on doing and about the need to continue the momentum of the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] sessions,” recalled Couchie.

Recently, Couchie and the mayor met again to discuss possible upcoming events and teaching opportunities.

“The mayor realizes the TRC sessions were not a onetime deal,” stated Couchie. “Some things have to be done forever on an annual basis.”

The demand for cultural training has increased since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended 94 calls to action in 2015 including cultural competency training for healthcare and judicial professionals.

Couchie is meeting with Sturgeon Falls teachers to organize a similar 4-part seminar series similar to what North Bay just experienced. The TRC calls for a curriculum on Residential Schools, Treaties, and Indigenous peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada.

The TRC also recommends that teachers be educated to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into the classrooms.

Couchie, a retired OPP officer, has been flooded with offers but chooses to conduct training workshops in the North. He says teaching is not work anymore. It is a passion for him.

“I’m headed up to Cochrane for a one-day session and then I’m on to Hearst for a two-day session,” noted Couchie. “There are a hundred people at each venue.”

Cultural training in North Bay will also continue, confirms Couchie.

“The mayor was talking about offering ‘lunch and learns’ [for City of North Bay employees],” shared Couchie. “He has employees there that might not have been able to make it out on some nights [of the recent TRC sessions]. But maybe they can bring in their lunch and we can do sessions with them.”

Couchie called Nipissing First Nation Chief McLeod inspiring as he spoke at each session. The cultural trainer was also touched by the committed attendance of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s of Sault Ste. Marie in North Bay.

“They came and spoke to me afterwards; talking about the learning they had just gone through and calling our team passionate about teaching Canada’s history,” recollected Couchie.

“This is not a one-time thing. There is still a lot of healing that has to be done in our community,” cautioned Couchie. “A woman from the Ministry of Education voiced that it is challenging for the non-Aboriginal community to understand that for Aboriginal people, they are trying to teach people about the good things in their community, as they teach about the wrongs committed to them in their history, all the while going through the healing process themselves.”

The populous appetite to learn what Indigenous People endured under oppressive Canadian policies drives Couchie to ensure seminars on true Canadian history and Indigenous culture will continue in the future.