Frenchman’s Head hosts Sioux Lookout Innovation Station conference
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
The Sioux Lookout Innovation Station launched with a two-day conference at the Lac Seul Events Centre in Frenchman’s Head on June 17 and 18.
A press release from the Municipality of Sioux Lookout informed, “The Conference is to celebrate and showcase the Innovation Station partners which include the University of Toronto’s Anthropology Department, the Centre for Global Engineering, and Lakehead University’s Research and Innovation and Economic Development Department.”
“The Innovation Station will be using a community-based collaborative approach to infrastructure-related challenges faced by northern communities and Indigenous communities across Canada, from accessing clean drinking water, food security, energy, housing, health care, transportation and communications systems,” said Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance in the press release.
Communities represented at the conference were Lac Seul First Nation, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Slate Falls First Nation, Cat Lake First Nation, Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation, Bimose Tribal Council, Windigo Tribal Council, and Sioux Lookout. Also attending the conference was Northern Shield Development, SkyCare, HME Enterprises, Petaykawin Development, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, Remasco, Kenora MP Bob Nault’s Office, Superior Strategies, and the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board.
The conference also featured the return of Lac Seul member, and Indigenous Elder, Patricia Phipps-Walker (Elder Whabagoon) after nearly 60 years away from the community. She is the co-founder of the Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag program that works with Indigenous youth in a program to re-connect their spirit with the land and water through the design of green infrastructure, architecture, and land-based teachings.
Those in attendance agreed that the dialogue over the course of the two-day conference was exciting and hopeful.
“It’s been great. I think it’s exciting. I think change happens because of facts, and facts are based on research. We have two universities here willing to partner with us and the northern communities, Lakehead University and University of Toronto, which is hugely important. The communities that are here, I think, are excited about these opportunities,” said Mayor Lawrance.
“I think there was still a lot of need and people who need things, but I also saw a lot of hope… I think these kinds of discussions are needed,” said Phipps-Walker.
“I think it was fantastic. They totally embraced it, and that was evidenced by the communities speaking up… The reason we’ve attracted this is so that the work can be done in Sioux Lookout, kept in Sioux Lookout, and not taken back to large institutions where we will never see this information. That way we can educate and build on our community resources to build healthier communities,” shared Sioux Lookout economic development manager Vicki Blanchard.
“It’s part of my job to always be listening to the communities and working with the communities. What I’m doing here is facilitating other outside institutions and organizations do to the same… We’ve watched it too many times where they get consultants and institutions in the community and they leave and that’s the only community that benefitted. We want the Innovation Station to benefit all communities in the region,” she explained.
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout’s press release stated, “Sioux Lookout is known as the “Hub of the North” and now the “Knowledge Gateway” with the addition of the Innovation Centre to the First Nation-Municipal Community Economic Development “Business Hub”. The Business Hub relocated to the Heritage Railway Station in May to allow for additional space to incorporate a flexible workspace and support for northern communities and up to 33 First Nation communities. The Innovation Station has been in development for over five years, and demonstrates what can be accomplished through collaboration and partnerships with neighbouring communities and organizations.”
“The Innovation Station partners will be bringing academic and industry professionals to reside in Sioux Lookout to provide centralized knowledge that focuses solely on northern challenges. Further, the program is based on transferring knowledge, training, and opportunities to the northern communities and will incorporate learning opportunities for northern members to come live and learn both theoretical and practical skills that will then travel with them back to their community,” the press release further stated.
“The next step is today (June 18) we’re going back to prioritize what projects and next steps we’ll take, and we will find the partners, the private sector partners and the funding to start projects in our own backyard,” Blanchard concluded.