Tikinagan recognizes community difference makers
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
An aspiring teen artist has expressed a powerful anti-bullying message through her winning image for Tikinagan Child and Family Services’ “Red Alert! Bullying Hurts!” campaign.
Memekew Apetawakeesic-Morriseau, from North Caribou Lake First Nation, has been recognized with a certificate from Tikinagan for being a difference-maker in her community and across the north, with her logo now featured on Tikinagan’s anti-bullying campaign.
Apetawakeesic-Morriseau’s image, picturing a young girl sitting knees-to-chest, surrounded by towering figures shouting negative statements, gets its inspiration from one of her worst bullying experiences. She said, “I was three or four and I was walking down the road in Fort Albany to get to my aunt’s house, where I was living at the time with my mom, and then these three girls came up to me, I tried defending myself…but they pushed me on the ground, and they cut me.”
Tikinagan’s Executive Director, Thelma Morris shared, “This was a difficult contest for our staff to judge because we received so many amazing entries from our children and youth across the North. Memekew’s image stood out artistically for the story it told. Just by looking at the image you can see and feel the impact bullying has on children and youth. It makes you feel small and it hurts. It is also appropriate for the times we are living in, as the girl is wearing a face mask.”
Apetawakeesic-Morriseau, who has been sketching for long as she can remember, said that she hopes her art will help others going through bullying know that they are not alone and help is available. She shared that for anyone facing bullying, “Just try walking away. I’m pretty sure that the bullies are looking for a reaction. So, just walk away and don’t give them any reaction.”
Morris shared that Apetawakeesic-Morriseau was chosen as a difference-maker for her willingness to be brave enough to share her story. “Not only has she shared her bullying experience through her artwork, but she has become an ambassador for her community and her peers by speaking out against bullying in her media interviews with CKDR, CBC, and now the Sioux Bulletin. She has a powerful story to tell, and we at Tikinagan are honoured to be a part of her journey.”
Tikinagan Child & Family Services has joined forces with Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA), and Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) to raise awareness about the devastating effects of bullying and cyber-bullying on children and youth. The anti-bullying campaign was launched last October, in more than 30 First Nation communities, consisting of a slogan and a logo design contest.
The Communications Coordinator for Tikinagan Child & Family Services, Marc-Nicholas Martin-Paulichenko said, “Currently, we are sending out promotion posters and will be printing t-shirts with the logo and slogan. As well, we are working NHL Indigenous Alumni to address bullying in our communities via virtual conferences. With COVID-19, our in-person reach is limited, but in the fall, we will revisit our campaign again.”
Tikinagan shared that they are looking to celebrate local businesses, initiatives, and/or First Nation people that build up our communities and strengthen children, families and First Nations, by featuring them on Tikinagan’s social media pages, website, and radio show. People can nominate initiatives that they feel make an impacting difference to our society by emailing [email protected] or messaging on Tikinagan’s social media pages.
Morris shared that the Difference-Makers campaign is all about celebrating First Nation people who are working together to raise our children in our communities. She added, “Whether you bake cakes for children, coordinate after school programs, or organize a hockey tournament, these individuals contribute to our communities in a way that supports children, strengthens families, and builds community. We started this campaign as a way to encourage our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to give voice to the people in our community who are making a difference in a positive way.”
Tikinagan has also recognized the annual Little Bands Native Youth Hockey Tournament in northwestern Ontario, as a community difference maker. The tournament marks a long-standing community event with more than 1,000 children and youth that travel from their First Nation each year. It takes place during the first week of February, but will not be able to take place in this year of COVID.
Tournament Committee member Ziggy Beardy said, “It means a lot to us. It feels good that somebody recognizes the work that we’ve done for the last 21 years.” He added, “Certainly it’s something that we all look forward to, and communities, the youth…they look forward to it every year, and plan and practice, fundraise ahead of time. I’m sure everyone feels down about it.”
Beardy said that the tournament plays a great part in the support system that kids get from their parents and also is something that contributes to their health and well-being. He added that it also teaches kids the true spirit of being a good sportsperson, along with it being a family outing during this time of the year, spending a week away from their daily life on reserve.
Beardy said, “Hopefully the tournament can resume again.” He added, “I know that the interest will be there and I know once we start again, I think it will just explode. But meanwhile, we just have to be safe and look out for each other.”
Another Difference Maker that Tikinagan has recognized is Alyssa Kakegamic of Indigenous Sweets, in Deer Lake First Nation, for bringing joy to children and families by creating handmade, custom decorated cakes for various celebrations in First Nations throughout northwestern Ontario. Initiating from a lack of option to buy a cake for her son, Kakegamic explored baking, turning it into a business for herself and communities in the north. Kakegamic shared that the best part about her work is seeing how happy her customers — mostly children — are with the final product.
Tikinagan also recognized Rico Owen, Popular Hill First Nation’s Right to Play worker, for using his own life story as the motivation for his programming and striving to set an example for the next generation in his community. Owen encourages a positive lifestyle, healthy choices, and continued education. He said, “What’s inspired me to do this is bullying. I got bullied for looking different because of the clothes I was wearing or how other people viewed me. I strongly do not let any bullying occur in my program, in or outside.”
Owen shared, “I’ve been in their spot, like, I wanted to give up high school, but I kept moving forward.” He added, “I am looking forward to more youth/kids helping each other out, and to find their passion, what they like/love to do, instead of doing drugs and alcohol.”
Morris concluded, “We have been sharing these stories on social media and they have generated a lot of positive engagement. Our first four difference makers’ stories have interacted with more than 128,000 people on Facebook with more than 2,500 engagements. This type of reach helps empower our First Nation communities and the work of our people. It tells the everyday stories of everyday people who are making a difference in the lives of children, youth, families, and their community.”