OHSWEKEN – On Friday morning, the long awaited Six Nations Youth and Elders centre officially began construction. Over the years, different community members have raised concerns about the lack of accessible community spaces, and it seems the call is finally being answered.
The gathering of roughly 70 people began at 10am at the Gaylord Powless Community Centre with Robert (Bob) Johnson, District Five Councillor and Youth and Elders Committee member, as the master of ceremonies. The Youth and Elders Centre is scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2016.
Model blueprints of the architecture designs were displayed, as well as early potential logo submissions. Community members are still encouraged to draw up their ideas, as a name and logo contest for the new centre will be held in upcoming months.
“This day belongs to the community, it means tomorrows that are filled with personal growth, courage and sportsmanship”, says Johnson. He went on to introduce Mike Montour who offered an opening prayer in Kanienkeha.
Chief Ava Hill spoke next noting the connection between elders and youth, “I think it is very fitting that they will have a facility and be paired together.” Hill believes that when people visit the territory, “they will say this is the finest recreation centre on any reserve.”
Cheryl Henhawk, Co-ordinator of Six Nations Parks and Recreation was introduced next and spoke about the history of this pre-planned community centre. Henhawk noted that she has always advocated for a large high school size gymnasium fit for adults and teenagers, but also that it takes time to budget the expenses associated with that kind of construction.
She seemed very pleased that the gym would finally be available for youth as “it will open up the doors for more activities to happen in our community.” Henhawk proudly concluded that this “gives our children an opportunity to dream big, because we all need recreation in our life. It is a good day for embarking on another project.”
The next speaker was elder Norma General, who started speaking in Kanienkeha and offered a joke, while a few audience members chuckled. She spoke about how we all have a need to feel as though we belong somewhere, youth and elders alike; that everyone needs to have good mental, spiritual and physical health to bring forward joy and happiness. “I want to see a re-building of respect for one another, carry that respect within our being, and to recognize the value in each other. I know that many young people have questions that go unanswered. I hope that this centre will help re-build that relationship between elders and youth.”
Norma went on to speak about the great value in the language and culture, and how that can help revitalize the values and beliefs in a community. “From that culture we developed a set of values. We must work on our consciousness of our attitudes and our behaviours. It is our responsibility to bring that back to our people, to be a role model. We must work together, understanding it is a part of life to have conflict but to use those tools to problem solve together.”
As Norma went on to speak about giving and receiving with pride, her inspiring words filled the room with emotion, as did many of the speakers. “We are part of the past and we are part of the future. With recreation we can recreate a beautiful community. Everyone comes with a gift. It takes all of us to complete the beautiful puzzle of who we are, if we leave out one puzzle piece it is not complete. Know that we all have positive and negative, to accept and keep that balance. I hope this building is a renewal of our relationship.” Most memorably she said, “Our elders are like a huge library of knowledge.”
Dave Williams was the next elder representative, who noted how happy he was that he could now understand Norma’s joke because he began studying Kanienkeha as an adult. He reminisced about being an adult and learning alongside youth, and how they looked to him as a positive older role model. He entertained the crowd with amusing and inspiring stories and really reinforced the point that there is a need for youth to have a relationship with older people.
Caytlen Burning was the youth representative speaking next. She applauded Norma and Dave’s speeches saying she really enjoyed listening to what they had to say. She disclosed that she lost her grandparents at an early age, “so this would be a great place to hang out.”
Rene Thomas Hill was the last elder representative to speak, offering more emotionally moving words for the audience. She told the crowd about a tree that had been planted for a Pow Wow years ago, just behind the building where we all sat. Rene and other women laid tobacco down by that tree and offered their prayers and intentions with it. “A prayer that our people would flourish, I stand here today as a manifestation of that prayer. This centre will bring healthy seeds.”
With the crowd almost in tears of joy, the agenda moved onto a more technical aspect of the centre, we heard from local Kevin Martin of K.L. Martin & Associates. He provided some background information and said he was “looking forward to community events” to be held at the new centre.
After Kevin, the architect Colleen Reid shared the plans she created for the centre. The area is to have two pathways, one would connect the community hall and arena, this space would allow for random meetings and outdoor seating. Colleen was very pleased to be involved, “I think it is a wonderful thing that children can go to a centre and be with elders. I am extremely honoured to be a part of this.”
Next, Bob Zehr of Nith Valley Construction, said “It is with great pleasure that we can provide you with another building to add to you landscape for youth and elders to enjoy together.” Chelsey Johnson and Mark Hill also encouraged youth to join the Six Nations Youth Council on Facebook if they wish to become more involved.
Robert Johnson thanked all the speakers for their words and invited everyone outside to witness the first shovel break ground. A youth in the crowd, Christa Jonathon, said “Its been a long time coming. When I was younger we petitioned to get a youth centre. It’s good that it’s going to be here for the next 7 generations.” Even with the cold hard ground, the youth and elders were able to dig up some dirt and pose for a photo. Laughter filled the air, as the celebration and cheer was captured on film. People came in and out of the photo shots, exchanging shovels and smiles. Everyone returned inside to enjoy tea and coffee, paired with Indian cookies and donuts, and plenty of fresh fruit. Mike Montour closed the wonderful ceremony with a prayer in Kanienkeha, and all the smiling faces left the room, knowing soon they would return for a grand opening of the Six Nations Youth and Elders Centre.