A 167-year old wampum belt that once belonged to Chief Shingwauk wrapped around full circle at Garden River First Nation yesterday.
The belt’s parallel rows of purple and white beads are the foundation of yesterday’s agreement between Shingwauk Education Trust and Algoma University College, a historic covenant between Anishinabe and European peoples.
The Garden River Community Centre was filled to bursting with dignitaries, some decked out in full regalia to mark the historic signing.
The purple row of beads represents the teachings, values and beliefs of the Anishinabe people and their boats, said Garden River Chief Lyle Sayers.
“The row of white beads represents the teachings of the settlers who came to this country and their tall ships,” Sayers said.
He said that each row of beads is equal, signifying how the two peoples can advance in tandem with generous and plentiful cross-pollination of ideas and cooperation.
“It gives me great pleasure to know that an agreement is being signed with another university that will lead us into a new era,” said Sayers, one of seven direct descendents of Chief Shingwauk who wtinessed yesterday’s coventant-signing.
The Shingwauk covenant begins the process of creating two independent universities that will share the same space and resources.
Students will be able to enroll in either Algoma University or Shingwauk University and to take courses offered through either school.
Fontaine and others who spoke yesterday remembered the pain and suffering of residential school survivors at Shingwauk Hall which later became Algoma University College.
The Shingwauk Covenant represents a start down a road to a place where they can begin to heal themselves, Boissoneau said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine agreed, saying that education is the foundation for positive changes in aboriginal communities.
Fontaine talked about the need for more professional First Nations people – doctors, lawyers and such.
“We are poised to do great things through education,” said Fontaine.
About four years ago, Garden River First Nation members first learned that the wampum belt Chief Shingwauk gave to Sir John Colbourne in 1838 to help get a school for Anishnabe in the area was up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York.
“I tried to go through channels to get it released to us but they wouldn’t let it go,” said Sayers.
After getting the nod from Garden River Band Council to spend up to $50,000 U.S. to buy it, Sayers got on the phone and placed a bid.
“In about a minute $34,000 U.S. had been spent and the wampum was on its way back home,” said Sayers. “But it wasn’t about the money; it was about bringing the wampum back home.”