Unleashing Potential: Wiikwemkoong’s Combination of Traditional Knowledge with Skills Based Programs

Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island is the location of our second greenhouse project: The Wiikwemkoong Greenhouse for Change. However, this is not the only exciting project underway in Wiikwemkoong. A chat with Jocelyn Bebamikawe and Christianna Jones- both working at Wiikwemkoong Development Commission (WDC), Wii-ni n’guch-tood Labour Market Services branch- shed light on some of the other community initiatives taking place, ranging from apprenticeship and job exposure opportunities, to the development of a new Food Share program. Excitingly, these are projects which we all are hoping our greenhouse will compliment, and hopefully further.


On behalf of Christianna and Jocelyn, let me introduce you to the current projects focused on apprenticeship, skills development, and job exposure, and how these fantastic programs are shaping the community. What makes all these programs so successful is the reoccurring dominating focus on the client; or in other words, the fact that these programs are completely geared towards what the individual is interested in. For example, the summer employment programs allow students to work in a local business of their choosing. If a student wants to gain experience working in an office environment, then through WDC’s Summer Employment Program they help find a local employer who can hire them for the summer- allowing them to gain the hands-on experience they desire. This enables students not only to gain some exposure to the workplace and earn a wage, but also develop personal skills which are equally as important, such as communications skills, interpersonal skills, and a greater sense of self-confidence. Similarly, apprenticeship opportunities are also focused on the type of work the client/ student is interested in and potentially wants to pursue as a career. By prioritizing student’s/ client’s interests, WDC ensures that these work-placements introduce students to new experiences, but also remain positive.


Not super keen on entering the working world straight away? Not to worry, WDC also helps individuals explore the post-secondary school environment. Jocelyn and Christianna explained that their Ni Aaabizikaan program gives students a chance to explore both the workplace and the college experience. Ultimately, it is an opportunity that helps students determine whether they want to enter post-secondary education, an apprenticeship, or the workplace. The program allows students to take high school and colleges courses, job shadow professionals, but also spend a week on a college campus, exploring the campus experience, sitting in on lectures, and staying in a residence. An opportunity which seeks to minimize the nervousness which accompanies leaving home for the first time.


Yet work and school are not the sole focus of ongoing projects in Wiikwemkoong. Christiana and Jocelyn also shared their developing idea of a Food Share program; a project aimed at encouraging community members to start growing their own food locally. As of last year, 170 raised garden beds were built in backyards throughout the community, naturally grown foods were collected, and apples were pressed from local apple trees to make cider and other baked goods. The idea behind the Food Share program is not only to encourage community members to grow their own food, but to also help people recognize and relearn the act of harvesting. It is a resurgence movement, seeking to encourage people to get back on the land and relearn skills that were lost.


Enter Focus Forward’s Greenhouse for Change! As Christianna and Jocelyn pointed out, the construction of the greenhouse would contribute to the already existing programs focused on apprenticeships/ jobs skills and the Food Share project. Since the greenhouse will be connected to the high school, the theoretical classroom learning and construction portion of the greenhouse will allow students to learn from qualified contractors, experience trade work first hand, and earn high school credits and apprenticeship hours. As well as gain less identifiable skills, such as a sense of accomplishment and pride that can be gained by being able to reflect “that I helped build that”. And of course, the greenhouse will further the Food program by allowing the possibility of year-round gardening.


What will make Focus Forward’s greenhouse a success in the Wiikwemkoong community-as Christianna and Jocelyn noted- was how the planning and designing process was left open. Rather than design a greenhouse for a community, Focus Forward works with the community to formulate a design which corresponds with the unique needs of that community. Christianna and Jocelyn said, Focus Forward was able to take an idea and conceptualize it: Making a seemingly out of reach idea, become achievable. These current projects already underway in Wiikwemkoong possess an important quality as they seek to engage with traditional and non-traditional practices to create opportunities in the community. Similar to the current projects, the Greenhouse for Change harnesses traditional knowledge and skill-based education to contribute to the exciting change already characterizing the community.


Jones, Christianna. Personal Interview. 26 November 2017.

Bebamikawe, Jocelyn. Personal Interview. 26 November 2017.

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Anna Woodmass

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