On Oct. 4, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) threw together a community gathering at the Bill Comaskey Wellness Centre in Thompson, where the political advocacy group treated various northern residents to a Thanksgiving feast.
This crowd included families from Indigenous communities throughout Northern Manitoba, including Split Lake, Nelson House, Thicket Portage and York Factory, as well as community representatives from Vale and the City of Thompson.
On top of featuring copious amounts of food, traditional dancing and music, this event also served as a coming out party for MKO’s new leader Garrison Settee, who was elected as grand chief back in August.
Settee took the time at the beginning of the event to introduce himself to the masses and let them know that he officially moved into his new home in Thompson as of Sept. 14.
“This is the best way to connect with the surrounding communities, because some of them are just within a short driving distance,” Settee told the Nickel Belt News following his introductory speech. “MKO needed to be relevant to their people and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to make this my home office.”
Since Oct. 4 also marks the province’s official day to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Settee eventually turned the mic over to elder Marie Ballantyne, who put a personal spin on one of the biggest issues facing Indigenous people throughout Canada.
Ballantyne told the crowd about how her aunt was killed by her uncle in 1962, a story that is made even more tragic because of the fact that her aunt was nine months pregnant at the time.
After toiling with feelings of anger and grief for many years, she eventually found the strength to forgive her uncle for his crime and even reconciled with him after he was released from prison.
“I am glad we are able to talk about it very freely today because I know I’m not alone,” she said. “I honour, from the bottom of my heart, the MKO for implementing this service. I believe it has brought a form of closure for me.”
Moving forward, Settee said he and MKO want to establish this fall feast as an annual event as a way to give people like Ballantyne a platform and to stay connected with the patchwork of Indigenous communities that make up Northern Manitoba.
“I believe it’s important that our organization connects with you, not only during election times, or times when we need a vote. This has to happen consistently.”
According to their website, the MKO represents citizens of First Nations who are signatories to Treaty 4, Treaty 5, Treaty 6 and Treaty 10.