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2014-06-20 at 14:15

Honouring Wabegijig

By Leith Dunick,
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THUNDER BAY -- Kenneth Wabegijig’s memory will live on at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, thanks to Debra Chenier’s artistic donation.

Chenier, who runs a local art gallery, on Friday gave the hospital Cree Stevens’ triptych Tonto, in conjunction with Saturday’s National Aboriginal Day.

The three-panel painting was created to evoke discussion on actor Johnny Depp’s controversial role in the 2013 movie The Lone Ranger, which saw the non-Aboriginal Depp portray the title character’s sidekick.

The role drew plenty of criticism, something Wabegijig would have appreciated.

“When I saw this, I knew that it was Ken Wabegijig, that this would represent him and if I purchased it and donated it somewhere it would commemorate him and would be here forever so people would never forget him,” Chenier said.

Wabegijig worked for Chenier for seven years at her gallery, and was one of the most giving people she’s ever met.

“He used to bake bannock and bring it to the methadone clinic, just because it was the nice thing to do,” she said.

“Ken understood the power of art and creativity and how it would capitulate to our well-being.”
Art has a tremendous power to heal, said Louise Thomas, whose late husband Roy was one of the country’s most prominent Aboriginal artists.

Art brings out the best in people, she added, and colour brings out how people feel.

“That’s how I healed myself shortly after I lost my husband,” Thomas said, explaining why the hospital is the perfect place for Tonto to showcased.

“Having artwork displayed in the hospital is not only going to help our people, but everyone who comes and goes.”

Carmen Blais, the Aboriginal engagement lead at the hospital, said the facility has made it a priority in recent years to become more culturally sensitive and aware.

Blais said more than 62 per cent of the staff has accessed online training, and the strategic plan has several sections dealing specifically with First Nations, including more engagement with Aboriginal partners and discussions surrounding adding a sweat lodge.

The hospital has also added traditional Native foods to its menu, including bannock, fish and blueberry crisp.

“We’re really focusing on having an Aboriginal engagement strategy here at Thunder Bay Regional to make the environment more friendly for people coming in from the region, especially from the remote communities,” Blais said.

Native artwork is big part of that plan, she added.

Patients who feel more comfortable are more likely to find their way back to better health.

“Yes, that’s correct. We know that for a fact,” Blais said.



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