Patricia Elaine Nawagesic (Oza-Migizi-Kwe—Brown Eagle Woman) passed away on March 13, 2022 after a brief and valiant fight against a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She was a member of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (Gull Bay First Nation).
Patti would have turned 67 years old on April 8, 2022. She left us too early but left us with many blessings.
Patti was a survivor of a residential school, a federal Indian Day school, and the Children’s Aid Society.
Patti completed her Bachelor of Social Work at Lakehead University and her Master of Social Work Indigenous Field of Study at Laurier University. The Master program conferred her the title of “wholistic healer” with instructions to heal her people.
Her career spanned a wide range of positions in social work throughout northern and southern Ontario and also included some surprises. She was a youth member and activist in helping to establish the Thunder Bay Indian Youth Friendship Centre, led by Xavier Michon in the 1970s. She was one of the first Indigenous women in northern Ontario to be certified as a log scaler. She worked in Gull Bay First Nation as a Community Health Representative (CHR). She also held the positions of Health Director and Child Welfare Support Worker for Gull Bay. She helped develop CHR training at Confederation College and coordinated and taught the courses. She applied her social work skills in numerous areas, including the Ogden Street Community Health Centre, Gull Bay First Nation, Tikinagan Child Services, probation officer for Correctional Services for Indigenous men, Beendigen Anishinabe Women’s Crisis Home & Family Healing Agency Centre, and the Ontario Ministry of Justice on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, among others. She was a board member for Beendigen and Anishinaabe Mushkiki.
It was always her dream to set up an independent consulting firm to deliver counselling support services to northern Indigenous communities, part of her instructions to heal her people.
Patti was, first and foremost, a mother, but she was also a caregiver and a hub for both her extended family and her community, a grandmother, an auntie, a sister, an activist, a social worker, a blueberry picker, a berry storyteller, a keeper of the culture, a speaker of Anishinaabemowin, and a dear friend.
Patti always thought outside the box. She had a vision about how to apply Indigenous values to improve the way we live together. She was a spiritual leader, living on a different plane than most of us. She blended her traditional spiritual beliefs with a strong Catholic faith. She was accepting and forgiving of our flaws, maybe too much so. She used stories to teach and inspire. We will miss her ability to inspire us.
Family and friends were precious to Patti. She will be sadly missed and lovingly remembered by her children Keewaden, Zhounodin (Conrad) and Rachel and her partner Rene Sabourin. Patti held a special place in Sarah Sabourin’s heart, Rene’s mother and respected Elder. She was surrounded and loved by her siblings Leslie, Vernon, Diane, Darcy, Miles, Mark, and Mary Ann. She will also be sorely missed by her grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. She will also be sadly missed by Gull Bay community members who will miss her healing touch and the relationships she forged with them.
Patti will also be missed by her life-long friends and spirit sisters who became, in the last few years, the Cradleboard Keepers—Shirley Stevens, Marlene Pierre, Bev Sabourin, Mary Alice Smith, Peggy Smith, Karen Peterson, and Louise Thomas. Patti enhanced the Dakobinaawaswaan (Baby in a Cradle) exhibit with the contribution of her family’s tikinagan and a genogram that illustrated all the children through the generations who were held in that cradleboard. The family thanks these spirit sisters for rallying to Patti’s side and seeing her through to the end.
Her influence and reach have been felt by many in the communities she contributed to— her home community of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek; Thunder Bay, her long-time home; Sioux Lookout; and various other northern and southern Ontario communities where she studied and worked. She herself was inspired by her land connection to Jackfish Island on Lake Nipigon. She likened it to Hunza, Heaven on Earth.
Patti was predeceased by her parents Narciste Nowegijick and Doris Michel Nowegijick, siblings Lawrence, Andrew, Pauline Wynn, and Dolores Wawia. Losing their mother, Doris, was a great loss for the family. We think about Patti resting in her mother’s arms.
Heartfelt thanks to doctors Hagerty, Del Paggio and Ward, who worked so diligently to give Patti some extra time and ease her pain. And thank you to Thunder Bay Regional Hospital staff and St. Joseph’s Hospice staff who made her comfortable in her last days.
Funeral Services for Patti will be held in the Chapel of Harbourview Funeral Centre on Saturday, March 19, 2022 presided by Fr. Gerald McDougal s.j. of St. Anne’s Church at 12:00 Noon. Visitation for family and friends will take place one hour prior.
For those unable to attend, the service will be livestreamed and archived at www.harbourviewfuneral.ca where condolences may be offered as well.
Should friends so desire, donations may be made in Patti’s memory to Marlene and Jeordie Pierre, School of Indigenous Learning (SOIL), https://indlearning.ca, 1-807-621-7012, firstname.lastname@example.org, 79 Little Pigeon Bay Road, Neebing, Ontario P7L 0A1.