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GC Huston student Mya Falesy and Principal Dan Russell reveal the new Zgaa-biig-ni-gan sign to a crowd of hundreds gathered on the bridge that spans the Saugeen River between Saugeen First Nation and Southampton, June 21. Zgaa-biig-ni-gan means ‘from one end to the other, we are connected.’

Hub Staff

“Today our gathering is much more than putting up a couple of road signs, it’s much more than simply attaching a name to a bridge. Rather, our gathering today is about unity, it’s about love and mutual respect, it’s about putting words into action and celebrating truthful relationships, it’s about appreciating our uniqueness but at the end of the day coming together as one family.”

Those were the words of GC Huston Public School Principal Dan Russell on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in celebration of the naming of the bridge that spans the Saugeen River between Saugeen First Nation and Southampton and Saugeen Shores.

Zgaa-biig-ni-gan means ‘we are connected’ or more precisely, ‘from one end to the other, we are connected.’

What was the culmination of nearly two years of planning and discussions between GC Huston staff and students, Saugeen First Nation Elders and Chief and Council, as well as municipal and provincial officials, had Russell feeling proud and to the hundreds of people gathered on the bridge for the naming ceremony, including staff and students from the Southampton school, he expressed his gratitude in both Ojibwe and English and admitted that while the bridge may be made of concrete and metal, it symbolizes a connected community.

Saugeen First Nation Elder and Former Chief Vernon Roote was invited to offer a blessing and called out the name Zgaa-biig-ni-gan to each of the four directions so spirit helpers will know the name of the bridge. “And so this spiritual portion is something that we sometimes neglect when we do things, when we name something in this physical presence,” he said, before offering a prayer and calling upon Spirit to help him name the bridge.

Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot thanked Principal Russell, who fulfilled the role of emcee for the day’s events; as well as Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, Former Chief Vernon Roote, and the drum. “Without the drum we don’t have the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” he said.

Anoquot explained the significance of the eagle staff he carried. Seven feathers represented the seven Grandfather Teachings, a dream catcher, circle teachings, the four directions, the four colours of man, and the four human aspects that need to be taken care of. “Our emotions, our spirit, our body, and our physical well being,” he said.

Anoquot then congratulated staff and students at GC Huston. “It is up to you, our youth and future generations, to right the wrongs of the past and work together to build a community based on mutual respect and friendship. The work shows a commitment to relationship building, connection, friendship, and reconciliation,” he said.

Saugeen Shores Mayor Mike Smith recalled a time in his youth when the bridge was first built, in the late 1950s he thought, and how it physically connected the two communities. “We want the best for all these young children out here on this bridge today, and in the future, and this is just one way of doing it,” he said. Smith went on to express hope that the students present would remember this day for the rest of the their lives. “Know what a great thing you did today,” he said.

Director of Education for Bluewater District School Board Alana Murray attended on behalf of the Board and Trustees. “I am a settler to Turtle Island and it is with deep humility and great honour that I share the stage with these very important people and that we are permitted to share the land in Saugeen Ojibway Nation so that our schools can operate in this, Bruce and Grey county,” she said.

Huston Hawk and School Council member, Grade 7 student Mya Falesy spoke on behalf of the student body at GC Huston and said they were honoured that the school was able to choose the name. “We wanted it to be a name that described our special relationship,” said Falesy to the crowd spanning each end of the bridge. “We wanted it to be a name that reminded us that even though we are unique, we are still family,” she said.

Melissa Root from Saugeen First Nation was accompanied by her grandmother Rita Root and daughter, GC Huston student Eden. Melissa said that the bridge naming was an amazing day for both communities and explained that Rita, along with other Saugeen First Nation community members, had submitted name options to the school and it was Rita’s name that was chosen.

“It was a huge honour, not only for her but for my family and the whole community,” said Melissa. “[Rita] is a residential school surviver that attended the Mush Hole in Brantford, Ontario,” she added.

The Mush Hole was a nickname given to the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School because, according to a July, 2016 Toronto Star article, children were made to eat mushy gruel day and night.

Melissa went on to describe a night when she, along with her grandmother and grandfather talked about what reconciliation meant to them, and more importantly, what it meant to Rita as a survivor. “As we sat around and talked for probably hours and hours because that’s a very loaded question, we decided for us the truth means acknowledging what happened to our people and that everyone knows what happened,” she said.

“Reconciliation, what can we do to move forward collaboratively, working towards repairing the long lasting intergenerational effects of residential schools,” said Melissa.

“Through these kinds of initiatives we are bringing awareness to the issue, not only now but for future generations,” she said. “When visitors cross the bridge it will strike a conversation.”

Rita Root spoke in Ojibwe then continued in English, greeting her brothers and sisters. “It is an honour for Saugeen to name the bridge Zgaa-biig-ni-gan as we have a connection to each other,” she said.

The Women’s Drum Group closed the ceremony.

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The men’s drumming group sang the Honour Song before the unveiling ceremony took place, June 21 on the newly named Zgaa-biig-ni-gan Bridge.

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Saugeen First Nation Elder and Former Chief Vernon Roote (right) said a prayer and called the bridge name to each of the four directions, June 21, so spirit helpers would know what it was called.

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Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot explained the significance of his eagle staff, including the seven feathers that represent the seven Grandfather Teachings, something the GC Huston students have been learning about for the past two years.

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Mayor Mike Smith hoped the children would always remember the day Zgaa-biig-ni-gan got its name, June 21.

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The name Zgaa-biig-ni-gan was offered by Rita Root (in blue) and subsequently chosen by GC Huston students.

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The women’s drum group closed the naming ceremony June 21 at the Zgaa-biig-ni-gan Bridge.

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The new sign at the Zgaa-biig-ni-gan Bridge as you cross the Saugeen River from Southampton to Saugeen First Nation.

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Hundreds gathered on the bridge that spans the Saugeen River between Saugeen First Nation and Southampton for the naming ceremony June 21. Zgaa-biig-ni-gan means ‘we are conneced,’ or more precisely, ‘from one end to the other, we are connected.’

 

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