Remembering Tikinagan founder William Nothing

Posted: September 1st, 2020

Tikinagan Child & Family Services mourns the loss of William J. Nothing, one of the agency’s founders, former board chair, and member of Bearskin Lake First Nation. He was 72.

Remembered as a visionary and negotiator for Tikinagan and many other First Nation organizations in northwestern Ontario, Nothing laid the foundation for our agency. Nothing negotiated a ground breaking memorandum that First Nations Chiefs signed in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation in 1984, which was the founding event for Tikinagan.

From there, Nothing stayed with Tikinagan as Board Chair, and later become Executive Director for a short stint, to help guide Tikinagan through its development stages.

In Tikinagan’s Annual Report in 1985-86, Nothing speaks passionately from this role as Board Chair: “Tikinagan’s goal is to become fully designated as a Children Aid’s Society with responsibility for all child and family services within its geographical territory. …Work is progressing and we anticipate that Tikinagan will be designated as a Children Aid’s Society by that date or shortly there after.”

He added, “The exciting thing about the development of Tikinagan is that a process of takeover which people had expected to take five years will be completed in two years.”

In April 1986, under Nothing’s leadership, Tikinagan was given approved agency status, and on April 1, 1987, Tikinagan received designation as a Children's Aid Society with responsibility for all child and family services within its geographical territory.

Tikinagan was one of the first Indigenous-controlled agencies in Canada, the first Indigenous agency recognized as a child protection organization in Ontario (along with Payukotayno Family Services), and the first in Canada to have jurisdiction over both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

“Perhaps the most exciting of all about Tikinagan’s development is that it is a living example of Indian self-government,” Nothing wrote. “We can design and run our own program; we can take control of those areas which affect our lives. Hopefully, the experience of Tikinagan will be useful to all of us as we increasingly develop our own Indian government.”

Nothing’s leadership and vision was instrumental in the creation and development of the agency. Tikinagan Executive Director, Thelma Morris, says his vision endures.

“The legacy of our William J. Nothing lives on everyday in the work we do to keep our children connected to our communities, culture, and families. Our communities are empowered because of the work that was done more than 35 years ago under his leadership. And he didn’t do it for himself. He did it all for the people of NAN.”

In 2009 at the 25th anniversary of Tikinagan, Nothing received the Oneesh Tam Key Award for his vision and creation of Tikinagan. The Oneesh Tam Key Award, which means “someone who sits in the front of the canoe guiding direction,” is given to an individual who helped move Tikinagan forward.

In addition to his work with Tikinagan, Nothing served with Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in numerous roles, including Deputy Grand Chief. His vision for his people extended beyond Tikinagan, as he also led the negations with the governments in the development of NAN Legal, NAPS, and the formation of Pelican Falls First Nations High School.

“Bill always opened his heart and his home to anyone in need, but what really set him apart for many of the leaders he worked with was his sense of humour,” said NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler in a statement. “No matter how difficult or challenging the situation, he could always find a way to ease the tension.”