Oneesh Tamkey Award
Tikinagan Child and Family Services created an award called ONEESH TAMKEY, which means “Someone who sits in front of a boat or canoe guiding the direction. The others follow the direction given by the one sitting in the front.”
When we are paddling a canoe, the one who directs the course to take, on a lake or rapids, must have knowledge of a safe passage to a desired destination and must recognize risks, as it is the one at the front who has the most visibility. ONEESH TAMKEY points the way. The one at the rear is steering the canoe and only follows the ONEESH TAMKEY’s direction.
This award is designed to recognize those people who have made a valuable contribution to Tikinagan’s development.
List of Recipients
This year, we are presenting the award not to a specific person, but to a community and their newly established family law – Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Dibenjikewin Onaakonikewin (KIDO), which came into force on April 1, 2023.
Starting with discussions in 2007, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and Tikinagan came together to work on the development of an initial onaakonikewin that would replace provincial legislation. At the Niigaanshkaawin Forum this February, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris explained that when his community took on their family development 15 years ago, it didn’t come from the leadership, but rather it was from the people of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.
By 2018 and after the enactment of Bill C-92, the project was ready to begin developing its initial version of family law. The law development also included many consultation with the community, including an overwhelming 97% community referendum to follow through with the process in 2019.
More than five years later, KIDO was the second in Ontario and the seventh in Canada to exercise jurisdiction over their own child and family services, as part of their inherent right to self-governance. KIDO is the first in Tikinagan’s 30 First Nations and we know several other communities that are ready to follow the direction and example set out by KI.
KIDO has a vision to create healthy self, healthy family, and healthy community. The emphasis of service is on family healing and maintaining connections within families and the community. KIDO’s mission is that our dibenjikewinan (families) can raise our awaashishag (children) and oshkaadizag (youth) in healthy homes. Their work will be guided by their service model, which is known as the Maamao Dibenjikewin Kanawaabajikewin.
During his speech at the co-ordination agreement signing, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris stated, “We’re going to be moving forward, and moving forward means everybody has to play a role — chief and council, families, organizations — each and every one of us will come together to make our community go forward to a brighter future, a prosperous community and our children to have stable homes growing up.”
Judy started working at Tikinagan Child and Family Services on March 7, 1988, a career that lasted for more than 30 years. When Judy started in 1988, it was her first job in an office setting and she was just one of eight workers in an office with six lines on a switchboard. After her time working as a receptionist, Judy filled many roles during her time with the agency, including database operator, direct services supervisor, information systems co-ordinator, family service worker, and service manager. She became the Assistant Director of Services in 2015 and later Director of Service.
Judy directed Tikinagan in different capacities, all of which were done with a gentle and caring compassion for our children, youth and families. She is one a handful of staff who have seen first-hand, over three decades, the development and growth of not only our agency but Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, our service model.
To many in the office, she is remembered for always having an open door, for being a good listener, and calming down a stressful situation with her presence (and humour).
Watch her retirement video here.
There was no award for 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
The Chiefs Committee was established at the Tikinagan Annual Chiefs Assembly in 2004. There are six dedicated First Nation leaders on this committee:
- Chief Donny Morris
- Chief Lorraine Crane
- Councillor Louie Sugarhead
- Chief Delores Kakegamic
- Chief Chris Kakegamic
- Board Representative Sonny Gagnon
They have been working together to provide political support and direction on litigation, mediation and negotiations in regards to our First Nations families receiving child and family services in Thunder Bay.
Their efforts have led to a decision in January 2020 by the Ministry to grant full jurisdictional rights for Tikinagan to provide child and family services to families from the Sioux Lookout region who are living in Thunder Bay.
This was extremely positive news for our communities, our children and our families.
- Our First Nation leadership will have more authority over decisions made about their families living in Thunder Bay.
- Tikinagan will be able to have deep and meaningful consultations with the First Nation leaders when it comes to your children and families.
- Children will have a significantly increased opportunity to stay with extended family and stay connected to their home community and their traditional values.
There have been other leaders on this committee over the years, so we want to take the time to acknowledge former members: Clifford Bull, Bart Meekis, and James Cutfeet.
The Committee has also demonstrated true Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin by keeping a focus on this issue and moving it forward over the years. It was through many meetings and long days that this is finally coming into fruition.
KRRCFS was selected to receive the award in recognition of the agency’s long-standing collaboration with our agency and their recognition that First Nation families in their district are best served by First Nation agencies.
KRR recognizes First Nation jurisdiction over their children beyond just words. They have taken action by providing authority to Tikinagan to provide child welfare services to members of our First Nations in your district.
KRR has acknowledged that Indigenous CASs serving specific First Nations would have the closer connections with the extended family, the community, the First Nation leadership and the specific First Nation culture so that the best interests of the children can be served as well as best supporting the well-being of the family as a whole.
Elsie Fox, Emily Gregg and Georgina Neshinapaise. These are our three Elders who sit on TIkinagan’s Elders Council.
Our Elders Council serves in an advisory capacity to the Chiefs, our Board of Directors, our Senior Management team and staff. The place of Elders within Tikinagan reflects the respect we have for our traditions and culture. The Council acts as “keeper of the vision” and supports TIkinagan in maintaining our vision, goals and principles.
Rosemary McKay is a trailblazer. She’s the type of leader who has deep compassion for the people she works with and the people she works for.
She helped forge Tikinagan’s service model: Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, everyone working together to raise our children. She was instrumental in its creation. And she wasn’t one to back down from a system that was reluctant to allow Aboriginal practices. She worked hard to get validation for the model. It can be difficult attaining acceptance for First Nations laws and customs.
Rosemary worked tirelessly during the development process of the service model. She spent countless hours meeting with communities, gathering their input and information. She cared about the quality of service being delivered to our member communities. She understands the history of child welfare between our communities. And she used that knowledge to make critical changes to the way we provide services.
Today, Rosemary remains on staff with Tikinagan.
Harvey Kakegamic spent a decade on the Tikinagan Board, serving as co-chair then as chair. He provided invaluable wisdom and leadership to the agency.
He was committed to the strong belief that finding answers and solutions to problems can be found in the communities we serve. It’s a conviction that fits easily with the spirit of Tikinagan’s service model: Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, everyone working together to raise our children.
Harvey’s greatest strength was in continually communicating and connecting to communities. He was a strong political advocate for the agency at both the grassroots level and the provincial government level. Harvey spent countless hours meeting with Ministry officials and even more talking with community leaders about the role Tikinagan plays in supporting children and families.
Former Grand Chief Harvey Yesno was leading his community of Eabametoong First Nation when he helped create Tikinagan.
It was August 22, 1984 when chiefs and leaders from Nishnawbe Aski Nation signed a Memorandum of Agreement with then deputy minister Robert MacDonald. It was a first step towards achieving full control over child welfare service. A goal endorsed by the provincial Minister of Community and Social Services.
The name Tikinagan came a year later thanks to Yesno. It’s a name that symbolizes the care and protection that the traditional cradleboard or tikinagan provides to us in our early years. It clearly illustrates the agency’s vision.
As a young chief in 1984, at a meeting of chiefs in Kitchenuhmaykoosib, Saggius spoke in favour of Tikinagan establishing their own child and family services agency. The chiefs agreed to do this – to take responsibility for the care and safety of our own children in our own communities.
Saggius was asked to be on a committee that would do the work needed to make this vision a reality and he served as one of Tikinagan’s early Board members.
In 1987, Ontario fully recognized Tikinagan as a child protection agency. This took longer than Saggius and others would have liked, but they persevered to achieve their goal.
Saggius rejoined Tikinagan’s Board in the early 1990s, and then served as chairperson of the board — a position he held for over 12 years (1992 to 2005). He also served for 17 consecutive years as a band councillor in Deer Lake.
Over time, through meetings and presentations, Saggius worked to convince the province that our communities were unique; that we had our own culture and our own ways of raising children.
Through his efforts, the province – and the ministry responsible for child and family services –came to understand and value these differences.
As a result, the province accepts the community-based model we use at Tikinagan Child and Family Services today – Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin.
Saggius remained on the Tikinagan board until 2006 – always reminding us of the original vision for Tikinagan; always showing us the way.
Moses Fiddler was a member of Tikinagan’s Elders Council. He provided good advice and direction to the organization since it started in the 1980s.
His advice is based on his values and his life experience. That experience includes living in the community of Muskrat Dam and surviving in the bush, feeding his family by hunting, trapping and fishing.
Moses always talked about the importance of Tikinagan’s services to children and families. He was generous with encouragement and praise for the work done by our staff and managers.
Casey Aysanabee was featured in a Tikinagan video called “Telling My Story.”
“It’s not your fault,” he stressed to other young people about being in care.
Casey talked about challenges he faced in foster care. About adapting to new homes and schools. About times when he felt lonely and helpless.
But he also talked about learning to find the positive side of things. About encouragement he received from a sister, a foster parent, a teacher, and a Tikinagan worker. About being yourself and ‘getting the job done’ to achieve your goals.
That’s what Casey did. He graduated from Pelican Falls First Nation High School. Teachers said he was an outgoing, confident student who encourages others. He brought laughter and joy to the classroom every day. He was a leader.
Through his openness and honesty, strength and determination, Casey inspires all of us to live to our full potential.
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.”
Justice Little, while sitting as a Family Court Judge in the District of Kenora, was instrumental in assisting Tikinagan Child and Family Services to develop a more culturally appropriate model for child welfare practice.
Notably, Justice Little recognized customary care as a disposition in court by not making a wardship order when a customary care agreement had been entered into. She also recognized Tikinagan’s customary care supervision agreement as an alternative to court ordered supervision orders.
Her innovation in the “Northern Style Settlement Conferences,” a type of circle, allowed the resolution of some very hard cases without a court trial, at the community level, with community involvement. This became a model on which we were able to build, for dispute resolution at the community level.
Justice Little pointed the way, and we, as an agency, steered our canoes in that direction. Once she got us there, then we knew the course. We built on her direction; discovering new ideas as the journey progressed.