Chippewas seek artists for barn saving market 

By Calvi Leon

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

An area First Nation is looking for Indigenous artists to participate in its upcoming market, part of a project that will raise money to restore the last remaining structure of a former residential school.

The language, culture and heritage department at Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, also known as Deshkan Ziibiing, located southwest of London, is hoping to recruit artists and food vendors to participate in an Indigenous market at Western Fair District from Nov. 18 to 20.

The three-day project, called Gawii Wiikaa Ga-Nendimisii – Never Ever Forget Me, will include two other components: an artist skill development program and a Saturday concert organized in partnership with Music Tourism Alliance in London. Money raised during the event will help restore a barn that is the only structure left from the Mount Elgin Industrial Institute residential school that operated on the grounds of the First Nation from 1850 to 1967.

“The whole purpose is to fundraise and to be able to save the barn and turn it into an interpretive museum, as well as a learning place,” Gina McGahey of the Anishinaabe’aadziwin department said.

“So, this call for vendors is to come together and to show that we are resilient Anishinaabe people, whereby we are practising our traditional, cultural ways to educate the public on our way of living and to learn about the music that people have practised for many generations.”

Any Indigenous artist or food vendor from across southern Ontario is welcome to participate, said McGahey.

The upcoming project is supported by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism Fund, a grant delivered through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Proceeds will go to Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s Save the Barn campaign that was launched years ago in response to conversations with community members and residential school survivors, McGahey said.

“This barn is really important because of the fact that in the beams, the students etched their names, the year and their messages.

We never want to forget them,” she said.

Many children forced into hard labour on the residential school’s farm left poignant and painful memories of their experiences engraved on the barn walls.

“Ponty John was around here without a friend. So long boys,” reads one of them.

“L. E.W. was in here on July 9th 1926 working like hell,” another says.

Mount Elgin was one of about 130 church- and government-run residential schools that operated across Canada from the early 1800s to 1996. An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend the schools, an attempt to destroy their language, traditions and cultures.

At Chippewas of the Thames, the Anishinaabe’aadziwin department has worked on revitalizing the community’s culture and Ojibway language for 20 years, said its co-ordinator, Nancy Deleary.

Some of the funding received for the upcoming project also would go toward artist skill development programs for community members to gain skills “in making the things that we made on this land for thousands of years,” such as clay-making, weaving, and carving, she said. Participants will get to showcase their work during the three-day event next month.

In the meantime, Deleary said the department hopes to find a more permanent space in London for future artist workshops. “We have no space on our reserve to host these classes,” she said.

Indigenous artists and food vendors interested in being part of the upcoming market are asked to send their questions and applications to events? by Oct. 21. More details about the project can be found at

 Calvi Leon  is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with LONDON FREE PRESS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.



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