‘This is wrong’: M’Chigeeng school custodian walks for Honey Harbour students 

By Joyce Jonathan Crone

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Bethany Debassige, proudly wearing her purple CUPE T-shirt, sign in hand, walks the main street of Bracebridge with swarms of other purple  shirts.

Twenty-five years old, the experience of standing up for herself is  not new: “Our rights have been taken away; we are doing this to create  change for the future.”

Debassige works at Honey Harbour Public School as a custodian.

She is  First Nations, originally from M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin  Island. Debassige, born in Orillia, was raised, “off reserve” and  returned to M’Chigeeng after the death of her father to reconnect with  family.

Something was missing in Debassige’s life, and she knew it. At 23  years of age, sheparticipated in a life-changing educational opportunity  on M’Chigeeng, where she learned her Anishinaabemowin language and  culture.

Debassige speaks with inspirational wisdom and strength.

“This is wrong what the government is doing,” she said.

“Taking away our rights; reminds me of the past, and it is completely wrong.”

Debassige welcomes being part of a union community. “I worked a minimum wage job at a pet store before,” she said.

Half of the student population at her school is First Nations.  Debassige knows her job as a role model is just as important as cleaning  the classrooms. “I have gone into the classrooms to share what I have  learned about my identity and culture. The kids look up to me, they come  and tell me about their day.” Bethany is an amazing young Indigenous  woman making a difference as a school custodian.

 

Joyce Jonathan Crone is a Local Journalism Initiative  reporter based in Muskoka. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by  the Government of Canada.

 

 

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