Grandmother’s Voice: Where Community and Education Come Together

By: Laura Steiner, Local Journalism Initiative
Grandmothers’ Voice has been a thread throughout Jody Harbour’s life, as she’s sought to reconnect with her family and culture.  She started a blog with the name  after hearing her grandmother’s voice in a dream. Her research into her family tree took her to Six Nations reserve and  Grandmother Renee Thomas Hill.  Hill took a look at the work Harbour did, and they discovered their grandmothers were sisters.  “I told her about the name, and it just stuck.  Everything that we’ve done has always been about our grandmothers,” she said.  Harbour is Cayuga on her Father’s side.
Sherry Saevil is Cree, originally from Saskatchewan.  She’s worked with both Halton District, and Halton Catholic District School Boards  of education on Indigenous curriculum for over twenty years.  They’d been seeking somewhere to use as a learning lodge, and could only use the high schools after hours.  “But what happens during the day? We wanted to have a place where people, even retired people could come and be, and learn,” she said.  The Indigenous population in Halton sits at 1%, but doubled from 2,640 to 5,455 according to the Region of Halton between 2006, and 2016.
Involvement with the Country Heritage Park
The park’s involvement started when owner Jamie Reaume asked the group to build a healing garden as a place for the community to heal after COVID-19.  The result was an area that mirrors the structure of a long house stretching from east to west in front of the park’s office buildings facing the 401.  It included Indigenous plants, bordered by palisades made from wood brought from Crawford Lake Conservation Area.  They are also using a section of the office’s ground floor they’re planning to divide into some offices to be used for counselling, healing, as well as meeting space.  “This is our lodge now, Saevil said.
Grandmother’s Voice is open when they have events at Country Heritage Park.  You enter the park using the south entrance off Tremaine Rd.  They welcome volunteers, and visitors to work in their garden, and ask questions. Saevil has lived in the area for 25 years.  “Why are we the only segment of the population that has to go somewhere else to learn about our history, our culture and language?” she asked.
Education, and Community
The importance of both education, and community has increased with the discovery of gravesites on the grounds of former residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) estimates approximately 3,000 children died at the schools.  However, it is assumed that all 139 Residential Schools have graveyards attached to them, and that number will increase.  
They know that as Canadians adjust to these tragic revelations about their history, there will be a need to unify. “We need to have community engagement in order to bring the population together,” Saevil said.  She’s hoping Grandmothers’ voice will be part of that.  “We’re creating a sense of where people can come, and learn, and be,” she said.
Grandmothers’ Voice has been running a Speakers’ series throughout COVID-19.  Last year included a week with Residential School survivors from the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School in Brantford. They come on a Facebook Live through the group’s Facebook Page every Thursday and speak about their experiences.  The TRC documents reports of abuse inside the schools. “It is traumatizing.  But thank goodness we have survivors that can give us a little glimpse inside there,” Saevil said
The speakers’ sessions function as an education opportunity for non-Indigenous, and a fundraiser for Mohawk Village Memorial Park, something that they hope will serve as a space for survivors.  It continues every Thursday until September 30.
A Simple Philosophy
Part of Indigenous philosophy is to be one with the land.  It’s something Harbour thinks COVID-19 has helped people to rediscover.  She thinks that many haven’t felt comfortable expressing it because of societal systems, and labels.  “Just go outside, and be on the land.  It’s simple.  It’s practical,” Harbour added.
They view their group as a community effort.  “This is a centre for the people, created by the people,” Saevil said.  She talked about bringing beehives onto the property, and making honey for sale.  Reaume has allowed them use of two acres of farmland, and they are talking about using more buildings as well.   To learn more about Grandmothers’ Voice, and fundraising for the Mohawk Memorial Village Memorial Park visit their website.

Support is available for Residential School survivors, and their families.  The Indian Residential School Survivors Society operates a 24 hour helpline at: 1-866-925-4419. If you or your family find yourself in distress because of your experiences, please reach out