Massive tribute built “to bring people together”

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Photos from the day the tribute was built, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Stewart.

In a tucked away corner of Sault Ste. Marie, in the 1400 block of Old Garden River road you will find a tribute, made with love, for the children.

What makes this tribute different from so many which have popped up since the discovery of the 215 children in Kamloops, is its size.

Photos from the day the tribute was built, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Stewart.

Constructed from the remains of an old trampoline, laced with meters of orange lights, is a dreamcatcher. Why is this significant, why is this different?

“It is believed that dream catchers originated with Asibaikaashi who was known as the Spider Woman. She was a custodian of all the infants and the adults. It became a difficult task for her to take enough care of all the Ojibwe people as they started spreading geographically, even to the nooks and crannies of North America,” according to experts at powwow.com.

Photos from the day the tribute was built, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Stewart.

“The women were in charge of weaving the magical webs for the infants. The women made this possible by using willow hoops and sinew to weave the webs. The children were provided with charms as a medium of protection. These charms were idealized to catch any sort of harm that might be present around that place or time.”

So it’s only fitting that on July 4, 2021, Renee Smith and her cousin Candace Sim-Roach along with a group of other women built this work tribute.

Photos from the day the tribute was built, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Stewart.

“You know, we gathered and all the women, we built the dream catcher. It was teamwork,” said Smith. “The man welded it together. It was a nice day, and the children had a blast.”

She invited a friend and photographer along to document the build. Elizabeth Stewart was moved by the experience and was able to sum up what she witnessed that day.

“While the Firekeeper minded the Sacred Fire, people trickled into the gathering bringing with them a dish to contribute to the feast. There was much camaraderie and laughter amongst the adults while the kids swam, played and laughed,” said Stewart.  “Once everyone was there they took the ring of an old trampoline and turned it into a beautiful dreamcatcher made with hundreds of orange lights. They chose 7 points for the netting to represent the Seven Teachings/Seven Grandfathers. They are Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth.”

Photos from the day the tribute was built, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Stewart.

When Renee was asked why she choose to do this, she told a story of what happened to her as a child, growing up in the west end of the city.

“I grew up in the city, in the west end and, as you know, the west end of our city is  predominantly Italian. I remember my first day of school. I was in grade two, my sister was in grade five, and my other sister was in grade one,” said Smith. “I felt like I was on on display, because I had all the children come running to the window and they were shouting, we got Indians here, as we were the first native people in their school. Sadly, there wasn’t a day that went by that my sisters and I didn’t have to fight because we were bullied. We were taunted, we were teased. It was just cruel.”

Photos from the day the tribute was built, taken by local photographer Elizabeth Stewart.

Because of the way her mother was raised, going to Indian day school, she didn’t believe in education but did teach her girls the only reason they were being treated that way was because of ignorance. Smith has dedicated a significant part of her life to ending that ignorance and making sure non-native people understand what has happened, this is just another step along the way.

Stewart shared a little more about the day it was built, including a little bit about the role of the firekeeper that day.

“While everyone mingled and built the dreamcatcher and the kids played, the Firekeeper watched over the Sacred Fire. He isn’t allowed to leave it until it’s put out. We were invited to go make an offering and say a prayer. The offerings they had were cedar and tobacco,” recalled Stewart.  “We stood facing the East, gave our offering to the fire, said a prayer, walked around to the other side and left. I believe he said the prayers go up to spirit carried by the smoke. He spoke of his Grandfather and a few of the stories he told to him. He said when he spoke of the residential school, he only spoke of the good times he had.”

A photo of the finished product, taken at night July 4, 2021. (Dan Gray/Saultonline.com)

The dreamcatcher will be in place at least until the snow flies. You are encouraged to go see it for yourself.

Stay with SaultOnline as we continue to bring you stories from in and around Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma.

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