Dibaajimowin Pontiac: Guidance, respect and honesty

Julien St-Jean

According to Sebastien Beaudoin, when it comes to traditions and heritage, it’s important to handle things properly and respectfully.

Three years ago, this mindset inspired Beaudoin to bring together others who shared this belief and form Dibaajimowin Pontiac, a network of people who try to “promote Indigenous presence” within the Pontiac.

Dibaajimowin Pontiac – or as Beaudoin sometimes refers to it, “the circle” – describes itself as independent and separate from local groups, interests and politics. Instead, they strictly focus on helping others organize events which promote Indigenous culture and identity. 

“We’re there to be facilitators,” says Beaudoin. “We comprehend the situation really well. How to help the community, and start teaching the respect of traditions and protocols and language.”

Beaudoin stresses that they are not a group or a non-profit, but instead are a network of people who try to help others by reaching out to those who are qualified to teach and lead discussions. They then arrange to bring these guests to venues where they can lead discussions and hold sharing circles.

Dibaajimowin Pontiac’s logo, which was created by Sylvia Tennisco.

“Our goal is not to replace anything, we’re not competing with anyone. We’re there to make sure things are handled properly,” says Beaudoin. He says that he often receives questions and tries not to teach but to share what proper protocol is. 

Beaudoin has taken courses at the University of British Columbia on how to implement Indigenous protocols within schools, curriculum and the community. He says many members of the circle have taken similar university courses and are also learning from elders.

“I participate in many pow wows, many gatherings, I travel,” says Beaudoin. “I’m really learning the traditional way, the oral way.”

Beaudoin says he and many other members of the circle have learned from, and are continuing to learn from elders. He is a drum keeper and carries a drum known as Little Bear.

Beaudoin says Dibaajimowin Pontiac tries to help organize three to four sharing circles every year. To accompany sharing circles, they also organize drum ceremonies and discussions led by guest speakers.

Most recently, the circle helped Esprit Rafting organize a vigil fire, which Beaudoin says was handled with “deep respect.” They also arranged for Elder Dan Ross of Pikwakanagan First Nation to lead attendees in a pipe and drum ceremony. 

Four sacred medicines, including tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar.

Jim Coffey, the owner of Esprit, said that Dibaajimowin Pontiac helped them understand what they could do and how they could encourage attendees to share their thoughts and emotions with each other.

“We like to do things the right way. To do things the right way, we needed to defer to a guide,” says Coffey. “If people want to make sure they’re doing things properly, we’re lucky to have them in the community to help us.”

According to Beaudoin, part of Dibaajimowin Pontiac’s role is to make sure guests and speakers feel safe in speaking and sharing their emotions.

“When holding circles, we ask people to be participants, not observers,” says Beaudoin. “We don’t want people to feel watched or judged. That’s what the meaning of the circle is, to be respectful and make sure nobody gets hurt. And to follow traditions.”

The circle often has Cathy Phannenhour come and speak about her experience as a 60s scoop survivor and the intergenerational trauma faced by Indigenous peoples. She says the atmosphere is always supportive so people can be open with each other.

“When you’re speaking and emptying your heart in these circles, you give them the dignity to share and respect by listening,” says Phannenhour.  “When you give them that dignity, that’s where the healing starts. Most of my participation with this group has led me to having new-found family and connections.”

She says circles are often attended by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who come to share with each other.

“You know it’s a safe place,” says Phannenhour. “They’re going about it in the right way, wanting to bring healing to the Pontiac.”

Beaudoin says the circle is careful not to do anything that they have not been properly trained for. They acknowledge that their members are still learning and that no one person is trained to do everything. 

The circle takes this level of precaution in handling things properly not only because of a respect for proper protocol but also to help prevent cultural appropriation. 

“There’s a lot of appropriation being done in the Pontiac, but it’s not because it’s on purpose,” says Beaudoin. “It’s because they haven’t learned the proper protocols and traditions, so they assume things.”

If they’re ever unsure of proper procedures Dibaajimowin Pontiac will reach out to cultural centres, such as those in Kitigan Zibi or Pikwakanagan First Nations.

“There’s resource people there that are there to help out groups like us,” says Beaudoin. “If I have a quick question or something, I can call them. They know that I’m honest and this circle is honest.”

Beaudoin says he’s spent many hours on the phone networking in an effort to build relationships with those who are qualified to teach about and promote Indigenous culture.

“The goal is to bring non-Indigenous and Indigenous together, and to build bridges and learn,” says Beaudoin. “To go and gather with our differences. We are one together but we have our differences, and we can learn from that.”

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