Can a music festival in Thunder Bay wake the giant? Some say yes it can

Thunder Bay is known for its legendary landmark, Nanabijoo or the Sleeping Giant.

It provides a calmness to a city that can feel chaotic.

But what would it take to wake the giant?

A group of teachers from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School tried to do just that as they pulled off a music festival with a loud message of reconciliation.

It started out last year when they made stickers with the Wake the Giant logo – and asked businesses put it on their store window as a sign that Indigenous people are welcome and safe.

More than 300 businesses have signed up to get a sticker so far, according to organizers.

Sean Spenrath is one of those organizers.

He said a music festival is a way to broaden their audience.

“It really is getting the message out to people that you wouldn’t normally get the message out to. It’s a different crowd,” Spenrath said.

“We’re obviously targeting a younger crowd because at the end of the day the crowd that we’re targeting are the next people that are going to have kids and we want them to raise those kids without those stereotypes attached or anything like that.”

(Musicians July Talk and Nick Ferrio perform the song they recorded together called “Mourning.” Photo: Willow Fiddler/APTN) 

Among the impressive and diverse lineup that drew crowds of music fans was Ernest Monias, who’s earned the title King of the North from his fans, and Thunder Bay’s own award-winning Coleman Hell.

“Obviously there’s just like a history of colonialism and racism and things like that all throughout Canada, it also happens in Thunder Bay,” Coleman Hell said in an interview.

“I think that the more inclusive we can be and the more we can talk about this kind of stuff, it’s just a step in the right direction.”

Norma Kejick is the school’s administrator.

She said the campaign is a response to the recommendations from the inquest into the deaths of seven students to make the city more inclusive and safe.

“We wanted something to identify to our students that this was a safe place,” Kejick said.

“That if somebody was following them, if somebody was chasing them that they had a business they could go in and they would get help.”

Kejick said she’s heard some criticism because the Wake the Giant campaign is being led by 3 non-Indigenous teachers but says the work of reconciliation can’t always be led by indigenous people.

“The message here for all of us to come together. It’s about time that we have to stop saying who should be doing what it’s together,” she said.

“We always say it takes a whole village to raise a child, well it does. It’s not just us that needs to do it, we need to do it together.”

A highlight of the festival was a performance by music students from DFC and July Talk, a Juno award-winning Canadian band.

Organizers say about 3,500 people attended including Bruce O’Keese from Eabameetoong who has a granddaughter living in the city.

“It’s really good for the up north people to come and support an event like this because I just heard about it too last week, so I just decided to come and try to sneak off from work,” he said laughing.

Logan Ollivier said the city was overdue for an event like this.

“To not only show First Nations people they’re welcome here but for us to learn more about what their culture is about and to meet them and not see them as someone outside of the community but just brothers and sisters in the community.”