Thunder Bay’s ‘Wake the Giant’ program aims to give comfort to Indigenous students

Some local educators and business owners in Thunder Bay want to make the city a more welcoming place for Indigenous students.

So they came up with “wake the giant,” a new project aimed to do just that.

Thunder bay is known for its landmark sleeping giant or Nanabizhoo in Anishinabemowin.

It’s also known for racism against Indigenous people.

Wake the Giant

But there’s a community of local educators and businesses hoping to change that.

“The rest of Canada, all of Canada, thinks of Thunder Bay in that way,” says Greg Chomut, a teacher at Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school in Thunder Bay. “For our students their parents are scared to send their kids here, for our students they’re scared to come here to begin with.”

Chomut has been a teacher here for 11 years.

He says First Nation students often experience racism in stores and businesses.

“An example would be that students have told me is being followed around, being suspected of shoplifting,” he says.

Chomut says those experiences, along with the negative media spotlight on the city in recent years has taken its toll.

And he wants to help give a voice to those who are ready for change.

“What the stickers represent is that any business, public space that has that is a safe place and an inviting place for Indigenous people,” he says.

“So that they know they are welcome there.”

Wake the Giant

More than 100 businesses have already signed up to participate in Wake the Giant program.

“We’re born and raised in Thunder Bay and we just feel it’s time for change and everyone should be welcomed in our community,” says Hailey Hollinsworth of Ungali Clothing.

The Ungali Clothing company is making the Wake the Giant tshirts and donating the sales to the initiative.

Grade 12 student Shawnda Mamakwa from Kingfisher Lake First Nation says it’s important to have the community come together.

“They’ll keep their parents, their parents that are in the community at ease as there’s a lot of things happening here in Thunder Bay like racism and discrimination and such and I think this will put their families at ease that there’s a lot of like a support system,” she says.

Organizers say their goal is to have 150 businesses participate.

“When they’re walking down the street, if they see these logos lining the street in every store they know that everybody there, everybody in those buildings is wanting them here in the city, they’re welcome and it’s about feeling that,” says Chomut.


Video Journalist / Thunder Bay

Willow is an Oji-Cree Anishinabe from Sandy Lake First Nation. Her background is in print journalism and she studied multimedia before entering broadcast news . She is passionate about the stories of the Anishinabe in northwestern Ontario, particularly in the remote north.

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