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Lifestory: Honouring local Elder Shiikenh ‘Gordon’ Waindubence, whose social and cultural impact cannot be overstated

A respected artist whose works are housed in major museums, an elder who championed Indigenous self-government and a man who cherished his family, Waindubence loved his people and loved his culture, and spent his life sharing that love with everyone he met

Shiikenh “Gordon” Waindubence had the crinkles around his eyes that come from two things: laughter and wisdom. There was a sparkle in his eyes, a kind heart and warm hand for anyone who needed it, and a laugh that his loved ones will remember forever. 

He was an Elder in his community. He was ‘mishoomis’ (grandfather) to 21 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren, father to five and cherished husband of Pearl. 

He was also the former head of the Anishinabek Nation, a cultural and traditional teacher and elder, and as his wife notes, “a politician from the day he was born.”

And from that day, until the day he died, Nov 24, Waindubence used his gifts to remove the colonial influences from his community, and to recreate it in the traditional ways of the Anishinaabe people.

Waindubence was born in 1953 to Gabriel and Clara Waindubence in Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island. He was Miingaan doodem (Wolf Clan) and one of six children. He loved carving, bone and antler carving specifically, and taught himself to become a master carver.

Today, his intricate wood and ivory creations are on display at the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Lillian's Museum in M'Chigeeng and in numerous private collections in Canada and overseas. 

It was not out of hobby he created his works. As he would tell others, creating art was an opportunity for self-reflection; he felt lost as a young man, and until he later had a vision quest, he felt he had no identity.

But he turned that feeling into an identity for his people, one that his entire community and all communities of Indigenous peoples could feel proud of. He not only brought back the Dodemaag (Clan) system and rooted all of his ideas and teachings in the traditional ways, but he also created the Anishinaabe Chi-Naaknigewin (constitution) in order to strengthen traditional governance.

He travelled to many communities to learn the unique songs and ceremonies of every nation he could, then using his knowledge to give Anishinabek Nation Leadership direction on how to build a nation, one based on deeply rooted tradition, culture, and Anishinaabemowin. 

He sought to bring back the Dodemaag (Clan) system and provided education and awareness of treaties and the importance of a relationship with those considered “settler” governments, the Canadian and provincial governments, but especially amongst the Anishinaabe people. 

Those who knew him said he lived by the Seven Grandfather Teachings, Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom), Zaagi’idiwin (Love), Minaadendamowin (Respect), Aakode’ewin (Bravery), Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty), Dabaadendiziwin (Humility), and Debwewin (Truth); teachings he shared with anyone who had the willingness to listen.

He would want all who read this to learn the language for it was always important to him that his people not lose their language, which is inextricably linked to culture. At a presentation to the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), Waindubence said, “There was someone who once said this to me: ‘I do Pipe Ceremony in English because the Creator understands all languages.’

I said, ‘Yes, that’s true, but your grandmother and grandfather don’t and we always call upon them to assist us’.”

He continued by encouraging those in attendance to think as an individual, not “the way you have been schooled.”

“Think about who you are,” he said. “I have been trying to educate people on the Anishinaabe way of doing things. We need to readapt to the Anishinaabe way of thinking, not the colonized way.”

He used these teachings to strengthen traditional governance by creating the historic proclamation of the Anishinaabe Chi-Naaknigewin, a constitution to inform governance of the Anishinabek Nation, which in turn proclaimed June 6 an Anishinabek Nation holiday, Anishinabek Giizhigad, in honour of the signing of the constitution.

Waindubence also took great pride in building his own community. He assisted with the construction of a roundhouse Sheguiandah in 2003, which saw him supervising the milling of 40,000 board feet of cedar for the structure. In 2006, he served as the regional elder for the Union of Ontario Indians and provided guidance to the Youth Action Alliance of Manitoulin in their campaign to teach First Nations youth about traditional tobacco uses.  

But it is a 2005 ceremony, led by Waindubence, that Tony Belcourt, former president Métis Nation of Ontario, remembers best. Belcourt considered Waindubence a mentor after the event, which was the start of efforts to return to the traditional relationships Métis people and Anishnaabe once enjoyed.

Belcourt said he met Waindubence in the early 2000s, when the talks first began. Belcourt described him as helpful, positive and “very, very kind.”

When the nations completed their agreements, Belcourt asked the two men from the Anishinabek Nation, Waindubence and Grand Council Chief at the time, John Beaucage, what their next step should be.  Beaucage turned to Waindubence for advice. 

“And Gordon said ‘we should do this in a spiritual way. We should each bring our songs to the drum. Bring our pipes and we’ll smoke’,” he remembers Waindubence saying. 

But Belcourt didn’t think the Métis people of Ontario had a song to bring to the drum, as is tradition in the Anishinabek Nation.

But Belcourt said Waindubence looked him straight in the eye and said: “You have a song, you just haven’t heard it yet.”

Belcourt went on a two-year quest to find the song, and it was one he learned from Elder Francis Creek when he travelled to Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. That song is still sung at a yearly sundance. 

“It was decided that the song that should be given to me to bring to the drum in this sacred relationship ceremony,” said Belcourt. “I can only imagine that the song that was given to me was one that had been handed down through his family from the man who brought the song down from the thunder at a thirsty dancing in the early 1800s.”

They brought their songs to the drum, and they smoked their pipes in ceremony. 

But of course, Waindubence and Belcourt had become good friends over the years and Waindubence attended several Métis Nation assemblies. After one, Belcourt said Waindubence told him there was something missing in the assemblies.

“He said, ‘You don't have a staff. You should have a staff that should be placed as a symbol beginning your meetings’.”

Later, Waindubence asked Belcourt to come and visit him. 

“He took me to his Lodge, and asked me to open the door, so I lifted the flap of the lodge,” said Belcourt. “And there was this beautiful eagle feather staff handmade by him.” 

The top, hand carved by Waindubence, was the infinity symbol, the symbol of the Métis Nation of Ontario. “And there were eagle feathers on it — it was beautiful, just beautiful, and he said, ‘It's yours, that's for your nation’.” 

Belcourt said, “That was Gordon. He was an incredible, incredible, and beautiful man. He was so gifted in knowledge, so gentlemanly in his ways, and so kind.”

Waindubence will be deeply missed by his family, his community, and the Anishinabek Nation. Traditional ceremonies were hosted at the Sheguiandah First Nation Roundhouse on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28, 2021, and were followed by a traditional closing on Nov. 29. 

Lifestory is’s monthly series in which we pay tribute to lives well-lived of Sudburians who have recently passed on. If you would like to submit the name of a person to be featured in Lifestory, please email [email protected] and tell us your story.


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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