Wilmer Nadjiwon spent much of his life trying to bring people together.
On Sunday, it was Owen Sound’s arts community that came together and honoured the late Ojibway elder, residential school survivor, Second World War veteran, chief, author, storyteller and artist with a lifetime achievement award.
Nadjiwon, who passed away at the age of 96 on Jan. 3, 2018, was posthumously honoured with the award at the 2020 Owen Sound Arts and Cultural Awards at the Georgian Bay Centre for the Arts in downtown Owen Sound.
His son Sidney Nadjiwon, who accepted the award along with his brother Wendall, said it was sad that his father couldn’t be there for the award, but added he would be very happy to be recognized with such an award, especially since it was coming from Owen Sound, a community outside of Neyaashiinigmiing at Cape Croker.
“It would mean a lot that it was coming from somewhere else outside our reserve,” Sidney Nadjiwon said after being presented the award. “It is in the arts, which he strove for all his life.”
His father’s carvings were his livelihood for a big part of his life, but later on it became a way of telling stories about the lives of the Ojibway people.
“His legacy is long and he put a lot into life itself through trying to help native people all the time through the many organizations he has been part of,” Sidney said. “Starting the Union of Ontario Indians that meant a lot to him. It has always been about striving for something better.”
Wendall echoed his borther’s feelings that his father would be proud to be recognized by the whole area, including those outside his own community at Cape Croker.
“He was always trying to build those bridges between everybody,” Wendall said. “The youth were very important to him because he knew that was our future and he was always very proud of his artwork.”
Wendall said he remembers asking his father if he had actually seen everything that he carved and painted and his father’s answer was a resounding “yes.”
“When he was little people were living in teepees,” Wendall said. “He said everybody was being pushed so often that they had to live in teepees because they had to pick them up and move on with them.”
Wendall said his father’s Cha Mao Zah campground at Tobermory was a real teaching facility, but was also a way to bring people together.
“They talk about reconciliation, but he was doing that well before Trudeau ever though of it,” Wendall said. “I hope we can continue on with that legacy and have some good relations and shared resources within our territories.”
Wendall, who was very honoured to receive the award on his father’s behalf, said he is hopeful that his father’s artwork will continue to live on and continue to teach others about their culture.
He said his father had a bunch of carvings that he wanted to donate to the community, and he is hopeful they will one day be housed in a proposed cultural centre at Neyaashiinigmiing.
“Hopefully you will be able to go there some day and view all his work and his awards,” said Wendall. “He was quite the guy.”
The Owen Sound Arts and Cultural Awards are biennial awards that were last handed out in 2018. They are held to celebrate excellence in arts, culture and heritage in Owen Sound and the surrounding area.
The nominees this year included musicians, visual artists, poets, and both new and long-established organizations and events.
This year’s awards included 19 nominees in seven different categories.
Among the the categories and the winners this year were: Outstanding Group, Lookup Theatre; Outstanding Event, Scenic City Film Festival; Most Promising New Event, Owen Sound Art Walk; Cultural Heritage, Wiidosendiwag + Walking Together + Marchons Ensemble Tour; Cultural Catalyst, Community Foundation Grey Bruce; and Emerging Artist, Kevin Griffin. As winner of the Emerging Artist award, Griffin also received a $500 cash prize.