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Wake the Giant campaign promotes safe spaces for Indigenous students

Dec 02, 2019 07:09AM ● By Editor
The Sweet North displays the Wake the Giant sticker in their front window.  Photo: Stephanie Cram

From CBC News - Thunder Bay - November 29, 2019

300 businesses in Thunder Bay, Ontario, are now displaying stickers in support of Wake the Giant, a grassroots campaign that flags safe spaces for Indigenous people.

The campaign launched in March, 2019, by community members and teachers at Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) High School. Organizers hope the initiative will help make the city safer and more welcoming for Indigenous people, especially Indigenous students attending school in Thunder Bay, explained DFC teacher and Wake the Giant organizer Sean Spenrath. 

"We should be doing everything we can as a city to help them succeed."
- Sean Spenrath

Thunder Bay can be an unwelcoming place for Indigenous people, said Spenrath. "The kids have had a lot of negative experiences with racism."

Many northern communities don't have schools that go past grade 10, explained Spenrath, so Indigenous teens must relocate to Thunder Bay to attend high school. 

"They're leaving their friends, their family, everyone they know behind to get an education. So, we should be doing everything we can as a city to help them succeed. Because if we're not, we're doing a huge disservice to them. But we're also doing a disservice to our community."  

Spenrath has heard students talk about how Thunder Bay can be scary. In 2016, an inquest was held into the deaths of seven Indigenous teenagers who went to Thunder Bay to attend high school. 

"The major thing is we want to make sure our kids are safe," he said. 

Wake the Giant organizers asked themselves "How can we create spaces where if the kids ever feel like they're in trouble, they can go there?," explained Spenrath. 

When Spenrath and his colleagues started Wake the Giant they hoped 150 businesses and organizations would join the campaign. "We're up to 300 now, which is well past our goal," he said. "Getting to 300 was, like, booyeah." 

Sean Spenrath and Greg Chomut, DFC teachers and Wake the Giant organizers. Photo: Jahene Disbrowe-Kwandibens

Participating businesses and organizations display a sticker with the campaign's logo. The logo depicts the Sleeping Giant, Nanabijou in Ojibwe, a landmass that can be seen from many places in Thunder Bay. The sticker is intended to signal to Indigenous people that they are welcome in that establishment, that it is a safe space for them, that they will not be discriminated against.  

Some participating businesses and organizations visit DFC and do workshops with students or welcome students on field trips, explained Spenrath. 

"You are welcome here"

Wake the Giant participants range from banks and hospitals, to restaurants and bakeries. "They're all over the map," said Spenrath. 

Deciding to participate in Wake the Giant was a "no-brainer," explained Erin DeLorenzi co-owner of The Sweet North bakery. 

Last spring Spenrath brought a group of DFC students to the bakery, explained DeLorenzi, who runs the bakery with her husband Kris DeLorenzi. 

During the field trip, DeLorenzi talked about their business and told the students: "You are welcome here. Bring your resumes. Hang out with your friends. We want to see you here."

"I want everyone to feel welcome." 

Kris and Erin DeLorenzi, are owners of The Sweet North and they participate in Wake the Giant. Photo: Stephanie Cram

DeLorenzi has noticed more Indigenous people coming into their bakery since putting up the Wake the Giant sticker and after hosting DFC students.  

"Thunder Bay, I believe, is positioned to be an example to the country. And this is the beginning of it," said DeLorenzi.

"I think the whole country needs to keep their eyes on Thunder Bay."

To read the original article and hear an audio report of this story, follow this link to the CBC Thunder Bay website.