Jamie Sarazin won the June Callwood award for 2021 and was presented the award recently.

Pikwakanagan – A member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation who has spent the past 30-plus years volunteering in various capacities with the community’s traditional pow wow committee has been recognized by the province for her contributions.

Jamie Sarazin is one of 15 individuals and eight volunteer organizations awarded the 2021 June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award For Volunteers announced earlier this year by the Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

The award is named in honour of Ms. Callwood, a journalist, author and Order of Ontario appointee who was one of the most well-known social activists. She founded or co-founded more than 50 Canadian social action organizations and the award recognizes leadership, innovation, and creativity of individual volunteers, volunteer administrators, and volunteer organizations who support their communities across Ontario.

“The past year has been challenging for us all and it’s impressive to see how volunteers and organizations stepped up to support their neighbours and communities, Parm Gill, Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism stated. ‘On behalf on all Ontarians, I thank our June Callwood award recipients for their kindness, compassion, and selfless commitment to helping others and for making our province such a great place to live.”

Being named one of the recipients of the coveted award was a complete surprise to Mrs. Sarazin.

“I didn’t know that they had submitted my name,” she explained. “Naomi  (Sarazin) called me just out of the blue and said she had done something. She told me she had submitted my name for this volunteer award and it came back that I had won.”

Ms. Sarazin is the manager at the Omamiwinini Pimadjwowin – Algonquin Way Cultural Centre at Pikwakanagan.

She was told it was the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award For Volunteerism, but admitted she really didn’t think a whole lot more about it. Then she received a call from the Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism and it was confirmed she was one of the award recipients, and the awards were being presented virtually on February 3.

Her certificate and the award arrived in the mail on February 2 and she watched the ceremony from home with her nominator. She said the award recognizes her 30 years plus as a volunteer with the pow wow committee, the last eight as co-ordinator, and for the innovation the committee had the last two years when the formal pow wow had to be cancelled due to COVID.

“I kind of thought I was staying behind the scenes doing all my work,” she said of the award. “It’s been a lot of work every year, but at the same time it’s a learning thing.”

She said she was honoured to receive an award named in honour of Ms. Callwood, saying she recalled reading stories she had written and articles about her as a young woman.

“I remember her putting articles in the Reader’s Digest, she was quite renowned,” Mrs. Sarazin said of her knowledge of late Ms. Callwood.

“It’s pretty special. I feel very honoured and appreciated,” she added. 

Involved Before Formal Pow Wow Started

Her earliest recollection of a cultural celebration of sorts in the community was pre-pow wow when, as a young girl, she and some other girls in the community were taught to dance by the late Mary Commanda, wife of former chief William Commanda.

“They used to put on a little show-type thing,” she said.

However, previous to that, she said her late husband, Kevin, used to take part in presentations at what was known as Indian Village, on the site of the Cultural Centre today.      

“They used to dance and they’d have feasts, and that used to be every Sunday in the summer,” she recalled.

She said Mrs. Commanda had a little stage set up in front of her craft store at the campground they owned and every Sunday tourists would come to watch them dance.

“I can remember all the people sitting on chairs in front of that stage,” she said.

Mrs. Commanda also took the girls outside the community to dance too, to places like Thee Place in Pembroke and the Ottawa Exhibition.

Even prior to that, her late husband was one of several young dancers who were part of a presentation each Sunday in the summer at what was known as the Indian Village, located on the site of the current Cultural Centre.

“They’d dance and there would be a little feast,” she said.

The formal pow wow started in 1987 and the first few events were held at Commanda’s Sunset Campground. She said her brother-in-law, Barry Sarazin had gone away to school in North Bay where he learned the traditions and got into dancing on the pow wow circuits. When he returned to Pikwakanagan, he started talking about his experiences with his brothers, including her husband, and others, and about starting a pow wow and it went from there.

 “They had dancers that came in because no one was involved in dancing here anymore, other than Barry. And they had some elders come and people from other reserves.

“But it was quite small, maybe a dozen dancers, and a few drummers,” she added of the first event.

After a second year at the campsite, the pow wow was moved to the ballfield and then a few years later it relocated to its current location at the Cultural Grounds.

She has seen her role in the event go from working the gate to being in charge of registration for the various vendors, to being in charge of finance under then co-ordinator Teresa Kohoko, to assistant co-ordinator for longtime co-ordinator Jane Commanda, and then to taking over tas co-ordinator eight years ago.

“I kind of inherited from Jane,” she said.

This volunteering was done while she worked 34 ½ years for Service Canada, prior to her retirement in 2012.

“I went from reception, to personnel, to finance, to looking after five offices at a time – Prescott, Brockville, Pembroke, Arnprior and Renfrew.”

Her husband, who passed away in 2013, was also very involved with the pow wow as a member of the hunters who harvested and readied the moose for the feast and for building the arbour each year before it was made a permanent structure.

She said it was certainly difficult to be around the pow wow the first few years after his passing, but she knew how much he loved the event and being part of it.

Transitioned To Drive-thru Feast

When COVID forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 pow wows, the committee wanted to still have some type of event and very successful drive-thru feasts were held.

“The last pow wow was in 2019, so in 2020 when it all got cancelled, we had already accepted some moose for the 2020 pow wow,” she explained. “They had all the roasts pre-marinated and in the freezer and we couldn’t hold them another year.

“We were talking back and forth, and finally we cancelled the pow wow because nothing was getting better, and I was talking with the hunters and Janet, who helps a lot, and we decided on a Feast To Go,” she added.

She said other organizations were holding drive-thru dinners, so they decided to do the same and it was promoted in the community for a date in September.

“So we did a Drive-Thru Feast and we had the hunters and (granddaughter) Nevaeh running back and forth to vehicles as they drove through.”

Madeline Granzie and Dayton Aird prepared the meal.

“We served 230 meals and that was Labour Day weekend,” she said.

The drive-thru feast attracted more community members than the feasts at the regular pow wows as some community members do not bother to attend knowing the guest dancers and drummers

Mrs. Sarazin said the 2021 drive-thru feast was expanded from the 2020 event and included local dancers throughout the afternoon.

The 2020 and 2021 events would have been the 33rd and 34th annual, she noted.

While no plans have been made, it looks like they will be able to return to a traditional pow wow this summer on the usual third weekend in August.

She is proud to say the number of local dancers seems to increase every year, noting some of the dancers who lived off the First Nation return to dance too.

“I have people like Nevaeh, my daughter, Jesse (Verch), and Naomi (Ms. Sarazin) who want to get involved and learn,” she added. “And there are different ones who are really trying to get involved.”

She encourages different community members whose parents were involved past pow wows to follow in their involvement.

“I’m trying to get a head of every little area and then they’ll have their volunteers,” she explained. 

Mrs. Sarazin was the only person in Renfrew County recognized in the 2021 awards.

Congratulations From Chief

Chief Wendy Jocko congratulated Mrs. Sarazin on the award.

“It’s hard to come up with adequate words to describe how much we appreciate Jamie Sarazin for her 33 years of volunteering to support the community’s traditional pow wow,” she said in the Anishinabek News, the community’s newsletter. “Even though she was not in the spotlight, she was the backbone of each and every event.

“We could not do this without Jamie’s hard work,” she continued. “We are forever thankful for the time she has given us and made an unforgettable difference to the entire community and beyond.”

Chief Jocko described her as a remarkable human being with a big heart for others.

“You rarely meet a person like Jamie who is so selfless and devoted and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation is honoured to have her on our volunteer’s team.”