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Former Wabun Council executive director tackling important land claims issues

He says the biggest adjustment has been moving away from Timmins, and away from family

Shawn Batise, longtime Timmins resident and past executive director of Wabun Council, was hired last June as the Assistant Deputy Minister for Negotiations and Land Claims division with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

MIRR was created in June, 2016 and replaced the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. Its mandate includes enhancing government's awareness of Aboriginal people and issues, to reform the land claims process for addressing historical grievances; and encourage representation of Aboriginal people, in the Ontario Public Service.

“As the ADM of the Negotiations and Land Claims my primary role is to oversee all land claim negotiations and litigation related to land claims in the province,” Batise said.

“Really a pretty straightforward sounding mandate,” Batise added. “However, most Canadians view land claim settlements from a financial perspective.”  

According to Batise, there is more to it from an indigenous people’s perspective.

“To be sure there is a financial component,” Batise continued. “But make no mistake, the attachment of land to First Nations’ culture and spirituality is immeasurable, and a very important part or reconciliation.”

“I think we can find better and more innovative ways to streamline the process and to return lands to First Nations that are important to them,” explained Batise. “That is something I am passionate about in this role.”

Batise who was born in Callander, near North Bay, Ontario, moved to Timmins to serve as executive director of the Wabun council, where he coordinated services for the five First Nations belonging to the council including health, youth services and negotiations for mining exploration and mining development projects.

Formed in 1989, the Wabun Council operated out of its Railway St. location in Timmins since 1990. After many years at the helm, Batise needed new challenges and ways to serve his community and the public.

“There was a national competition for this position, so I felt making it the interview stage in itself was an accomplishment,” said Batise. “I am certain there were many qualified candidates and I was humbled to be on the “short list” of interviewees — I went in with no expectations.”

“When I was informed I had the position, there was a bit of stunned disbelief at first,” reflected Batise on his hiring as the ADM of Negotiatians and Land Claims.

“This was followed by “Now what?” he said. “Living in Timmins for the past 25 years meant big changes for me to move into this new role.”

“I enjoyed my time at Wabun and what we were able to build during my time there,“ said Batise. “By we, I mean the communities who supported Wabun, the staff and the leadership. “

“I think with their support the organization that will continue to thrive,” he said.

Batise takes his Wabun experience dealing with problem resolutions to Toronto as ADM of MIRR.

 “I am not so naive to believe I can move mountains or make things happen overnight,” said Batise, “But this is how we approached things at Wabun – with patience.”

Joining the provincial civil service has been an eye-opener for Batise.

“When I came to MIRR I really had no idea the level of commitment and compassion the staff here had for indigenous people and issues,” noted Batise. “I see it every day — not just at MIRR, but at the other ministries.”

"We are so fortunate to have someone like Shawn Batise in the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation," said Deputy Minister Deborah Richardson.

"His dedication, commitment and advocacy of First Nations’ issues at local, regional and national levels in policy and political forums in his past experiences, have earned him the respect of government, industry and Indigenous leaders," she said.

"I’m so proud to be part of a ministry that is as diverse and inclusive as it is," Richardson added. "We continue to lead the way in the Ontario Public Service when it comes to inclusion, diversity and employee engagement values. It’s so important to create a workplace that supports each and every one of us."

Taking on the assignment as an ADM, will mean changes and challenges in Batise’s personal life.

“The most difficult challenge accepting this position was leaving my kids in Timmins,” said Batise. “But my extended family, have been very supportive and I do get back to see them a couple times a month.”

Batise is a father of two – Quinton, 12, and Samyra, 24.

There are also changes in lifestyles between Timmins and Toronto that Batise is adjusting to.

“I enjoy living in Toronto, but there are times I miss the easy pace and friendly smiles of Timmins,” said Batise. “Especially, when I go shopping for groceries or simple things like that.”

Batise hopes that his hiring as ADM for Negotiatians and Land Claims will inspire others from First Nation communities to look at striving for careers, professions and jobs that many consider beyond their dreams.

A commitment to education is important for First Nation youth to accomplish their dreams.

“I grew up in Callander and my parents are still there,” said Batise. “That’s where I went to school until I left to attend the Haileybury School of Mines.”

“I cannot stress enough the importance of education, especially to our youth,” Batise emphasized. “It will open doors that would otherwise be closed to you — I know it has for me.”

“Education and continual learning is a lifelong commitment,” said Batise.

“Recently in 2012, I received my B.A. from First Nation’s Technical Institute/Ryerson’s Public Administration and Governance program,” he said.

According to Batise acknowledging your ancestral roots and your family is very important for developing as a person.

Batise’s motivation to serve the Wabun community was his father who was one of the founders of the friendship centre movement in the 1970s.

“He then went on to become chief of our community and continues to serve the First Nations’ communities across the province as an elder,” Batise said.

Spending time on the land and maintaining his connections with the Matachewan First Nation is a priority for Batise.

“The memories I treasure most from the Wabun area, are my own community of Matachewan First Nation,” he said.

“Although I never lived there, full time, I spent a significant amount of time there,” said Batise.

“The best of those times were spent with my son and daughter and my parents out on the land, teaching my children about who we are,” Batise said.

Of course Batise’s home was in Timmins for all those years.

“There are a lot of great memories there.” Batise said.

Frank Giorno

About the Author: Frank Giorno

Frank Giorno worked as a city hall reporter for the Brandon Sun; freelanced for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He is the past editor of and the newsletter of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers.
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