Thunder Bay

Initiative aims to 'Wake The Giant' and welcome Indigenous youth

A new project in Thunder Bay, Ont. is asking community members and businesses to band together in an effort to make the city a safer and more welcoming place for Indigenous youth.

First phase of project asks businesses to display signs, signalling they are a safe space

Organizer Greg Chomut speaks at the launch of the Wake The Giant initiative in Thunder Bay. (Wake The Giant/FB)

A new project in Thunder Bay, Ont. is asking community members and businesses to band together in an effort to make the city a safer and more welcoming place for Indigenous youth.

More than 100 businesses and organizations have already signed up to be part of the Wake The Giant initiative by displaying decals at their locations, signaling that they are a welcoming, safe space for Indigenous people. 

"The point of the whole thing is, we've all as Thunder Bay residents, we hear the media stories coming out of town that are constantly berating us with, you know, the racism," said Greg Chomut, a teacher at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School and one of the organizers of the project.

"This is about bringing together all the people and communities and businesses in Thunder Bay that are really already doing great things. They care about the city, they care about the Indigenous population."

The Wake The Giant logo is being displayed at dozens of businesses in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Wake The Giant/FB)

Good response from business community

The idea for Wake The Giant was sparked after going on a walking tour of local businesses with students at the beginning of the school year, explained Sean Spenrath, who also teaches at DFC.

They were struck by how welcoming people were, and wanted to give businesses a way to do something more. Their original goal was to have 150 businesses on board by September, but days after the launch, they're already close to hitting that goal. 

The decals show that businesses are making a commitment to make sure their staff are respectful and inviting, Chomut explained. 

"So an example would be that any retail store showing that sticker is saying that they won't follow around an Indigenous person and suspect them of shoplifting, just because of who they are," Chomut said, adding that the stickers also show that those are places where students can go for help if they need it.

Some businesses are also going further to support the project, such as Ungalli clothing, which is making a Wake The Giant T-shirt, with proceeds going to support the initiative. 

"A lot of them are going above and beyond," Spenrath said. "You have places like Wolfhead Coffee doing a Wake The Giant coffee roast, or Eat Local doing a Wake The Giant pizza."

Organizers of the Wake The Giant initiative say they're very happy with the response from businesses. (Wake The Giant/FB)

Fall activities, music festival mark second phase

The decal campaign will lead up to an even bigger effort in the fall, when the beginning of the new school year will be marked by several activities aimed at helping Indigenous students acclimatize to the city, and bringing them together with the larger community.

Central to the events will be a Wake The Giant music festival, open to the entire community, where 50 per cent of the lineup will be Indigenous talent. 

Organizers say they hope the initiative will help the city start to make real change. 

"We hear again and again about the racism in the city, and all of Canada is aware of it," Chomut said. 

"I think everybody's ready to do something ... bringing people together in a positive way, promoting positive dialogue between people, positive interactions in the community ... and hopefully it's contagious and it just starts snowballing."