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Barbara Nolan named 2021 Medal of Merit recipient

She was recently appointed the Anishinabek Nation Anishinaabemowin Commissioner
Anishinabek Nation Language Commissioner Barbara Nolan speaks during the 2021 National Indigenous Peoples Day event in Garden River First Nation

Local Indigenous role model, advocate and residential school survivor, Barbara Nolan, has been named the 2021 City of Sault Ste. Marie Medal of Merit recipient.

A news release issued today by the City of Sault Ste. Marie states that her "work and commitment to the advancement of the Anishinaabemowin language revitalization efforts, Indigenous education and excellence in lifelong learning has had a significant impact in supporting Indigenous learners."

Full text of the release follows:

The Sault Ste. Marie Medal of Merit Selection Committee is pleased to announce the 2021 Medal of Merit recipient. This year’s recipient is Barbara Nolan in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the community. An Indigenous role model and advocate, Barbara’s work and commitment to the advancement of the Anishinaabemowin language revitalization efforts, Indigenous education and excellence in lifelong learning has had a significant impact in supporting Indigenous learners.  

Barbara Nolan (nee Pheasant) was born in the territory of Wikwemikong within Manitoulin Island. Raised by her grandparents, she learned the traditional language of her heritage prior to learning English. From age 5 to 9, she attended a residential school in Spanish, Ontario. She returned home to complete elementary school then moved to North Bay for high school. After grade 12, she moved to Toronto where she found employment in the clerical field.

In 1970 Barbara met her husband Tom Nolan and moved to Garden River First Nation.  In 1972 she worked for the Separate School Board in Sault Ste. Marie as the Garden River representative. Once Garden River assumed administrative control of their own education program Barbara began employment with Garden River First Nation.

As a residential school survivor, she has dedicated her time to working with numerous Indigenous organizations and communities in the development and promotion of language revitalization and retention initiatives. Barbara has made it her life mission to preserve the Anishinaabemowin language and has been teaching the language locally since the early 70’s. Barbara has held the positions of Native School Counsellor and Elder-In-Residence/Cultural Advisor at Sault College for the past 8 years. Barbara works with students in meaningful ways to strengthen cultural knowledge and language acquisition through intergenerational sharing and participation.  

Barbara was also instrumental in establishing and delivering Anishinaabemowin immersion at the Garden River Child Care Centre. Within the past year, Barbara gifted the Centre with its Anishinaabe Spirit Name of ‘Abinoojinyag Onji’. She felt that everything the Centre does should be for the children, and that its work is to leave the children with a sense of who they are and where they come from. As the children spend time with Barbara she shares stories with them, helping to retain their language.  

Recently, Barbara was appointed the Anishinabek Nation Anishinaabemowin Commissioner. In this role, she advises the Anishinabek Nation leadership and the public on the importance of Anishinaabemowin protection, retention, revitalization initiatives, and its use. She wrote the first Native as a second language curriculum in Canada, is a founding member of the Ontario Native Education Counselling Association and first president, and is the first president and founding member of the Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre.  

“The Medal of Merit is a fitting recognition of Barbara’s great leadership and significant contributions to our community,” said Mayor Christian Provenzano.

“Elders and Knowledge Keepers have invaluable knowledge, skills and wisdom based in Indigenous history, tradition, culture, language and ceremony. Barbara has inspired hundreds of Indigenous people to regain their language and celebrate their traditions, and she has shared her language with and taught many non-Indigenous people. We need to collectively study Indigenous history and culture so that we can learn from it, celebrate it and respect it. Barbara is helping us make significant progress in this regard and I am grateful for her continued efforts.”

The City of Sault Ste. Marie awards the Medal of Merit annually to individuals or groups who have achieved exceptional meritorious honours in athletics, cultural or academic fields or who make extraordinary contributions to the community.


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