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Residential school survivor, Garden River First Nation Elder Shirley Roach has died

Shirley Roach known for advocating in support of reconciliation and education for Anishnaabe youth
Shirley Roach at Garden River's 2021 Pow Wow.

Shingwauk Residential school survivor and Garden River First Nation Elder Shirley Roach has passed away.

According to a Facebook post by Algoma University, Roach passed away last night surrounded by her family.

She was known as an advocate for reconciliation on the national stage, and shared her story with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to the area in early July.

She has also played a critical role as spiritual advisor for the Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gaming Board, and counselled Anishnaabe students at Algoma U.

The full statement honouring Shirley Roach's life, posted on AU's Facebook page, reads as follows:

It is with deep sadness that we share the news that last night, surrounded by her family, Elder Shirley Jane Roach-baa, Ozawa D’bik Giiziz Ikwe, Mukwa o’Dodem passed away. 

While we are greatly saddened, at the same time, we celebrate her achievements and sharing of her life with us all. Shirley was a mother, a grandmother, and an auntie to many. She was a survivor of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School. Over many years, she played significant roles with each partner on the Shingwauk site. She sat on the Boards of SET, SKG, CSAA and AU. She was tremendously supportive of Indigenous students on campus in her role as an Elder, often seen having tea and chatting with them in the SASA lounge. Shirley-baa expanded her outreach as an Elder in surrounding communities, including the Indian Friendship Centre.

Shirley- baa spent much of her life reconnecting with her traditional ways; she believed that language and culture are inextricably entwined. She was delighted in sharing her knowledge with others at every opportunity and was often asked to open gatherings with her powerful words of prayer. She was a passionate advocate for Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig--she believed deeply in the right and responsibility of Anishinaabe people to take charge of their education and the education of their children and youth.

She was frequently invited as part of the elders in the classroom initiative to share her experiences with elementary and secondary school students in the public education system, something we know she enjoyed very much.

Shirley-baa spoke passionately about reconciliation on the national stage, including at the Universities Canada Building Reconciliation Forum held on the Shingwauk site in 2019. More recently, upon the discoveries of unmarked burial sites at former residential schools, she was a strong voice reminding us all to remember, respect and honour the children left behind, the children here today, and the children yet to come. She was delighted to have been asked to provide an invocation at the Garden River pow wow just a week or so ago.

In just the past month, in her various roles, Shirley spoke about her own story and her advocacy for Indigenous rights and education with the Right and Honourable Prime Minister of Canada and Ontario’s Ministers of Finance, Indigenous Affairs, and Government and Consumer Services. The impact Shirley-baa made has touched the hearts of many, and her work will continue through the passion she shared.

We thank the Creator for the gift of her life and the impacts she has had on us all. We pay respect to her family and her community, Ketegaunseebee also known as Garden River First Nation, and offer our gratitude and appreciation for sharing her with us.

The flags in front of Shingwauk Hall have been lowered in Shirley-baa’s honour as a demonstration of our collective respect and sorrow.

Over the next couple of days, the Roach family will be reflecting on Shirley-baa’s life together at their home in Garden River at 27 Whiskey Jack Dr. The family has indicated that those who wish to pay their respects are welcome during this time.

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