Nelson Owen - Dec 8, 2011 at Friends Community Church

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Nelson Owen: Shiiwiichiis December 27, 1970 – December 3, 2011

Pastor Henry Neufeld spoke in Ojibwe and English. He sang and played the drum. Sound and visual is very good.

It is with unbearable sadness that we inform our friends of the death of Nelson Owen. Nelson was born December 27th, 1970 at Pine Falls, his mother having been flown out of her home community of Pauingassi for the event. He grew up speaking the fluent and elegant Ojibwe language of the community and hunting and trapping with his male relatives, grandfathers and uncles. He attended elementary school in Pauingassi and after completing Grade 9, came to Winnipeg, to Gordon Bell High School, for two years. Although he stopped several courses short of his high school diploma, he was among the best educated people of his generation in a community which did not have its first grade twelve graduate until more than a decade later. As a young man, Nelson worked as a forest fire fighter, helped to conduct the Census in his community and then at 21, began ten years as a community child welfare worker. On August 14th, 1992, he married his sweetheart, a young teacher at the Pauingassi School, Elaine Dyck. Their son Joshua was born in 1994. In the year of his marriage, Nelson learned that he was in the relentless grip of Type 2 Diabetes. He continued to work for social services until he lost a foot to the disease in 2005. In that black moment he turned to his family, his history and his culture. He had been very close to his grandfathers, Adam Owens and Charlie George Owen and he studied their ideas through a collection of tapes recorded in Ojibwe. It awakened in him a conviction that the community had a precious asset in its language and an important contribution to make through the memories of its elders. In 2002, he had started a process of retrieving artefacts that belonged to the community and had been wrongly repatriated to others. After 2005, he began to speak up for the people of Pauingassi in a dispute with the University of Winnipeg about artefacts in a university museum. Since then, Nelson and his wife Elaine have been working toward community repatriation, a form of guardianship for culturally important artefacts from Pauingassi and the publication of a book about the wisdom of its elders.

Nelson's diplomatic and political skills were recognized by the community in 2008 when he was elected to the Pauingassi First Nation band council. He has been a member of council ever since, working on both the health and education committees and doing the countless, thankless tasks of a band council member. One of his proudest moments as a councillor, was the accomplishment of a simple thing. The people of Pauingassi have long been entitled to a pay-out of several hundred dollars per family because their First Nation is a partner in the South Beach Casino but when Nelson joined the council, they had not consistently received benefit from this. Nelson began to deliver these cheques to every family in 2008, just before Christmas, and has done so every year since. In the last four years, Nelson worked with others on one of Pauingassi's most important political initiatives, the development of the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site bid which will protect Pauingassi tribal lands in Manitoba and Ontario for future generations. For the last ten years, Nelson and Elaine and their family, which now includes their youngest son, Keenan, have lived on a farm near Carman. When Nelson was in the north, the thing he most loved was fishing. When he was in Carman, he was happiest working with Elaine and the two boys in their large garden or cutting wood for use in the woodstove in their living room. His steady commitment to his community and to the constant travel it entailed often meant that he missed dialysis appointments and his sudden passing due to the complications of diabetes is an enormous loss to his family and his community.

Nelson leaves his much-loved wife Elaine, sons Joshua and Keenan, parents Charlie Peter and Katherine Owen, sisters Sally, Peggy, Theresa and Betty Ann and brother, Billy. He is predeceased by his sister Diane. The funeral will take place on Thursday, December 8 at 2:00 at the Friends Community Church in Carman, Manitoba. Funeral arrangements: Doyle Funeral Homes. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the The Winnipeg Foundation/Pimachiowin Aki Endowment Fund or to the Boundary Trails Dialysis Unit.