2018 IW Winners

Aboriginal Leadership - Thunder Bay

Rosie Mosquito

Rosie Mosquito

Rosie Mosquito decided she would to work for Treaty 9 when she was just 12 years old.

At the time, she was an eighthgrade student living in Bearskin Lake First Nation, a remote fly-in community north of Thunder Bay. A teacher she admired told her to start thinking about what she wanted to do when she was older, and Mosquito took it to heart.

“When I was 12, I had no idea what that meant,” explained Mosquito. “In the years since I’ve learned that means working for my people.”

Over the next four decades, Mosquito, who is now the executive director of the Oshki-Pimache-O-Win: The Wenjack Education Institute (OSHKI-WENJACK) in Thunder Bay, pursued an education and then a career that would show her what it meant to work for Treaty 9.

At the time, going to high school meant leaving the community. Mosquito’s parents arranged for her to go south to avoid distraction.

“It’s a big thing, for our people it’s leaving home, leaving our community, leaving the cultural safety and support of our community, and going into a world we’re not familiar with,” said Mosquito. “My parent said, ‘You want to go to high school? You’re going somewhere by yourself.’”

When Mosquito finished high school in the late ‘70s, she moved to Winnipeg with her family due to her father’s health, but when she was offered a job back in Bearskin Lake, she jumped at the opportunity to return.

She moved home in June 1979 and quickly realized she still had a lot to learn.

“I got involved in community development — provincial departments, ministries, and federal departments — but I wasn’t familiar with the structures,” said Mosquito. “In the spring of 1980, I thought, ‘If I’m going to work with my community, I need to know who I’m working with, I’d better go to university.’”

She headed down to Toronto to study political science at York University with the goal of learning about the different levels of government. When she graduated, her old position in Bearskin Lake was fortuitously open again, and she stepped right back in.

Mosquito went on to become the first female chief in northwestern Ontario in 1986, at a time when there were few others.

“It was a very male-dominated world then, it still is, but within Nishnawbe Aski Nation, within the last 10 years, there’s been more and more women chiefs,” said Mosquito.

She served a term before moving on to work with the Windigo Tribal Council for a number of years, at Nishnawbe Aski Nation as executive director, and then for Chiefs of Ontario as a senior policy advisor.

In 2004 Mosquito took on her current role at OSHKI-WENJACK.

“It seems like yesterday,” laughed Mosquito. In her role at the institute, Mosquito focuses on providing culturally enriched post-secondary education and training programs to indigenous learners living in remote and rural locations in Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory.

She became the chair of the Aboriginal Institutes Consortium in 2008 and in 2017 helped pass the Indigenous Institutes Act, creating what she calls the “third pillar” in the Ontario post-secondary education system, which means they can grant certificates, diplomas and degrees to their graduates.

Mosquito has fulfilled her childhood dream and hopes to pass the message along.

“I have many nephews and nieces, and now they’re beginning to have their own children, I talk to all of them about the importance of contributing to life in a really good way,” said Mosquito. “This is my mom’s teaching: you can make the world a better place to live.”