Pandora Wilhelm grew up unaware of her Indigenous heritage. None in her family talked about being Metis, not even her grandfather, who is believed to have been raised speaking Michif. Today, the reserve feeling of being Indigenous is replaced with pride in one’s identity and motivation to reconnect the Indigenous of Turtle Island with their languages.
Exposing to New Learning
In 2012 Pandora participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Toronto during the Meeting Place Conference hosted by Council Fire. As an Honorary Youth Witness, she attended the conference through the Canadian Roots Exchange’s Youth Conference portion.
The commission was appointed as part of a negotiated settlement in a class-action lawsuit launched by survivors of residential schools overseen by Ottawa and run by Christian churches. The residential schools enforced speaking in English or French on the Indigenous children, and they were punished for speaking their languages.
The schools also led to forced integration that shattered connections to language, family and culture from about the 1870s to the 1990s. The result of the commission’s work was the Indigenous Languages Act in 2019.
During the conference, Pandora saw the devastating impact of the Residential School System on First Nations, Inuit and Metis Communities across Turtle Island and became passionate about Indigenous languages.
Until then, she was not exposed to any genuine education on the history of her communities. But the conference instigated her to educate herself further and begin her journey towards Reconciliation.
Involving In Community
Pandora grew up not speaking her Indigenous language and did not want her kids to follow in her example.
In her journey of getting involved with her community to better know it and contribute to its growth, Pandora began extensively volunteering. She volunteered with the Working Center and Ray of Hope.
In 2016, the volunteering turned into a full-time job as Working Centre hired Pandora in their Job Cafe Program. In her role working with the Job Cafe Center, Pandora got the opportunity to connect with several First Nations participants.
During this time, she also applied to the local Indigenous agency that provided support and wraparound services to those suffering from the residential school system’s intergenerational effects.
In 2017, Pandora began working at The Healing of the Seven Generations in Kitchener, an Indigenous not-for-profit organization doing amazing work within the Region of Waterloo. Healing of the Seven Generations works tirelessly to fill Indigenous community gaps in mainstream institutions. Their services range from court support to cultural support, food security, and family programs.
In 2019, Pandora was encouraged by her employer to return to her post-secondary studies at the First Nations Technical Institute for the Indigenous-Focused Early Childhood Education Program.
During one of their classes, they were assigned to create an Early Learning Resource that reflected their unique cultures and languages. Pandora created a puzzle out of paper as a matching game, which stood out as unique and effective.
Pandora understood her tool’s effectiveness in making Indigenous language learning easier and decided to tap into its commercial feasibility. Eventually leading to the birth of Mulberry Design & Engravings.
Early Learning Resources
Mulberry Design & Engravings focuses on language revitalization by specializing in early learning resources featuring the traditional dialects of First Nations, Inuit and Metis languages across Turtle Island.
They use a CNC machine to engrave puzzle pieces with words from Indigenous languages, including Cree, Michif and Inuit. In addition to these language-learning tools, her business also caters to mainstream cutting and engraving for cutting boards and interior decorating.
Although her puzzles are effective, Pandora realized that it is one thing to see a written word on a piece of wood and a different experience to hear the word spoken. As a result, Pandora is developing an app that combines technology with recorded voices of Métis elders speaking the disappearing words as the next and novel step in language learning.
To bring authenticity to the pronunciation, Pandora collaborates with Métis elders around Ontario who speak different dialects of Michif. She then records them speaking the words for animals, plants, foods, and traditional knowledge, which will later be heard on her app.
Pandora considers her initiative a way to assist families in reconnecting to their language and passing on the knowledge to the next generation.
Pandora Wilhelm lives on the unceded territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation in Linwood, Ontario, along with her four children and husband. Born and raised predominantly in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario, she is a proud Métis woman extensively involved in her Indigenous community.
Pandora aspires to be a Métis educator and direct her passion toward reconnecting the children of her communities with their traditional languages through hands-on learning. For more information, visit the website at https://www.mulberrydesign.ca/.
Indigenous entrepreneurs are incorporating technological innovations to revitalize their culture, traditions, and language for the coming generations. To read more about these initiatives, subscribe to Indigenous SME Business Magazine and for the latest updates, check our Twitter page @IndigenousSme.