Wemindji celebrates Joy Ottereyes’ life in naming of new school

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Cute dresses and winter toques flashed here and there as swarms of people squeezed through the open doors of Joy Ottereyes Rainbow Memorial School (JORMS) on April 27. The smell of turkey wafted through the bright hallways, and an acoustic cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” filled the mezzanine as snapshots of a girl’s life faded in and out on a memorial slideshow. The artwork, balloons and streamers had the spotless gymnasium all decked out with every colour of the rainbow. Wemindji had gathered for the eagerly awaited grand opening of their new elementary school.

One short year ago, Wemindji’s Maquatua Eeyou School (built in 1974) served both high school and elementary students. Classrooms were permanently set up in the staff room, in the library, on the stage and even in the garage. The school nurse was placed in what had been a closet, according to Principal Shauna Simpson. Maquatua Eeyou School is still being used as the high school and currently holds 164 students. There are about 263 students attending JORMS.

The new school was announced in Wemindji October 15, 2014, by federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt and Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc. Also present were Quebec’s Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, Geoffrey Kelley, Ungava MNA Jean Boucher and Wemindji Chief Dennis Georgekish.

Now the school is a reality. And the technology alone is something to be celebrated. Every JORMS classroom has a smart board, a laptop, two docking stations and 10 iPads with their own charging cupboard.

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Designed by Montreal architect Stephen Rotman, one of the most impressive features of the school is the abundance of windows, particularly in the mezzanine, where almost an entire wall is glass. “We have so much more space,” stated Simpson. “Any challenges we face are outweighed by the absolute abundance that we have now.”

Joy Ottereyes Rainbow Memorial School was named after the late daughter of Charlene Miniquaken and Brian Ottereyes. Miniquaken was advised to terminate her pregnancy when doctors discovered something was wrong with her baby. She responded, “As long as I see her breathing that’s good enough for me.”

The baby did more than breathe. Joy walked, talked, laughed, cried, crushed on boys and inspired many lives in her 11 short years.

Joy was born with spina bifida, a neural tube defect that occurs when the vertebrae don’t form properly around part of the spinal cord. It left her with no bladder or bowel control, thus “Pampers” became a nickname the other children would throw her way.

Despite that, Joy is described by all as having been a loving person. “She was a joy,” explained Miniquaken. “She loved everybody.”

With a breaking voice, she repeated her daughter’s words, “Mom, there’s nobody bad in this world.”

These words have helped Miniquaken become a more forgiving person. After her daughter’s passing, she was even able to offer comfort to her daughter’s bullies. The “Rainbow” in the school’s name is in memory of the rainbows young Joy drew on every card she made.


Due to rain, Air Creebec flights were cancelled, thus a few presences were missed for the opening ceremony, notably Kathleen Wootton (Chairperson of the Cree School Board), Kim Quinn (Director of School Operations), Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, and the Cree School Board commissioners from other communities.

Shortly after 5 pm, community members gathered outside the main entrance of the school, where speeches were delivered by Wemindji’s Deputy Chief Frank Atsynia and Principal Simpson.

Wemindji school commissioner Clarence Tomatuk did the honours for the ribbon cutting, surrounded by Miniquaken and her family, who presented a wooden plaque to the school. Guests were served a turkey dinner while watching student performances by Brigitte Kakabat’s traditional dance troupe and Vincent Berardinucci’s music concentration class. Miniquaken’s two daughters, Alyssa and Andromeda, sang a song in memory of their sister.

Although it was a grey day outside, the school was bubbling with excitement and colour. “The school, to me, even the setting of the school, is hopeful. It’s very bright. Even on a bad day, it’s the kind of place where you can’t really get down in the dumps and I just feel hopeful when I’m here,” said Simpson.

The spirit of “Joy” was definitely alive in Wemindji that day.

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