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Northern Ont. advocate for residential school survivors mourned

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He was a guitarist who loved country music. He was a hockey player and coach, and a stock car enthusiast who knew a thing or two about auto repair.

He was also a hero to his children and a residential school survivor who spent the second half of his life advocating for other survivors. Arnold Michael Frederick Cachagee, known to his family and friends as ‘Mike,’ passed away July 15 at 83.

Cachagee was taken to the Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie as a child and remained there until he was 16. Despite becoming an advocate for survivors later in life, Cachagee's family said he never spoke of his experiences at home.

"He never talked about it at all," said his son, Larry.

"They tend to, and he probably tended to, bury that inside them. And I think that's where the healing starts, when you start bringing that out."

Cachagee was an auto mechanic for more than 30 years before deciding to hang up his wrenches and go back to school.

He attended Algoma University, which is housed in the former residential school that he was sent to as a boy. Cachagee graduated with a political science degree at age 55, becoming the first residential school survivor to graduate from Algoma University.

Cachagee worked tirelessly as an advocate for survivors through the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. President Jay Jones said Cachagee was a force to be reckoned with.

"He didn't back down," said Jones. "There was a fire with him that was pretty much unmatched."

He was also a hero to his children and a residential school survivor who spent the second half of his life advocating for other survivors. Arnold Michael Frederick Cachagee, known to his family and friends as ‘Mike,’ passed away July 15 at 83. (Supplied)

Cachagee brought that fire with him to Ottawa, where he pushed for an apology for the residential school system. Larry Cachagee said his father would often receive phone calls from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that the two were on a first-name basis.

"That was sort of a chuckle in the family that he kept on calling him 'Justin,'" said Larry. "He didn't call him 'Mr. Prime Minister.'"

A celebration of life will be held July 19 from 12:30-4 p.m. at the Garden River First Nation Community Hall. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to ARCH Hospice.

And as the family said its final goodbye to their father, grandfather, uncle and brother, the hope is that Mike Cachagee's legacy will live on.

"I always say, you came into this world crying, and you'll leave this world crying," said Larry.

"The last time I seen my father alive, he had tears in his eyes. So, he accepted his passing and he knew he was going to move on. Just remember my father as a good, honest, open person. He wanted the right things done for his people." 

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