Posts By: First Nations Drum

Cliff Cardinal Brings his Dark Humour and Challenging Spirit to Shakespeare at the PuSh Festival in 2022

Much like Trickster, who inhabits the folklore of many indigenous cultures, Cliff Cardinal is a complex, many-faceted artist, who enjoys entertaining, enlightening, and mischief in equal measure. Since his first play, Stitch, debuted while he was still at the National Theatre School, he’s had a huge impact on the Canadian theatre scene; writing, acting and directing works that delve deep into the most desolating subjects, using dark humour and unflinching honesty.  The CBC’s review of his smash hit play, Huff, details, “Cliff Cardinal’s Huff touches on solvent abuse, sexual abuse, suicide and the bleak despair of being poor, isolated and feeling irrelevant. It’s not breezy theatre, but it is riveting.”

The struggle of poverty, addiction and abuse experienced by three brothers on a northern reserve could be a grim and harrowing ordeal, but throughout, Trickster, embodied in the character of Wind, brings an element of fantasy that elevates the story to a magical realm of myth and hope. Huff has won the Buddies in Bad Times’ Vanguard Award for Risk and Innovation, two Dora Awards (Outstanding Performance and Outstanding New Play), RBC’s Emerging Playwright Award, The Lustrum Award (which recognizes the greatest moments at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and was shortlisted for Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award. The Fringe Festival production garnered a five-star review in The Guardian Observer, calling it a “hard-hitting tour de force.” Huff has been published, translated into French, continues to tour, and has been released as a podcast by the CBC.
Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Cardinal is the son of iconic Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal. When interviewed by the CBC about how he keeps audiences guessing, Cardinal explained, “So the craft is to figure out a way to keep the audience’s imaginations engaged. One of the ways that’s done is with comedy, if you open up to something, if you laugh you open up and if you open up then we have a chance of dragging you along into this world now”. 

Cardinal’s first multi-character play, Too Good to Be True, opened Video Cabaret’s 2019 season at The Busy St. Theatre in Toronto with Cardinal himself directing. NOW Magazine said, “This captivating tale of an off-grid mother and her desperate children solidifies Cardinal as one of the most talented and intriguing writers in the country.” On the music front, his band, Cliff Cardinal and the Skylarks’ are “hilarious and nefarious, Toronto-based, genre-flying, on beat and off-colour”. Their two albums: This Is Not A Mistake and Gonna Be Fine are available online. Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special is not a CBC special, but an evening of words and music delivering original, dark and catchy folk songs; miraculous stories of familial resilience; legends of Turtle Island survival; and “new contributions to the ongoing mythology of the Canadian experience”.

Cardinal’s newest project is called William Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT; a radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal (produced by Crow’s Theatre), which is having its Western Canadian debut at the 2022 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in February. The title of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It holds a double meaning that teasingly suggests the play can please all tastes. But is that possible? With his subversive updating of the Bard’s classic, Cardinal seeks to find out. The show exults in bawdy humour, difficult subject matter, and raw emotion; Cardinal is not one to hold back when it comes to challenging delicate sensibilities. Is Trickster at work here? See for yourself when William Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT: a radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal plays February 4-6 at the York Theatre. For tickets, go to

UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY – Happy New Year 2022

by Xavier Kataquapit

We are getting ready to wish each other a happy new year 2022. We have been through and are still going through an historic pandemic with Covid19. As a matter of fact right now, the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire. So far, most of us have done well with following the rules from public health in getting vaccinated, wearing masks, socially distancing and washing hands often. 

    Nobody knows exactly how bad things can get with this new highly contagious Omicron variant. It could result in having to shut down things considerably again and place more restrictions on gatherings, retails stores and schools. 

    Hopefully, this pandemic will wane to a great degree and we might simply  have to get annual vaccinations to deal with it. In remembering the 1918 Spanish flu, it took several years for it to go away as it kept coming back again in waves on a regular basis and managed to kill some 50 million people world wide. 

    One thing for sure, is that we all know now what it feels like to have a crisis at our door, in our town, in our city, in our province and in our country. In the past, most of the terrible things we saw in the news were happening in some other country. We were one of the many countries that went to war for all kinds of reasons and ended up killing thousands of thousands of people and terrorizing them in other parts of the world. This time something called a virus decided to give us a little reminder that we are not immune to disaster and terror ourselves. There is no real safe place in this world right now from this pandemic. 

    For a lot of reasons, most of our world has ended up with capitalist, money based societies like we in the west have or authoritarian dictatorships like Russia or China. Happily here in Canada, we have what we refer to as a social democracy. We don’t just hail to the very wealthy and the money people but we also try to make life better for average person. We are lucky that we live in a country like this and although it is not perfect, it is worth protecting our democracy and a more fair way of life here. 

    Maybe this pandemic is a teaching for us. Perhaps that teaching has to do with we as people here on Mother Earth needing to figure out how to develop systems of government and economies that are more fair, just and kind. That means that each one of us has to raise our voice to make sure that we don’t end up living in a world where only the very rich and powerful make the choices that all of us have to live by. We need a democracy in place that provides public education at all levels, public health care in all its forms and care for the elderly, marginalized and disadvantaged. We could move forward on the basis of the teaching of this pandemic to provide society here in Canada, North America and globally that is more of a change for the better. 

    Let’s face it, our economy is suffering right now and may even come close to collapsing because of the power of a virus. That virus is making people sick and the result is an endangered economic system and general devastation of our society. That points out that the only thing that matters in this world in terms of economy, societal structure and government is the health and welfare of its human population. So the economy and money based system means nothing and can not survive without the active healthy participation of people. 

    This should remind us of the power we have as individual human beings. As an Indigenous man, I can say that my culture does not put money first and never has. We are seen as being poor money organizers and managers but in fact Indigenous cultures are based more on human values and a respect for Mother Earth. Maybe its time for all of us to question this enslavement to the almighty dollar and the very wealthy billionaires on this planet that control most of our world’s wealth. We absolutely need a more democratic, fair and just society in order for our species to survive. That is a very powerful lesson that this pandemic is teaching us. 

    So heading into 2022, it is up to each one of us to make sure that our voice is heard in directing our human civilization to the choice for democracy rather than fascism or authoritarianism. Happy New Year 2022.

Advance Costs and Indigenous Rights at the Supreme Court

Last week we had the privilege of representing the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta in their intervention in the Beaver Lake advance costs appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.  

As we outlined in our earlier post, Beaver Lake will clarify when and under what circumstances courts will require federal and provincial governments to provide funding to First Nations for litigation to protect and enforce their rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Below is a summary of the points raised in our submissions at the Supreme Court. The full hearing can be viewed here. 


Submissions of the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta  

First Nations should not have to demonstrate exceptional financial hardship to qualify for advance costs for their publicly important section 35 litigation.  

  • Advance costs orders benefit the public as a whole. They ensure that in exceptional cases, an applicant’s financial status will not prevent the court from determining an issue of national importance. 
  • Advance costs are particularly important in the context of section 35 litigation, where the public has a recognized, vested interest in advancing the process of reconciliation.
  • The fact that a First Nation chooses to allocate its limited funds to address the needs of its community – including for cultural survival and to fund basic services that most other Canadians take for granted – should not be used as a basis to disqualify the First Nation from advance costs for litigation to protect its section 35 rights.  
  • If this approach was adopted, cases which raise issues of significant public importance would not proceed simply because the First Nation is unable to demonstrate an exceptional level of poverty.  
  • The result would be that issues which go to the heart of section 35 and the objective of reconciliation would not be heard.
  • This is not and should not be part of the test for advance costs.
  • Instead, the Court should reaffirm the importance of advance costs for the determination of section 35 claims, and reject an approach which would require First Nations to choose between protecting their rights and meeting the needs of their communities.

Advance costs should support the resolution of section 35 claims through both negotiation and litigation. 

  • Advance costs orders play a critical role in the resolution of section 35 claims by enabling First Nations to obtain guidance from the courts prior to and during negotiations regarding the interpretation of their section 35 rights, and to enforce their rights when and if negotiations fail.
  • Courts have been clear that negotiation is the preferred means of resolving section 35 claims. 
  • However, negotiated resolutions can only be achieved when both First Nations and the Crown have the opportunity to seek recourse to the courts to clarify and enforce their positions.
  • This is because, as this Court recently recognized in R. v. Desautel, it is the duty of the courts to provide the “authoritative interpretation” of section 35. 
  • Ultimately, reconciliation is achieved through good faith negotiations guided and reinforced by decisions of the courts. 
  • Requiring a First Nation to exhaust all available funds in order to qualify for advance costs would unnecessarily hinder First Nations from obtaining guidance from the courts.
  • It would also impair the courts’ ability to provide input on the nature and scope of Indigenous peoples’ rights and the Crown’s obligations under section 35.
  • The financial means branch of the Okanagan test should be applied in a way that preserves First Nations’ ability to seek guidance from the courts on the interpretation of their section 35 rights, and in turn, supports the process of reconciliation through negotiated agreements between First Nations and the Crown. 

UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY – Opening Up With Art And Music

by Xavier Kataquapit

    There is hope that life is getting back to normal and the pandemic is being managed to a great degree here in Canada. With this new normal, things are opening up. It has been a hard road for anyone involved in the creative arts and our artists, musicians, actors and dancers have all had to deal with little opportunity to entertain and stage their art. 

    Recently Adrian Sutherland, a childhood friend of mine from Attawapiskat released on September 17, a debut solo album titled ‘When The Magic Hits’. He has been hard at work in making and producing his music from his northern studio in Attawapiskat. In addition to his musical career, he is involved in many creative projects. You can view his latest music and creative projects at his website at  

    Wabimeguil, an indigenous artist from Northern Ontario continues, even during the pandemic, to produce her work and market it across the country. She is a great inspiration to many in the north as she continues the spirit of creativity handed down from her late father Lindy Louttit who is originally from Attawapiskat. Wabimeguil, which translates as ‘White Feather’ has been active as an artist for decades now and is well known for her traditional and cultural themes. You can view her work and more information about her at 

    A creative pair of non-Native friends of mine, Alana Pierini and her partner Lee Holmes have been involved in producing music and visual arts for decades here in northern Ontario and they have been featured in venues across the province and in Europe. 

    They have been working right through the challenges presented by the pandemic and over the past two years have had to cancel showings and performances as a result of Covid19 and the lockdowns we have experienced. The creative duo collaborate on visual arts and music. They have a rich and vibrant history as creative influencers. Lee has a long career that connects him to the music industry as a blues musician who has produced numerous albums and singles. Alana is a well known visual artist from Iroquois Falls who has inspired and taught many young people as a teacher and instructor and as an independent visual artist she has produced many works of art in various mediums over the years.  She also writes the lyrics for Lee’s music productions. In turn he contributes to the production of her art. 

    If you want to see some interesting art being featured right here in the north you can do so by attending the Pierini Art Crawl at the Temiskaming Art Gallery (TAG) in New Liskeard on November 6. The event will feature Alana’s art work and performances by Lee Holmes and the Beautitones. You can find out more information about this latest art exhibit from the Temiskaming Art Gallery Facebook page. In addition, Lee and the Beautitones are also performing at various venues in the north in the upcoming month. You can find out more information at his website at:

    Music and the arts are an important part of our lives and we have all looked to art, music and the movie world to help get us through this pandemic. Art in any form entertains us, makes us think, calms us and serves to mark special moments in time. 

    I was reminded of the power of art and music when a friend on my social media shared a memorable Youtube music video of John Rodrique performing ‘Pretty Girl’ at the Moosonee arena in 1991 during the Jammin’ On The Bay music event. At the time, this simple original pop song from that regional concert made us feel like we had our own star and our own music. John and his band were all from the James Bay coast and we were proud to call them our own. We bought the cassettes they produced and we played them over and over again until they wore out. Myself, my siblings and my teen friends at the time were experiencing those intense coming of age years and we were all on fire with our hopes and dreams. These many decades later I look back on that trail of early life and see so many gone now, moved on to other realities and some having become parents and grandparents. Still our own rock star John Rodrique, who passed at a young age, gave us a way to recall the joyful, energetic life so full of wonder back in 1991. 

    The power of art and music has always given us cause for reflection and hope. 

Education Part Of Healing

by Xavier Kataquapit 

Education for Indigenous people presents all kinds of great opportunities for us to move ahead and develop careers that are rewarding and satisfying. This was not always the case as historically there were few opportunities, insufficient budgets and limited access. So much has changed for the better over the past two decades. Our First Nation leadership at national, provincial, regional and local levels have been lobbying for more control over education budgets, advocating for funding increases and creating more opportunities at the secondary, college and university levels. 

    Just 20 or 30 years ago, it was a lot harder for most Indigenous people, especially those from northern remote communities to attend high school or post secondary education. In most cases it meant having to move away from their home communities to attend secondary school, college or university in cities and towns in the south. The education systems were not really geared to assisting, supporting and encouraging Indigenous students. Many students found it very difficult to be away from their families, friends and cultural roots. 

   Many of us just could not adapt and turned to alcohol and drugs to cope, which of course resulted in failed efforts. Thankfully there have been huge changes for the better when it comes to education for my people all across the country. Our education budgets have increased and there are more secondary schools in remote communities so that young students do not have to leave their families and friends at an early age. We know all too well the terrible result of the residential schools system that stole children out of our First Nations and terrorized them within the so called education system of the time. My father and mother, my uncles and aunts and just about every elder I have ever known had to deal with the aftermath of the residential school system and it was devastating. 

    In my own childhood education, I attended day school in my home community in Attawapiskat and I had a hard time to move forward. In fact our school was shut down in 2000 because of diesel fuel contamination that was decades old. I was surprised and shocked like so many people my age who attended daily lessons at the JR Nakogee Elementary school throughout the 80s that thousands of gallons of diesel stove oil had leeched under the building. After the discovery and closure, it took many years for a new school to be constructed and that was a challenge for all students.

    Shannon Koostachin, a young girl from the community who showed the country what was happening with education in Attawapiskat, led the fight for the rights of Indigenous students at the time. It was through her voice and direct pleas to government that led to the creation of the Kattawapiskak Elementary School which was opened in 2014. Sadly Shannon never got to see the new school she fought for as she tragically died at the age of 15 in a car accident in 2010. 

    Education has never been easy for Indigenous people. I had to leave my community to attend secondary school in the south and that was very difficult to deal with. I was lucky to have great experiences with the families I boarded with and I also met many good teachers but this was a lonely and challenging period of my life. Today, most remote communities have good elementary and secondary schools and there are now many Indigenous teachers. This is a positive change for everyone. There are also more opportunities online allowing people to stay in their communities and access post secondary education. Colleges and universities these days are more inclusive and supportive of Indigenous students needs with dedicated staff, traditional and cultural programs, social services and generally a more inclusive and open environment.

    Today I see many Indigenous people moving ahead in education and developing careers in education, health, legal, financial, industrial, commercial, political sectors and participants in just about every type of work you can think of. The future is looking bright and more liberal and open minded governments have moved forward with increased funding in education. However, there is still a need for more funding, access and support dedicated to righting the wrongs of the last 200 years. The path of reconciliation is a very difficult and long one but at the very least we have embarked on that journey. 

    Our young students are moving ahead in a more positive, open, sensitive and supportive world and education will be one of the ingredients to heal from the past. We owe it to every little child taken from their families during the residential school era to do our best to succeed in our lives and give them a voice that will lift us all up.

Indigenous Education For Future Healing

Simon Paul Dene shares his Life and Wisdom

by Danny Beaton Mohawk

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

Thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to talk to you. In our langue we say Be Still. Every morning we wake up we have to learn to be still. In that moment we learn to open up slowly with your mind and slowly with your heart, we learn to communicate with the one who lives up there, the Creator of Mother Earth and we learn to be still with Mother Earth from a very early age. This comes in handy later on: once we become hunters or you become a seeker, you have to learn to be still. You learn to look around using your senses, you learn to touch each of your senses. What you hear, what you see, everything is motion, everything is in motion.

What you hear from other people when they talk to you. You learn to discern  what is good and what is bad for the intake of your mind and onto your heart. That is why we say be still and then you go and see what it is that needs to be done today. It has all been done for you. The Creator means ahead of time what you’re gonna say, what you’re gonna do, where you’re gonna go. That is what is called being a Human Being, what you need to be a Human Being. To be a Human Being you need to learn to dance, to dance the day. Be Still, Be Still and then you learn how to sing, how to sing songs, to sing joyful songs for yourself and for others. So you share that. Our circle of languages is all about sharing. So what you get is what you take. It’s give and take.That is the way things roll for us all the time. We learn to share in our language, hopefully the original language that we have stored in our heart and our mind. Hopefully, we can release it and release it to the Creator, ask for forgiveness.

In this world that we are living in now it seems to be unbalanced so much so that we all begin to neglect how to be still. You learn to look around, you learn to look around, you make a mistake, you hold back, you be still and then you learn from that mistake, you learn from mistakes. Take it easy. I want to take the opportunity to thank you, for talking to you from my heart. I am seventy-four. Revolutions are on Mother Earth now and I am very thankful. I am very thankful for everything, I am very thankful that I even hurt. I am very thankful for everything, every which way. Thank you, Danny, for the opportunity, but I have a sore shoulder that prevents me from saying too much.

You know, I was born on a reservation. They call it a reservation, I guess, and our land up in northern Saskatchewan, in a place called Knee Lake. It was my grandfather’s trap line and he lived there among other relatives as well. So I lived there till around the age of seven years old. Then I was taken to the Indian residential school in Beauval in Northern Saskatchewan. I remember the first time my father led me up the hill up to that brick building, took me by the hand to go up that hill. I was only seven years old. I didn’t know what I was getting into. He let me go with a bunch of nuns from around that place. They looked like a bunch of penguins, they were pretty weird dressed in black and white. Seven years old and I’m looking at all this black and white. Later on during that day I thought what in the world did I get myself into. So I cried a little and I wanted to see my sister and my sister was only next door. She was five years older than me and she had already been there in Beauval, so they let me see my sister and it was a relief to see my relative and later on I got used to going to school. They teach you how to speak English by way of Dick and Jane, but it was funny learning English ah oh ah ah oh stuttering our way through English. Anyway, I was there for nine years in that Indian Residential School. After grade eight they put me in Saint Thomas College in Northern Saskatchewan for two years, two years in the seminary going to church five o’clock in the morning and being on my knees in the evening before bedtime, but they were focused on education with the priests. I lasted two years but I couldn’t take it any more. Then I decided to live with my brother in Ontario at a place called Pick River Indian Day School. That was the first time I was ever left in the open; man, it was really different from being in a Residential School and Boarding School, seeing all these open rivers and streams. Here we were free, not locked up or boarded up in Residential School. First time in my life I ever felt so free. I lasted one year there in grade eleven, then I went to Saskatoon. There I joined the military and spent a couple of tours in West Germany. That was my first time out of the country, to go and see something that I never have experienced, Germany. When I sit back now and think about how my life has changed by my Indigenous roots to where my mind is now, what a phase I went through! I am spiritually inclined with what I have been through. I say wow, amazing.

When I arrived back home from Germany, there was a Uranium Company  called  Amok around 1977 from France that came up to Northern Saskatchewan. They were looking at our territory, we didn’t know at that time. Finally, it became known that they would open a Uranium Mine in Cluck Lake, Saskatchewan. I was the editor of a local newspaper called Natotawin, which means “Listen To Me” in Cree. I started giving people in Norther Saskatchewan information about the Uranium mining operations and what it does to people and I did that for two years. Then all of a sudden the government shut me down: no more paper and I realized these people want me out of there. Around that time I met some people from The American Indian Movement and my life changed again for the better, because what they offered was the Sacred Teachings of The Sweatlodge and The Pipe and John Trudell. John Trudell traveled with me to meetings and we informed the people of the danger of Uranium Mining. Afterwards the whole world learned about it and I came to Toronto because I was blackballed from Saskatchewan for my activism. I took some classes in social work and began working for native organizations, Street Patrol and Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto. After that, I took up a paint brush and started my art work for our Indian people and native crafts beading to offer all these nice things to people and make a living by trading and selling them. To this day I still have some paintings that I’m working on.

We are all on this long journey, Danny, and we hope we are helping each other. One thing for sure: we need education to learn how we survived after all these years of colonization and genocide, because we are still strong and we all need to learn from the past. We need to be as gentle as we can, because we all make mistakes and we are all different. We need our Traditional Education because we need to know who we are as Indigenous People and where we come form physically, mentally, spiritually and culturally.

Something that is important about education is  to learn that our people returned from the war in Europe fighting for a country that turned around on them and mistreated our warriors once they came home. Our soldiers need to be respected for standing up for Canada and not forgotten, because we are Indians living on our own territories. Our warriors need to encourage one another to stand tall and that is what our life is about. We all need to learn how to defend ourselves, so we can defend our families and our own nations too. Don’t think of yourself first; think about our people and the nation. That’s how we need to move forward, always the people first. In the Sun Dance they always say the people first. We Sun Dance For The People; in Lakota they say: OyaTay. We need to attend traditional ceremonies to be really educated. Our ceremonies have been with us for centuries. We all need to see and be face to face with the Creator. The way to do that is To Be Still. The American Indian Movement was my first real education, Danny. Going into the Sweatlodge during the winter time in Northern Saskatchewan was really really cool out there back in the seventies. Now when I look back  at our life everything has changed.

Ocean School Introduces “Bák̓vṇx̌ (The Harvest)”!

 How do youth learn about taking care of our blue planet? Ocean School’s mission is to provide learners, the next generation of ocean citizens, with the knowledge and tools to better understand our influence on the ocean and the ocean’s influence on us.

Ocean School, a joint initiative of the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University, and the National Film Board of Canada, is a free, innovative inquiry-based learning experience geared towards ages 11-15 and available online in English, French, and Spanish. Using videos, virtual reality, augmented reality, and corresponding activities, Ocean School strengthens students’ personal connection to the ocean and seeks to empower them to take action.

The Bák̓vṇx̌ (Harvest) module was filmed and developed on unceded Haíɫzaqv homelands and waterways. Ocean School is sincerely grateful to the Haíɫzaqv Nation for allowing Ocean School to be guests in their territory, for sharing their stories and knowledge, and for collaborating with us for this module. 

Boris Worm, Marine Ecologist and Scientific Director Ocean School, emphasizes that “In visiting the Haíɫzaqv nation we all can gain a much deeper appreciation of how connected we are to these lands and waters, and the many creatures that call it home”

There were four key pillars to Ocean School’s approach with the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation, which were largely informed by Jess Housty’s article, “You’re not the Indian I had in mind”. 

·         Openness and authenticity 

·         Community collaboration 

·         Ownership, cultural heritage and intellectual property 

·         Giving back and building capacity 

Youth host Jordan Wilson invites you to his Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) homelands to take part in the harvest. Learn how herring, salmon, and Haíɫzaqv people are interconnected in the rich ecosystem of British Columbia’s Central Coast. This module celebrates the deep relationships between the Haíɫzaqv and these keystone species—relationships that are over 14,000 years old!

Kelly Brown, Director of the Haíɫzaqv Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) states “Without the herring and salmon, we don’t have a culture. It breaks the thread of who we are as a people.”

Join the Haíɫzaqv and others to study the cycles that connect land and sea, and learn how traditional ecological language can guide us into a more sustainable future. 

 In Bák̓vṇx̌ (Harvest), the overarching module question is ‘How can we take a little and leave a lot for nature?’                                                                                                                                                  Learners are asked to reflect about what they’ve learned and how they can put their learning into action. This ‘Take Action’ activity in the module is designed to support sustained inquiry, leadership and collaboration.


By Savannah Walling (hl Gat’saa) and Nadine Spence

Communities across the land are under stress from the collateral damage of intergenerational legacies of displacement and systemic racism, and from mental stress resulting from the pandemic, physical distancing, closure of gathering places and isolation.  

How do we recover from history’s weight?  How do we move towards healing fractured families, communities and environments damaged by generations of horrendous loss? The loss of language, culture, economic independence, and ancestral homelands.  The loss of children and the confidence to protect them. Disappearing salmon, food sources, and food gathering knowledge.  Imposition of institutionalized racism and exclusionary policies.  Pain coping addictions and collective forgetting to avoid passing pain on to future generations. We can’t change what our ancestors 

An Honourary Grandmother Eileen (Albert) Spence and her son Roger Patrick Spence

experienced. We can’t change their actions. We’re living with the historical and cultural legacies.  

Our communities need cultural activity that unpacks history, embraces cultural roots, engages the transformative power of story and song, raises creative voices with stories of resilience and survival with dignity, builds relationships of respect and connects peoples and communities across lands and waters.  

A three-year multi-community multi-generational project is bringing together Indigenous families, tribes and territories of the Fraser and Thompson River watersheds to honour the lives and lived experiences of grandmothers who traveled to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  Many lost connections with families and friends and their grandchildren don’t know their stories.  Family members are working to restore relationships between generations and communities.

This cultural work takes place Nov. 5-7 at Oppenheimer and Strathcona Parks in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, on unceded ancestral homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.

Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey 2021 Launch is produced by Further We Rise Collective/Sacred Rock Society in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre /Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival with three days of ceremony, teachings, storytelling, and art respecting Mother Earth, including a day co-hosted by the 7th Wild Salmon Caravan, the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Vancouver Parks Board.  

The launch of Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey begins with the Nlaka’pamux wildfire fighters (IN-D-SPENCE-ABLE) carrying a travelling message chest from Vancouver’s sidewalks into Oppenheimer Park, to be welcomed by Stephen Lytton and Kat Norris. 

Victor Guerin, Suzette Amaya, and Autumn Walkem will share the Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey history and vision: from art and ceremonies to the journey of travelling message chests. The public can participate by writing messages to their ancestors, Grandmothers, and family and placing them in the message chest to help guide the spirits and memories of their families back home, to be properly respected and laid to rest. 

To recognize and release generational Indigenous traumas

We all survived

Our Youth will gain a better understanding

Together we lighten grief’s burden

For a healthier better future

The journeys of travelling message chests

From the heartbeat of their nations in the high mountains

Through their salmon birth and death places

Alongside their Thomson and Fraser River watersheds

Pause in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Before carrying on to the Pacific Ocean

Then returning to their starting place

To complete the cycle

Grandma, you, and your children may not have been protected, valued, or respected,

So, we are going to do that for you, and all the grandmothers of today

 We will continue loving you, in doing so loving ourselves, 

breaking every cycle every single day.  

We honour you and your children now and forever Grandmothers

Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey aligns and interweaves wiith water and Mother Earth and thus aligns with the work of the Wild Salmon Caravan in their celebration of the spirit of wild salmon. 


a Cedar Planting Ceremony

With a Cedar traveling Message Chest

We honour our Grandmothers

With earth, water, fire and air

Planting new Cedar Trees

To grow Strong

To Represent Indigenous food, medicine and healing

And connect us all for generations to come.

The partners are honoured to support this healing journey that links an inner-city neighbourhood with communities up-river and honours indigenous women, history, language, salmon and ways of life.

To participate in future projects

Further We Rise Collective is supported by Sacred Rock Society, whose founding was inspired by the Nlaka’pamux community of Spence’s Bridge, BC, with the vision of connecting indigenous arts, cultural heritage, language, with health, education, and the natural environment.

Further We Rise/Sacred Rock Society are inviting Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, grassroots organizations, businesses, and communities to participate and support the future journey of these honour chests for the next three years.

If you would like to help, contact

UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY – Hope, Justice And Healing

by Xavier Kataquapit

Finally Indigenous people all across Canada can feel some hope that Canadians and our governments are taking reconciliation seriously. The history and the proof of what colonization has done to my people all across this country has come to light and there can be no more ignoring the facts of so many horrific acts aimed at getting rid of the original inhabitants of this land. The time has come to deal with it all: the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves on former residential school sites, the realities of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the 60s scoop, residential school abuse history, ongoing systematic racism, failure to honour treaties and the deliberate impoverishment economically and spiritually of Native peoples.

    The National Day For Truth and Reconciliation which has been set aside as a federal statutory holiday by the federal government is a step in the right direction. The legislation to do this was unanimously supported by government in June of 2021. This day would never have happened if not for survivors like my own mother Susan and my father Marius and many, many other survivors who attested to the many wrongs and abuses aimed at assimilating Indigenous peoples and at the worst “getting rid of the Indian problem”.

    The declaration of this special day came out of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which created 94 calls to action in their final recommendation. The 80th call to action was aimed at the Canadian government along with Indigenous leaders to create a new statutory holiday in honour of the survivors and families of the residential school reality. Happily this has been done but there is a lot more work to do. Most of the remaining 93 calls to action have yet to be met. We still have a long way to go but getting clean drinking water in Indigenous communities and settling treaties would be a good move forward as soon as possible.

    For now we have a day where we can all reflect and discover just what colonization did to Indigenous people in this country. We can thank people like my late parents and thousands of other residential school survivors for sharing their tragic stories. 

    Truth and Reconciliation Day was born from Orange Shirt day which in turn originally came from the sharing of stories by survivors. In 2013 at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project in Williams Lake British Columbia, survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad shared her residential school story. As a child she was taken from her parents and sent to residential school where she had her new orange shirt removed and never returned. Her little orange shirt had been a present from her grandmother. The memory and image of her childhood orange shirt became a symbol of the terrible history of the residential school era. The date of September 30 was selected as the original Orange Shirt Day because this was the time of year that Indigenous children across the country were forcibly taken from their families to attend residential schools. 

    Alberta, Quebec and Ontario will not recognize the holiday as statutory but the remaining provinces and territories are acknowledging the new holiday but at varying levels of acceptance. The reactions of provincial governments range from Nova Scotia giving recognition to the holiday to that of Saskatchewan which will not officially acknowledge it but instead see its major cities identify the new holiday. The mixed reactions shows that the country is still very much divided in how or if to acknowledge the darker parts of the nation’s history. 

    The fact is that there has been some progress in terms of reconciliation but indifference, racism and ignorance is till alive and well in Canada when it comes to Indigenous peoples. Let’s hope that we keep moving forward in good faith to honour the remaining 93 calls to action. 

    A wonderful start would be for all Canadians to take a little time on September 30 to discover what those calls to action are and why and how they came about. This trail is long and full of challenges but it is also one of hope, justice and healing.

Choose Peace Not War

by Xavier Kataquapit

In the summer of 1918, two of my grandfathers were taken from my family and sent off to a war they did not understand or wanted to be part of. My grandfather James Kataquapit was one of the lucky ones who went overseas and came back. My great grandfather John Chookomolin succumbed to the Spanish flu during this period and he died and was buried just outside the city of London, England in the United Kingdom. 

    They were taken from their homelands on the James Bay coast with 20  other young men in their prime to take part in this war. The survivors who came back like my grandfather James explained that they had been told that they had to take part in order to help a ‘Kitchi-Okimaw’, a King that represented their land and country. These were young men who had only ever known life in the wilderness and spoke only their traditional Cree language. They had only ever understood the world that our people had known for thousands of years. 

    They left Attawapiskat in the summer of 1918 and paddled south to the Albany River to access the railway network that had recently been built. From there, they moved further south where they joined thousands of other young men in army camps to be readied for war. It must have been a great shock to them to see all the new technology, the trains, the transportation networks, the cities, the towns and the great masses of people that were changing the landscape everywhere. After a few short months of training and teaching, they were moved further away to the east to access the ocean and from there they were boarded onto ships to make the journey to Europe. 

    My grandfather James recounted the story often to my family about that experience. At one point they just followed orders and directions because they couldn’t say or do otherwise. They felt trapped and unable to avoid their circumstances. In any other situation, it would be called kidnapping and abduction and being forced to do the will of others without your consent. When they boarded their ships and went out onto the Atlantic and moved away from the coast, they believed that they were lost forever and would never return home again. 

    In the sadness of that crossing, many of them contracted a new disease that was spreading across the globe. They ended up with the Spanish Flu and my grandfather John was reported to be deathly ill by the time they arrived in Liverpool. John was sent to a field hospital where he lingered for over a week and succumbed to his sickness alone and separated from everyone he knew. Later he was buried at a small cemetery next to a village called Englefield Green, just outside the great city of London. I have knelt at his grave in that place among the rows of headstones.

    My other grandfather James and the rest of his group became part of the Canadian Forestry Corp that were tasked as manual labourers to manufacture lumber and building material for the war effort. Although much of their time was devoted to forestry and lumber, they did see glimpses of the destruction of war when they were assigned to guard duties and other work in cities and towns in northern France that were affected by the fighting. 

    My grandfather was somewhat content with his situation as he was promised that he would be paid and compensated for his time and labour. He understood that he was being paid and he agreed that any money he made would be sent back to his family on the James Bay coast. When he returned back to Canada, it was another shock to discover that he would receive little to no reward or recognition for the time he spent in a war he never agreed to. 

    After being forced away from his homeland and taken overseas, he was simply dropped off at war’s end in a northern rail town in northern Ontario and told to return home on his own. He had to make the two to three week long trip north again on his own along the river system to return to his family. When he arrived, he was greeted with the news that his family had received little to no money from either the church or the Hudson Bay store that handled all communications and payments for the soldiers who left. Again there was little to nothing he could do about it and he and the other veterans of that war returned to their lives as if nothing had ever taken place but of course they were changed forever. 

    In the case of my great-grandfather John Chookomolin, he had left his wife Maggie and their new three month old daughter in the hopes that he would return. Maggie managed on her own for a while but then died unexpectedly a few years later leaving their daughter an orphan during a time when everyone was doing their best to just merely survive. Back then being an orphan with no family that could help meant certain death. The daughter was my grandmother Louise Paulmartin and she was taken in by a church orphanage in Fort Albany who raised her and placed her into an arranged marriage when she was 16. The family never knew what happened to my great-grandfather John until the 1980s when a family member did some research.

    We always look at the surface of war as the battle between good and evil, the fight between the forces of freedom and authoritarianism. Both sides use the same language to their people to justify the fighting. In reality it is only those with the greatest wealth who stand to win in any war and those with no wealth to do the losing, the fighting and the dying. Those who cry out for war are usually the first to point their finger at others to do the fighting. 

    Every year we pass around the phrase Lest We Forget in homage to those who fought and died for a war. Yet we are too quick to forget the reasons why those wars were fought in the first place and we fail to remember who benefited and who lost the most from those conflicts. War is a nasty business and always has been about resources, wealth and power while pretending to be for the cause of freedom and helping others. The only people to gain from war are the very wealthy and of course the multi-billion dollar armament and war industry. Yes, Lest We Forget is a strong reminder to remember that war is no way to advance civilization and these days with nuclear weapons in abundance, conflict poses the risk to end life on this planet. 

    We should take time to remember those veterans like my grandfathers who took part in a war but we should do their memory justice by also remembering why they fought, what they fought for and what was left for them.