Posts By: First Nations Drum

An Interview with Judge Steven Point

Reprinted With Permission From Talking Circle

Judge Steven Point of Skowkale First Nation is one of a handful of First Nations people appointed a judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia. He assumed his judgeship in February, 1999.

Steven, 47, and his wife, Gwen, have been married for 27 years, and have four children and nine grandchildren.

Steven had a long history of working for Stolo people and communities. He encouraged the revival of traditional singing and dancing by his involvement in Stolo longhouses and by serving as a committee member for the Chilliwack PowWow.

Steven’s other achievements include:

  • Director of the Native Law Program in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia;

  • Instructor of Native Law at the University of Saskatchewan
    Adjudicator and Administrative Tribunal at the Federal Department of Immigration and Employment; and

  • Practitioner of Criminal Law and Native Law as a partner in the firm Point and Shirley.

In addition, Steven served as Chief of his community for 15 years and was Chiefs’ Representative for the Stolo Nation Government House from 1994 to 1998.

First Nations Drum: Please explain your role as a Provincial Court Judge. Where does that position fit within the legal system?

Steven Point: There are three levels of court in B.C. and the Provincial Court is at the base of the legal system. Directly above this is the Supreme Court of British Columbia and then the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

The Provincial Court is where a lot of the work happens. It handles in excess of 90 per cent of the adult criminal matters that come to court. Fewer than 10 per cent of the cases go on the Supreme Court. So Provincial Court judges are extremely busy.

We also have the federal court system, in Canada, which has a trial section and an appeal section.

Although one day I hope to move up to the Supreme Court of B.C. and jury trials, I am very happy with the job I have now.

FN: What are you currently doing in the system ?

Steven: At the time I was appointed, the criminal justice system had been severely backlogged. Some court cases were being scheduled up to eighteen months down the road.

The Canadian Constitution says that somebody facing criminal matter has a constitutional right to have his or her case heard within a reasonable time. The provincial government was faced with a situation where they would have to prosecute fewer cases or else hire more judges. They decided to do the latter.

One of the things I have been doing is traveling around the province to hear cases in places where the backlog is particularly severe. I’ve been to Prince George, Penticton, Kelowna, Burnaby, Maple Ridge, Vancouver and Chilliwack.

I’ve enjoyed the travel and the experience because I get to work with other judges. In July, I will be permanently posted in Prince Rupert.

FN: How many Aboriginal people currently sit as judges the BC court system?

Steven: Marion Buller-Bennett and David Joe currently sit on BC Provincial Court benches. Across Canada, we have 16 Aboriginal judges in the court system. In British Columbia, Aboriginal judges make up less than two or three per cent of the total 145 judges.

We are under-represented on the bench, but neither do we have many lawyers in the system. There are a lot of Aboriginal people in law school, but not many native people are actually practicing law.

FN: What impact do you hope to have on the legal systems as an Aboriginal person and as a community leader and former chief of Skowkale?

Steven: I’ve been kicking around this issue for some time, not just in the legal system but also in education and in the immigration system, where I worked previously.

In every community, there is a small group of influential people who are very, very prejudiced – on both sides of Aboriginal issues. There is a group of people in both groups that are trying to fight that racism. And there is a huge lump of people in the middle who simply don’t care about Aboriginal issues.

What I find is that the same situation exists in the justice system, in education, in any institution. The question is, “Do we take a big stick and force these people to get along? Or do we guide them along and show them a different way?”
I’ve learned that I am the only person who controls my emotions. I can’t control other people, I can’t control the weather, I can only control my behaviour. At the end of the day, unless people want to change, they won’t change their minds.

FN: How do you effect change?

Steven: What I found out from talking to people such as Aboriginal constables in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is that change occurred not because they pointed out problems in the system and complained, but simply because they were there….

If a native person got arrested when the Aboriginal constable was present, the other non-native officer would treat the person differently just because the Aboriginal constable was there. The non-native officer was embarrassed and wouldn’t step over the line of authority because of the presence of the Aboriginal constable.

In just the same way, my becoming a judge – just being there – and my background as being chief of my community and speaking on behalf of my community will make a difference.

Barb Cranmer – Messenger of Stories

The woman is short, stocky, compact. She has a face wide and mobile, a sun-filled smile. She speaks in a voice of brightness and enthusiasm, secure in her self-confidence. She appears filled with an intense and compacted energy, lightly reined, distinctly directed. The woman is of the ‘Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay, of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation of British Columbia. The woman is Barb Cranmer, a documentary film-maker of note.

Her film, T’lina: The Rendering of Wealth, has just won the award for Best Short Documentary at the 1999 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.

As with all her work, T’lina shares an intimate view of the power of community and the strength of tradition among the 14 groups speaking the Kwak’wala language, who live in a territory that reaches from Port Hardy on Northern Vancouver Island, south to Campbell River area.

“I myself am living my own history through the films that I am making,” said Cranmer. “The strength, for me, in doing this work, comes from my family, comes from my community. I’m basically working in a non-native world, working and fund-raising in Vancouver. The films I direct and co-produce are big-budget documentaries; when I feel I have to be strong, it is the strength of the family and the community that I come from, the community I’m representing, that allows me to carry on. That’s critical. Because I have a strong sense of identity, I feel. Both sides of my family still potlach, still carry on the tradition that’s been passed on to us.”

Her visage is earnest, sincere, intense.

“That’s what drives my work. I give voice to the community, the native community large.”

The woman is also possessed of a becoming modesty, an attractive reticence about herself. Interviewed in advance of the film festival at which T’lina was recognized for excellence, she forebore from mentioning that she is no stranger to such recognition.

Cranmer produced, wrote and directed Qutuwas: People Gathering Together, about the rebirth of the northwest coast canoe culture. This film won the first Telefilm Canada/TV Northern Canada Award, Best Documentary at the American Indian Film Festival, and was invited to the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.

While the economic impact of declines in commercial fisheries has garnered national attention – where the local harvesting of a tiny fish known as the eulachon is concerned, it is the potential CULTURAL loss that is important to the ‘Namgis community of Alert Bay. In the Kwakwala language t’lina (pronounced “gleetna”) is the name of the precious oil rendered from the fish. This oil is a symbol of cultural wealth, a valuable trade item and important food staple. The oil is rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Historically, it has been traded on “grease trails” throughout the northwest. For thousands of years, the Alert Bay community has made its way by boat each spring to a remote mainland inlet known as Dzawadi (Knight Inlet). Here the eulachon are harvested and rendered after spawning. Habitat loss and commercial over-fishing now imperil this traditional fishery.

“I have wanted to do this film for at least six years,” Cranmer said. “It became urgent because many of our old people were dying and important knowledge and history were close to disappearing with them. When I made a research trip with my family to Dzawadi in 1996, we witnessed a sharp decline in the eulachon run.”

The tiny fish are not used commercially, but have suffered from indiscriminate overfishing as part of the industry’s unwanted “by-catch” – fish that are dumped in pursuit of more saleable species. Habitat destruction from logging is also a major concern.

“It was important to do the story right now,” said Cranmer. “In ten years we might not be going up there. The eulachon may be extinct.”

In Kwakwaka’wakw society, the highest honour a Chief can bestow is to give away, or potlach, the t’lina. In the t’linagila ceremony, families dance with huge carved feast spoons and bowls, symbolizing the pouring of the oil. Hundreds of bottles of t’lina are distributed to guests who have come to witness the potlach.

“The families who travel annually to Dzawadi are strengthed by the experience,” Cranmer said. “Each year brings something new. It is amazing that in these modern times our people are fortunate enough to be able to go to a place where we can still practice a traditional way of life. It is like travelling back in time as we reaffirm our connection to our traditional territory. We have discovered old houseposts, which supported many bighouses in the Dzawadi area. We can only imagine what it must have been like to live two hundred years ago in this same area.

“This film offers a rare opportunity to share these moments inour community’s way of life – for the benefit of audience today, and for future generations. I believe this film will inspire not only First Nations people, but the general public as well. This film is a tribute to our grandmothers and grandfathers. My only regret is not being able to make the trip to Dzawadi years ago, when more elders were still alive.”

The film, co-produced by Cari Green of Vancouver-based Nimpkish Wind Productions and the National Film Board, was made with $275,000 from the Canadian Television Fund.

The Making of a Film Maker

Barb Cranmer was born in Alert Bay and grew up there for 19 years, at which point she moved to Vancouver to take courses in administration at Capilano College. She then returned home to work for her band in economic development.

In 1980, fortune, in the form of an educational camera crew from Chicago, found her and Cranmer found her life’s work.

The quick video course that the visiting crew offered allowed Cranmer and others to learn how to edit on a basic level. What resulted was a library of some 200 tapes, oral histories presented by the band elders, many of whom have since died.

“I was really lucky, getting exposed to the film medium,” said Cranmer, her face alive and her eyes asparkle with intelligence. “Since then, everything I’ve done has been a natural progression. I am definitely a self-driven personality.”
Returning to Vancouver and Capilano College in 1988, she enrolled in an intensive, ten-month media arts course, sponsored by Chief Dan George Foundation.

“I got right into the idea of film right away, being on the video crew at home,” said Cranmer. “I knew this was something I was very interested in. With the whole idea that I was tired of seeing negative images of ourselves and I wanted to change that in some way. I wanted to make some sort of career out of it and so far I’ve been successful.”

Initially, she worked on other people’s films as a researcher, project manager, production manager, until she felt ready to go out on her own. She made her first film in 1993.

“I felt strong enough to make my own films a long time before that but the people who fund these things were not willing to take a risk on me as a first-time film-maker. I had to spend some years networking and establishing contacts.”

Eventually, she found her funding and made such potent documentaries as The Washing of Tears and Lazwesa Wa: Strength of the River, both about the reclamation of Native land and culture.

Cranmer regards her work as educational. She complains that native voices are never really heard in Canada: “It’s not very often our voices ghet heard and when they do it is in the mainstream media, which has its own twisted take on everything. You never really hear from First Nations people in that sense.”

Yeah, Right. Welcome to Canada.

“For me, film is a valuable tool, to be able to have access to this, because it reaches such a broad audience. Much more so than if it were a book. Because everyone has TV at home and can plug it into their VCR. Or they see it at a film festival or on television.

“And it was important for me to get the truth out there, from our own perspective, and do it with the respect and integrity that comes from our community. That’s been a driving force, for me.”

She pauses. She begins to speak. Her voice has dropped a half-tone; her delivery has slowed. Each word is enunciated clearly, precisely.
She wants to be taken seriously. She is.

“For our people, it has been a constant, constant struggle to just be here on this earth . My work is based on the fact that, despite the things that have happened to our people, we are still here. All the powers that be have tried to change who we were, and who we are, and they did not succeed. And I think that is all I have to say on that. I feel strongly about that.”

Barb Cranmer creates stories in film; some folk would call this an art form. She also takes care to go deeply into the background of her stories; some folk would call this history.

Cranmer insists she is neither artist or historian.

“I see myself as a kind of messenger of stories. Basically, the way I see it is that I can look at theses films twenty years from now and know that I’ve helped in maintaining the history and the culture of our people.”

It seems appropriate, in light of her commitments to promoting the expression of aboriginal voices, that her ‘Namgis name is Laxalogwa (pronounced Lak-wa-lo-gwa) which means “yelling for the people to come to feast with her.”

She is adamant. Her work is not mainstream. To use a narrator would be nonsense.

“My work definitely has its own feel to it, in terms of being right up front with the people that are speaking, from the voice of the community. I don’t have the voice of God in there, with a narrator leading us down the garden path, because I feel our voices are strong enough, that they can speak for themselves.”

“The strong point of my films is that they are telling you the straight goods; they are telling you the truth. These people are speaking from what is inside them and that is a very, very strong voice.”

Barb has been told that her body of work has been successful in educating Canadians about native people.

“Another one of my goals is to educate people to the fact that we have existed along the coast here forever,” Cranmer said. “Governments are asking us to prove that we have been here for 10,000 years. But we did not just land here from Mars yesterday; our people have been here forever.”

“There are so many more stories to tell. I have my whole lifetime of work in front of me, telling stories from a First Nations Perspective. I’d like to try directing a dramatic film at some point; I like drama. But that won’t be tomorrow; that’s still some time in the future.”

All of Cranmer’s future stories will emerge through the vehicle of Nimpkish Wind Productions, a company she formed in 1994 with producer Cari Green, following their successful collaboration on the documentary The Washing of Tears. The company, now an established force in the Canadian television scene, is venturing into multimedia, with a CD-ROM series mixing local fishing lore and ongoing political issues.

Barb describes herself as, “a 39-year-old, wise beyond my years, kind of person.”

She laughs: “I’m teasing!”

Teasing or not, the point is has been made and the point has been taken. Barb Cranmer is, indeed, a “messenger of stories.”

David Black’s Attack on the Nisga’a Treaty

Maurice Switzer

Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie exudes optimism, a commodity not prevalent in many Aboriginal circles for 500 years worth of good reasons.

During a television special a couple of years ago, the much admired Saskatchewan Cree singer spoke of how the ability to turn life’s negatives into positives had helped Indians survive the tests of both inhospitable climates and unfriendly neighbours. And she described how her Prairie ancestors used buffalo droppings as fuel for their fires and to shed light on their camps.

I was thinking of that example this week when David Black, a man wealthy enough to own a chain of British Columbia weekly newspapers, made national headlines by forbidding his 53 editors to write opinion pieces supporting ratification of the historic Nisga’a Treaty. Mr. Black thinks it is wrong for governments to endorse the first modern B.C. land claim, to admit that land was wrongfully taken from First Nations’ people. He does not agree with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw ruling that there is such a thing as Aboriginal land title.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Black’s principles don’t extend to his pocket book. While refusing his editors the right to support the Nisga’a deal, he has had no problem with his 53 advertising managers accepting thousands of dollars being spent by the B.C government to buy advertisements in his papers to provide public health care, or clean environments in hopes that someone more concerned about the public welfare would buy and ad instead. Mr. Black’s actions are not so much about principles as they are about greed, the same sort of greed that cheated the Nisga’a and other First Nations out of their land a century ago.

Black’s chosen means of protest is to stifle free speech in his newspapers, whose very existence is designed to promote that democratic principle. His actions insult all Canadians who value such freedoms. It insults the readers of his newspapers, in whom he doesn’t have confidence to make up their own minds on issues of public importance, and it insults the journalists he employs, by dictating to them what opinions they must have in order to continue drawing their salaries.

Finally, this blatant censorship shows contempt for Indians, 12,000 of who fought on two world wars in this century to ensure that Canadians like Mr. Black could enjoy the freedom to write what they wanted.

Drumbeats of the Heart – A short story by Bill Peacock

Her feet touched the ground in an explosion of dust and joy. Crow black hair, long and straight, cascaded past her shoulders waving as she twirled and leaped to the beat of the drums. It was her day; it would be her dance.

Earlier, in the mist of the morning, Old Joe spoke to her. She did not know how he came to be standing outside of the door. He only appeared this way if a grave misdeed happened in the village, or if it was a time of deep sorrow. Sensing this, he spoke to her of her loss. The husband who had just left for the city, quietly, in the middle of the night, leaving only a chaste note that said good-bye. He had taken with him his guitar, and a younger, new woman. He left behind a young wife and a broken heart. The old man knew of the midnight departure, the growl of the motor and tires spinning in haste over a corrugated road. He knew the different sounds of good-bye and abandonment.

“You must be brave now, strong for the young one inside you,” he said. “You must not waste or hurt yourself.” She knew he was thinking of the suicides in the village. His eyes, soft and brown, crinkled in wisdom, caressed the coldness she was feeling, warming her instantly. “Today is Powwow. You must dance, not for the past, but for the new life in your belly. You must dance with joy till the child within you hears the beat of the drums. And someday, many years from now, they will remember the day that you danced just for them.”

She twirled and leaped as a ballerina, majestically, and with joy as the drums reached ad thunderous crescendo. The sun sparkled her eyes as they lit on an older man watching her. He gazed at her as though captivated, while his thoughts raced back to a time long ago; to a woman that he was separated from early in life. To a mother he never knew.

He smiled widely as the dancer spun before him. The drums softened, hauntingly, becoming a whisper as the man’s ile sagged. Unleashed emotions and memories of a child’s loneliness flooded his face in a rush of tears. He did not know his Mother, he could only imagine her beauty, but he knew there was a day that she had danced with the world around her and insider her. The day that she had danced with pure joy “just for him” and had imbued his small body with the beat of the drums. The drumbeats of the heart.

Bill Peacock – A Eulogy

R.I.P. Bill

Bill Peacock passed away last September. He had been suffering from cancer of the liver for the past six months. It was a painful time made worse by hepatitis C and Bill knew that his chances of survival were not good.

He had survived life on the streets of Montreal as a young man and was able to dry up in Calgary after years of drinking. Bill never backed down from a fight, unfortunately no one has gone the distance with the Big C.

He will be remembered by many native writers as a pioneer who published one of the first aboriginal newspapers in Canada. In the early seventies with no financial support from either banks or government; Bill started publishing a native monthly newspaper in Calgary. It was a project long overdue and he showed the way for many native publishers who were inspired by his example.

He moved to Vancouver in the eighties. Now a seasoned AA member, he devoted most of this time to helping people with alcoholic and drug problems working at the recovery club in downtown Vancouver.

Inspired by his own experience and the people he had met from the program, Bill started writing about the ravages caused by alcohol and drugs among the First Nations. His stories written under the pen name Elmer Wildblood appeared in the First Nations Drum and were destined for a book until the cancer became so painful he was unable to continue.

As a tribute to Bill, readers will find reprints of selected stories that have appeared in the Drum over the past few years, in the Culture section of this Web site, starting with ‘Drumbeats of the Heart’. There are touches of humour and a sense of compassion that contrast with the plight of many of his characters.

Native Designer Makes Art out of Fashion

Dorothy Grant is a Kaigani Haida of the Raven clan from the Brown Bear house of Howkan. Among her family crests are Two-Finned Killer whale, Shark, Berry Picker in the Moon and Brown Bear. Grant is a fashion designer and traditional Haida artist. Her garments, ceremonial button blankets and spruce-root hats are treasured by Haida people as expressions of living culture.

A sense of Haida identity is the creative force behind her fashion labels Feastwear and Dorothy Grant.

The first to innovate a new style in Northwest Coast Native fashion design, Dorothy came up with the idea in the early 1980’s of melding her artistic talent with couture, her work has been embraced by local and international fashion circles.

A high fashion interpretation of traditional Haida ceremonial regalia, Dorothy Grant’s “Raven Creation Tunic”, was presented at a dignitary feast hosted by the Canadian pavilion at Expo ’86. The tunic’s artwork depicts the Haida myth in which Raven released Haada Laas – Children of the Good People – from the clam shell. Today, the garment is part of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s permanent collection along with her “Hummingbird Copper Panel Dress.”

Grant’s second Feastwear collection was featured in “Panache: 200 Years of the Fashionable Woman,” a highly publicized exhibition documenting two centuries of international fashion at the Vancouver Museum. Her “Raven Greatcoat” was prominent as the final piece and was later purchased by the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. Following this presentation, Grant’s designs were exhibited in several art galleries across North America including The Meridian Gallery in San Francisco, for the show “Haida Ritual Art: The Insistent Present.”

“Land, Spirit, Power” a touring exhibit of works by Canadian Aboriginal artists featured Grant’s “Seven Raven Button Blanket.” The National Gallery of Canada has since purchased this series for their permanent collection.

At the 1993 “Winds of Change” design competition, organized by the Canadian Council for Native business, Dorothy received the Best Professional Designer award. The award included an invitation to attend one of Paris’ most exciting fall events “Les Vendages Sur La Montaigne.” Dorothy was the featured designer at a special reception sponsored by the Canadian Embassy in Paris.

In July 1994 Dorothy Grant’s first retail store in downtown Vancouver’s prestigious Sinclair Centre opened. The design of the boutique successfully combines the Edwardian character of Sinclair Centre with the purity of line and form found in Haida architecture. This boutique is the first of its kind in Canada and is exclusive to Grant’s Feastwear and Dorothy Grant collections, along with her casual line of clothing. It also features gift items with a Northwest Coast flavor such as hand carved silver and gold jewelry and framed limited edition silk screened prints. Select garments are also available through Dorothy Grant’s “Virtual Boutique” on the Internet at:

Showcasing her fall 1995 collection, Grant participated with thirteen other Vancouver designers in Apparel B.C’s “Cultural Wealth,” a tribute to the Commonwealth Games. Her “Raven Takes the World” Haida wedding dress was chosen as the grand finale piece. Made of white deerskin, with original Dorothy Grant artwork screened down the center, this wedding dress was also shown in the gala opening of the new Design Exchange Building in Toronto, Ontario.

The Smithsonian Institute and the National Museum of the American Indian invited Dorothy to donate a garment for their fundraising auction. Her “Raven Creation Tunic” stole the show, going to a private collector it captured the highest bid at $8,300 US.

During the University of Northern British Columbia’s June 1, 1998 graduation ceremony, Dorothy Grant was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law in Prince George, B.C. Grant was recognized for her talent and perseverance in maintaining her cultural integrity, as well as being an “outstanding” role model for First Nations people.

Clients such as Robin Williams, Peter Coyote, Marie Osmond, Richard Thomas and Susan Aglukark appreciate Dorothy Grant’s attention to detail.

Upon Dorothy Grant winning Business in Vancouver’s “Forty under Forty” award, Lisa Lisa Tant, fashion columnist for the Vancouver Sun said, “While so many other people are chasing the sportswear market, she has taken something from her ancestry and brought it into modern clothing. Her clothing is striking and dramatic but not costumey. It’s wearable art.”

Haida Fashion Designer Receives 1999 Achievement Award

Haida artist, fashion designer and businesswoman Dorothy Grant is recipient of the prestigious National Aboriginal Achievement Award for 1999. The National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation is an initiative of the aboriginal community and represents the highest honor the community bestows upon its achievers.

Grant, who is the owner/operator of a thriving boutique in downtown Vancouver for the past four and half years, was recognized for her business acumen. The recipients were honored at a gala awards ceremony in Regina on March 12, 1999 at the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts.

Against the Odds – The Life & Trials of Freda Ens

R. Stewart

When Freda Ens was nine years old, her mother – drunken, broke and broken – sold her to a man in a Prince Rupert bar. The price for one neglected and suffering girl child? One bottle of beer.

The man who ‘rescued’ Freda, took her home with him to Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands – to a childhood of poverty, sexual abuse and virtual slavery.

From such adverse origins, she grew up to a triumph over racism and victimization; to become a powerful force within the criminal justice system. Freda Rosa Ens is now the executive director for the Vancouver Police and Native Liaison Society.

“I came to a place where I could let it destroy me or I could go on and fight,” she said. “I made a choice that I was going to come out the other end.”

Rejected by her mother, infant Freda arrived in Haida Gwai to be greeted with horror and more rejection. Malnourished and covered with sores, wrapped in a hotel towel, she frightened her purchaser’s wife, who feared she might die. Her ‘rescuer’ gave her away, to a woman who regarded her more as chattel than child. Freda grew up as the oldest of 10, with six sisters and three brothers. Drummed into her daily life was the idea that her destiny was to a domestic, a mere maid to the natural daughters of the family, who were Haida princesses.

“Don’t get me wrong. I was really very close to my sisters and brothers. And we’re still very close. But, growing up, I was never allowed to defend myself, like if I got into fights with my sisters or my brothers or my cousins or whatever.”

Yet even before Freda reached an age where she could be capable of defending herself, a nightmare ride of constant abuse began. She was but a diapered toddler when her ‘father’ sexually abused her for the first of countless times. She suffered beating, verbal bullying and the mental and emotional anguish of being involved by the adults in their life. Rape and sexual assault were her constant lot at the hands of three men: a cousin, her father and the man who paid for her, whom she now knew as ‘grandfather’.

“For years I was angry and bitter toward my adopted mom because of what I had gone through. I was very young when my mom and my grandfather caught my dad molesting not only myself, but also my cousins. She never did anything. And for years I blamed my mom until later I found out she had tried to get help.”

“She’d gone to the minister, the nurses, the doctors we had, but was always told it was a family problem and had to be solved within the family. And so, having ten kids in a remote reserve – what are you going to do? I can honestly say, at that time, she did the best she could. The police were not interested in child abuse in those years.”

With what might seem surprising empathy, Freda speaks with a deep and sincere compassion for her tormentors.

“As much as I despise what happened to me and what I went through, I had to stop and realize that, when you look at our communities and our native people, many of them are the product of residential schools. My dad went to a residential school. He was a victim; my mom was a victim. The same thing with my uncles and cousins.”

“So the whole thing, as it happened, was a continuation of what they had gone through. I guess, in a way, it was them getting their power back by victimizing kids in the same way they were victimized.”

Freda ran away from home, at 14, to live with a foster family in Seattle for two years. She then went to bible school in South Dakota. But the sexual abuse she suffered had left its mark. On tour with the school choir and billeted in the homes of strangers, she would wake up screaming, “Help me. Help me!”

Nightmares were only a part of the scarring that marked her. “I knew as I got older that it affected my life, that it was hurting my relationships. I would get just so far in a relationship. Then I’d start thinking that the man was going to find out about my dirty little secrets and not want me. So then I would get cold. I would just push, push away.”

But a man came along who did appear to want Freda. She lived with him for two years and married at 21. He was white, five years older.

“My husband seemed to be the knight in shining armour at that time; I knew he was going to rescue me. But as time went on I became ‘damaged goods’.”

He would sneer at her, “Look at you! Who else is going to want you?” She had two children with him but the marriage was bad and getting worse.

“Look at you,” her husband would shout. “You’re crazy. You’re really crazy! Your dad may have given you away when we got married but he only gave part of you away. He’d already taken your virginity!”

Finally, at 30, with her son and daughter in her hands, Freda left the marriage. She joined her sister in Vancouver; lived on welfare; graduated from the Native Family and Community Counseling program with an Outstanding Achievement Award.

Her volunteer work with the Native Education Centre and the Justice Institute was instrumental in getting her recommended for a job as victim assistance worker with the Police/Native Liaison Society. Thirty months later, the director’s job became vacant.

“I felt strongly that anybody who did the job had to believe in the people, in the work we were doing. I didn’t want to see somebody coming in whose heart wouldn’t be in the work, who’d just regard it as a stepping stone to another job,” Freda said.

“Just because you have credentials coming out your ears, degrees and everything, it doesn’t mean that you can work with the people. I watched and realized that there were practicum students and volunteers coming in to the society who were nothing more than professional students. They had degrees but just couldn’t fit in. They just could not work with our people. And clients were very quick to pick up on it, very quick.”

“I thought I would just throw my hat into the ring and see what happened,” she said. “I was shocked at the number of applications from highly educated people. Doctors, psychologists, lawyers, you name it.”

There is still a distinct catch of surprise in her voice. “I was shocked that they chose me.”

Nightmares end when father jailed

Along the way, Freda laid charges against one of the men who had abused her.

“I want it to be really clear: my whole court thing charging my dad, was not revenge. My grandfather had died but my father was living in Vancouver and there were still other children at risk. He was babysitting at the Carnegie Centre for mothers who wanted to have an evening out; also for my brother. And kids were getting abused by him.”

The man was convicted and sentenced to nine years; he spent six years in jail.

“There were 12 victims in the family. Four of us testified against him. But the most important thing was the sense of validation I got from the court case; the recognition that what had been done to me was really a crime. After he went to jail all my nightmares stopped.”

As head of the Police and Native Liaison Society, her achievements are recognized. Justice system worker Romola Trebilcock said, “Freda Ens is a remarkable Aboriginal woman who has triumphed over poverty, abuse and adversity to become a powerful voice in the criminal justice system, advocating tirelessly on behalf of the disenfranchised, marginalized and powerless, affirming in their work and presence the dignity and strength of the human spirit.”

The accolade Freda cherishes most is the one offered by her daughter Juanita, then 10 years old. “Look at you, Mom. Look at where you’ve been and where you are now. When life gave you lemons, you didn’t just make lemonade, you made a lemon meringue pie.”

Dolly Watts: Woman Warrior

R. Stewart

Dolly WattsPer Ardua Ad Astra is the motto for the warriors of Britain’s Royal Air Force. The language is Latin, the dead tongue of the old Romans; it means ‘Through hardship to the stars.’ Such a sentiment makes an appropriate motif for the life of Dolly Watts, who regards herself as a woman warrior and whose son is a flight captain for United Air Lines.

Dolly’s entrepreneurial savvy and determination have brought her to the point where she owns her own restaurant. Dolly has been nominated for the Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award, in the start-up division.

“I gave lots of thought to how one becomes a warrior. The myriad accounts of male warriors are etched on our totems and in the stories told at feasts. The tales that I heard when I was a child said that warriors rose while it was still dark and bathed in the river. They prayed. They used cedar branches to pummel their bodies for spiritual cleansing. They paid heed to the teachings of their parents, grandparents and ancestors. Even the spirits.”

I met Dolly Watts amid the cedar columns and pebbled floor of the Liliget Feast House; the 52-seat restaurant designed some twenty years ago by Arthur Erickson. She is a woman of much presence. Softly spoken and looking a good 15 years less than her age of 63, she radiates centeredness and serenity.

“The family into which I was born was strong. I am Git’ksan from the house of Ghu’sen, at Gitsegukela, B.C., the 10th of 14 children. My mother, Chief Mel’hus, late Martha Morgan, married Chief Axtl-hix Gibu, late Wallace Morgan, from Gitwangk (also know as Kitwanga) village. His parents, who lived in Gitsegukela, were Chief Wi’get, late Stephen Morgan and Chief Ten’im’get, late Sarah Morgan. They lived during the time change. The government had set boundaries around their village and made laws that forbade the celebration of their culture. They and others from the village fought to keep our culture alive. They continued to hold feasts despite the threats of imprisonment. I saw the great dances, reenactment’s of stories and heard chiefs speak.”

The Git’ksan live on Gitwangak Reserve in northern B.C., along the banks of the mighty Skeena River. “It was our food basket,” said Dolly. “The animals and birds, berries and vegetables offered us a variety of food. Tem’lax’amt or ‘Sitting on something nice’ was really paradise.”

Dolly was barely walking when her mother spoke to her about the future. They were alone in a field where Mother was planting seed potatoes. It was lunchtime and she spread some food on the grass. As they ate, she said: “When you grow up like your sisters and brothers, you will go to school. You will go to school for a long time. When you finish, you have to leave home to work. There is no work in the village.”

As she grew up, her mother’s advice remained with Dolly. “Every time I wanted to quit school, I remembered her words. When I became rebellious in my teens, my older brothers helped mother by forcing me to return to the boarding school. During the summer, she kept reminding me “school” was important and I must keep on until I graduated.”

Yet circumstances seemed to conspire to block her mother’s plan for Dolly. When she was seven years old, she contracted tuberculosis and landed in hospital for over two years, where she saw many of her people die. When she was 10, she made the long trip to the Alberni Indian Residential School in Port Alberni. Upon arrival, she was stricken with rheumatic fever and spent the next year in the infirmary. It was then that Dolly displayed the innate initiative and spunk that would serve her so well in life.

“Not wanting to waste precious time, I learned to knit and crochet. I sold hats for 25 cents and diamond-patterned socks for 75 cents. The following summer, I felt better. I went to a cannery close to home and worked all summer. I wanted to earn money so that I would not be a burden on my family. I was 11 years old. I was tall. At the conclusion of the summer, I brought mom a beautiful coat and paid my boat fare back to school.”

The next term Dolly went to school for the first time since she was seven. Classes were from 1 to 3 p.m. and the courses included English and math. The morning was spent teaching the children how to mend, sew and clean. “Teaching” meant that they darned piles of socks, mended clothes on the sewing and scrubbed floors. “My attitude was that this confinement will come to an end one day,” said Dolly. “Do whatever I am told and I won’t get in trouble.”

“There were some horror stories, however none of the incidents killed me. Some of the boys and girls were molested by supervisors. Somehow, I was spared. I was lonely but I could live with loneliness. I kept busy reading and knitting.”

It is obvious that Dolly acquired her entrepreneurial spirit early in life. She also displayed an inherent generosity.

“I credit some of that spirit to an older brother who ordered drink crystals and tiny bottles of French perfume from The Winnipeg Daily Free Press. He would give me a box of the products and I sold them to the people in the village. I collected the money and gave it all to him. Mother carved small wooden items and we sold them to tourists during their walkabout. Again, I gave all the money to her. So when I knitted and crocheted at school, selling was easy, only this time, I kept the money. When sales dried up, I ironed shirts (10 cents each) or painted posters ($10 each).”

“I learned that it took constant physical and mental training right from childhood to become fearless. I learned that warriors made snap decisions took risks based, of course, on their training. I also learned that various people trained the warriors. Warriors are focused.”

Dolly remained in Port Alberni for high school and married Thomas Watts from the nearby Tse-shaht village. She had three children and worked in the Woodwards store as a part-time sales clerk. She also attended night school. When the children were grown, she decided to leave the marriage and pursue her lifelong interest in education and native culture. She went to college and then, at the age of 49, she entered the University of B.C.

Dr. Michael Kew, now retired associate professor of anthropology, recalled how Dolly, along with some other women, persuaded the department to create a special course for them, saying: “Here we are, First Nations people and we don’t find anything of meaning to us, so why don’t you do something?”

A course was set up for the women on how colonial oppression constructed and manipulated the image of Native peoples.

“She succeeded in passing that and doggedly went on from there,” said Kew. “It was not easy for her to complete a Bachelor’s degree.” But complete it Dolly did, graduating with a degree in Anthropology. “Practically all my life has been devoted to learning. Some of it willingly and some most unwillingly. My parents were my role models for parenthood and keepers of our culture. Teachers, regardless of where I was, taught me coping skills in my new world.”

After graduation in 1989, Dolly returned to Kitwanga to be band manager. She noticed a minimum of a half dozen tour buses in the village everyday during the summer and saw the potential for a small restaurant beside the gas station. She also saw the opportunity to sell native crafts. “I did a study for the village on tourism but my people couldn’t follow up on it. They just don’t have the initiative. It’s been whipped out of them. They want to do something but they don’t know how.”

Discouraged, Dolly moved back to Vancouver, took post-grad courses and worked part-time at the Museum of Anthropology. She interrupted her studies to take a year of creative writing and is now just one year away from a Masters’ degree in anthropology.

In an effort to raise money for a native youth education program, shed set up a stand to sell Indian bannock bread in front of the museum. The bread smelled so good that everything just sold. People kept saying: “It’s just like Grandma’s.” In 1992, Dolly formed her first company, Just Like Grandma’s Bannock and began catering for profit. She never looked back and in 1995 opened the Liliget restaurant, deep in Vancouver’s West End, using the Git’ksan word for ‘place where people feast.’

“I knew it was going to be okay because the previous owners had been there for ten years each. If they could last for 10 years then surely I could be there for another 10 years,” Dolly said. “I had wanted to be a writer but the bannock got in the way.”

With no support from there, Dolly had obstacles to face. Once again, her courage and determination took over. She turned to one of the brothers for a partnership. Her son Wallace, the flight captain, kicked in start-up money.

Dolly learned to be strict and self-disciplined, paying bills in ash, re-investing in the business, contributing to savings, and rewarding herself for her own creativity.

Today she serves an array of First Nations’ foods, such as wild Arctic caribou, venison stew with seaweed dumplings, rabbit with rosemary compote, hazelnut rainbow trout and duck breast with cranberry chutney.

“In Git’ksan culture, parents or those who assumed t hat role were the fist to train the child. Children learned life skills. As they grew older, extended family members (aunt or uncle) were chosen to bring the training to the next level. So if the young person showed signs of being a warrior, he was assigned to someone knowledgeable in warfare. Elders empowered young people by sharing their experience.”

In the beginning, many nights saw the Liliget nearly empty and Dolly worried about the years of lease payments she had committed herself to. “I had no-one to fall back on. My rent depended on how well I did.”

But she kept going with dogged persistence, doing her own kitchen prep work, all cleanup and her own catering deliveries. She worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week. With word spreading that the native restaurant was open once again, revenues rose to $400,000 a year ago – break even costs.

With financial success achieved, Dolly has shown that the difficult transition from reserve to urban enterprises is indeed possible.

“Today, we have our parents, extended families and elders. We (male or female) also have teachers in our schools; colleges and universities who have specialized in areas that can bring us closer to our goals. We have many resources, such as the Native Investment and Trade Association, where we can turn for help along the way to become warriors.”

“The best thing is that I have been able to employ our Native people.” Her three kids and a granddaughter work in the restaurant, as do six other natives and two non-native people.

A woman of deep compassion and liberality is Dolly Watts. “I’m community-minded. I have a soft for teens and people with AIDS.” Many folk in the West End do suffer from this debilitating disease. Dolly donates dinner and coupons for dinners; she holds draws for coupons. “I try to do as much as I can, I donate here and there.”

“Have aboriginal women responded in a way that warrants the name warrior? Do aboriginal women want to become warriors? Of course. Not for war, but as trail blazers for self and others. They’re proving to be courageous, willing to take risks, empowered through improved self esteem in the face of competitive forces all around. Armed with knowledge and skills, standing beside our helpers (resources) and our spirit helpers. I can say that many of use have become warriors, not for militancy, but for personal challenges.”

In 1996, Dolly received the Native Investment and Trade Association Entrepreneur of the Year Ward. This year she completes with three other outstanding businesswomen for the national honours, to be presented in Toronto on November 6.

Yet she is still full of dreams and ambition. Her next project is to build a longhouse beside Vancouver’s Trade and Convention Centre. She has applied to the City for permission for a 300-seat structure that would include a restaurant, performance stage and art gallery. “I want to host a conference there but the city is trying to discourage me. It seems they only want to give permission for 150 seats.

Dolly invited Arthur Erickson back to the restaurant he designed to tell him of the concept. “He seems interested. And he ate everything on his plate.”

Ever the visionary, Dolly looks beyond her hoped-for conference centre to a restaurant at Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Dolly watts continues the tradition of her strong and independent family. When “government officials” tried to pressure them into calling their children by the more conventional name of Dorothy, her parents stood their ground and named their daughter Dolly because she had been born so small she fit in a little doll box.

“I am a warrior. I became a fighter in order to keep afloat in the competitive world. I became fearless when faced with a real threat of losing my business. I remind myself to remain focused. I get up early to bathe and pummel my body with Dove on my sponge. I leave my home armed with years of training.”

Reconstructing Aboriginal History

Richard Wagamese

At a recent conference on indigenous knowledge I heard speaker after speaker refer to the tremendous spiritual heritage from which aboriginal people spring. While, as an Ojibway, such sentiments raised feelings of pride, esteem and self-worth, I was left troubled. Bothered not so much by the more aboriginally evangelical of the speakers, or by what was said, but rather by a sense of the value of the unspoken.

As aboriginal people, we are taught by our elders, academics, and each other, that our pre-settlement lives were guided by a profound sense of the sacred. I have no argument with this, and in fact, would defend it rigorously. However, we have become somewhat spiritually self-righteous through the years and often overlook the fact that pre-colonial Canada was not all sweet grass, sweat lodges and sunsets. Life was hard. Difficulty brings its accompanying ills. So that no matter how much we espouse the view of ourselves as staunch spiritual tribes and critics it could not have been possible.

Or, at least, contrary to what we tell ourselves – a perpetual condition.

In any human group there are always those less traditional, tribal or true. Our circles at that time – just as now – included thieves, liars, back-sliders, murderers, the immoral and the disbelieving. There were territorial conflicts, wars, civil disputes, arguments and resentment. There had to be. The day in day out life among a kinetic group of people virtually predicates the presence of minor or major inter-personal strife of some kind.

That is not to disrespect the traditional values on which our cultures thrive today. Nor is it to denigrate the incredibly empowering teachings tribal elders and wisdom keepers continue to pass on to new generations. And it is certainly not an attempt to down play the role of ceremony, ritual and spirituality in our homes and communities. Rather it’s an effort to redirect the way in which aboriginal people regard themselves and their histories. Because denial is a degenerative disease that in the end results in a distorted reality, a false perspective, and a less than spiritually enhancing condition.

For us to continue to romanticize our past is to create grave dangers for the generations to follow. As long as we continue to perpetuate the belief that we were perfect spiritual nations until the invasion of North America we continue to inculcate the belief amongst ourselves that we need to be perfectly spiritual today. Such idealism has provided us with a foundation for the establishment of powerful healing circles, centers, practices and organizations but it has also created a potentially harmful cultural mythology. A mythology that states that anything less than purely traditional is not traditional at all.

To deny the fact that our pre-settlement lives were often less than perfect creates the illusion that in order to truly be aboriginal today we need to assume the same emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual personas.

Such is not the case.

You do not need to wear braids to qualify as aboriginal. You do not need to be able to dance pow wow, drum, sing or make a dream catcher to qualify. You do not need to own a traditional name. In fact, because of history and its effects, you do not even need to be able to speak your language, know your tribal lineage, or have been to a sweat lodge, sundance or pipe ceremony to count either. More importantly, you do not need to completely understand the traditional underpinnings of your particular culture to be an aboriginal person. All you need is the belief. Being Indian, like being Sikh, Maori, Serb or Canadian is an inside truth you carry with you always.

When we insist that our tribal lives were models of purity, morality, dignity and the profound we place incredible pressure on our contemporary lives. We create a deep sense of cultural guilt. To fail short of the ideal, to make mistakes, to not know certain things, to not know how to do certain things, raises feelings of unworthiness, defensiveness, anger and guilt. Behaviors arise that are less than culturally positive.

We create disillusioned youth. We create ambivalent communities. We create politicians motivated more on proving their aboriginality than the political agendas they are elected to carry out. We create a professional elite more intent on networking and displaying themselves aboriginally than effecting change in their neighborhoods and communities. We create culturally embarrassed individuals who display culture and spirituality more than actually practicing them. We create academics that would rather spend their lives studying their people than finding themselves. We create organizations whose board members spend more time squabbling over who knows more about traditional matters and approaches than performing the functions they were designed for. We create fractured rather than cohesive communities.

What we need to know and to understand is that it’s okay to admit to a less than utopian history. It’s okay to know that our pre-colonial societies had failings. Okay to make the admission of humanity that included all of humanity’s foibles and peccadilloes. Okay to say to each other privately and publicly that somewhere along our family line a member erred and was punished. Permissible to acknowledge that presence of unalterable wrongs in our clan structures and societies. When we do that we allow ourselves the freedom to be less than perfect.

Because despite the inherent failings it has been our spiritual way that has allowed us to survive. It has been our spiritual way that spared us the indignity of assimilation. Our various cultural ceremonies and rituals have provided the foundation upon which we have built our present vitality and on which we will move into a brighter future. It is the sweet grass way, the drum, and the way of the pipe that sustains us. That will always remain true.

But to be able to admit to each other first and Canadians later that we have remained strong and vital despite the shortcomings we recognize in our histories, shows a people confident, esteemed and capable of governing themselves and blazing the path towards their own future. Honesty breeds strength. Denial fosters failure. Our spiritual heritage will always remain the root of who we are but we need to practice it in the light of the truth our own histories. Histories less romanticized than realized. The image of the bronzed countenances of the native man and woman will only become true fixtures of the Canadian consciousness when aboriginal people themselves admit to the true nature of their pre-settlement lives.

The words we speak when we speak of our spiritual heritage will bear more weight and relevance when they come from the recognition of our unspoken truths. The truth of our humanity. As aboriginal people we have only ever been human – and that’s not likely to change in the very near future. We need only learn to say it.

Mishi’s Spirit Within Soars

Singer, songwriter, and actress, Mishi Donovan is a Chippewa Cree whose ancestors are renegades from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.

Mishi grew up as an orphan without knowledge of her past, her culture, or traditions. She has survived childhood abuses, violent relationships and many other tragedies.

In 1991, with the help of others, Mishi began her journey of healing. The songs she wrote helped her cry and feel again. Mishi’s story and music is an inspiration to all women, men and families, and her CD, The Spirit Within, is a reflection of the heart and soul of her people.

In the spring of 1993, Sunshine Records held an international contest titled The Great Canadian Talent Search. It was this contest that Mishi Donovan, an Aboriginal singer/songwriter from Alberta, entered in hopes of winning a few hours of free recording time. Upon receiving Mishi’s rough home recording demo, President Ness Michael immediately called Mishi with the offer of a recording contract.

Agreeing, Mishi ventured to Winnipeg and completed her debut album with producer Brandon Friesen. Mishi’s album titled Spirit in Flight has gained international recognition. Since its release, her single Chosen One has received heavy rotation on a number of second market radio stations. It was also used as the theme soundtrack for a CBC documentary about HIV and AIDS, directed by Ken Ward.

Mishi has performed at a number of festivals and conferences, including the Dream Speakers Festival, the White Berade 24th Anniversary and the Native Arts Festival in Edmonton, the Sagaw Theatre Presentation and the Health and Wellness Conference in Calgary. She also prepared to do a number of screen tests, after being approached by a few directors and agents who wanted her for their motion picture projects.

In the spring and summer months of 1995 and 1996, Mishi found time between her studies and performing to try her take in acting. Mishi played a support role in the Calgary syndicated TV series Lonesome Dove. These experiences have spawned other acting opportunities on ITV Edmonton as well as in live theatre dramas.

In 1997, Sunshine Records released Mishi’s second full length album: The Spirit Within. This recording has received nothing less than the best reviews and has provided a number of strong singles with heavy radio support.

On March 22, 1998, Mishi’s album The Spirit Within achieved the Canadian Music Industries highest acknowledgement, a Juno Award in the Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording.

Mishi will continue to tour and perform in support of her album The Spirit Within and her message of healing. The material for her third record has been written and will be recorded with Winnipeg Producer Brandon Friesen in the fall of 1998, and Mishi will work with director Cam Tjolbulton from ITV in Edmonton, on her next video for Letting Go (A Prayer Song).