Posts By: Kelly Many Guns

Tina Keeper Discusses “Through Black Spruce”

Tina Keeper (producer)

Tina Keeper (producer)


Through Black Spruce, a project produced by Tina Keeper is a movie that touches on issues that relate to Canada’s Murdered and Indigenous Women. The film has received rave reviews in screenings across Canada and at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.

Keeper, a Cree actress, producer, activist, and former member of parliament and is best known for her role as, Michelle Kenidi, the RCMP officer in the CBC 1990’s television series, North of 60. Keeper optioned the book in 2012 and began looking for funding and someone to direct the book into a movie. Keeper was looking for a director that could interpret and bring to the screen Indigenous issues that tell the story of a First Nations family coping with their missing daughter. After looking at many potential directors, Keeper hand-picked Don McKeller, a Canadian director, writer and filmmaker with such credits as The Red Violin, and the critically acclaimed, Last Night.

The story is about Annie (Tanaya Betty) who searches for her sister Suzanne who disappeared while modelling in Toronto. The film also centres around Will (Brandon Oaks) the uncle also dealing with the disappearance.

Keeper says the novel was very personal to her and wanted to work closely with the writer, Joseph Boyden in the creation of the movie.

“The book really spoke to me because it was set in the Treaty 9 territory where my late mother was originally from,” Keeper said. “Plus in the book, the Bird family, who are a intergenerational family of the residential schools.”

Through Black Spruce lead actors, Tanaya Betty (Annie) and Brandon Oaks (Will)

Through Black Spruce lead actors, Tanaya Betty (Annie) and Brandon Oaks (Will)

I asked Keeper about the experience working with the two main characters, Tanaya Betty, who plays Annie and Will played by Brandon Oaks.

“They are genuinely nice kind people, very considerate, measured artists and very thoughtful on how they’re performing,” says Keeper. “Both of them came to the project and made filming a beautiful experience. They each brought their own visions to the characters and they were always prepared. I was really impressed with both of their performances which were just Steller!”

The film also features veteran and respected actors Tantoo Cardinal and Graham Greene. Both actors are best remembered in the 1990 blockbuster, Dances With Wolves, where they played man and wife.

“We were so thrilled to have both of them (Cardinal and Greene), they were a dream to work with, and I’ve worked with them in the past as an actor. They brought incredible life to the characters. Their roles are a reference point of the film and they’re both such master crafters.”

The movie explores how a young Cree woman’s disappearance traumatizes her family in two communities, the remote Northern Ontario community of Moosonee, where she fled from years ago to the city of Toronto where she vanishes.

“One of the elements of the story in the film is about the setting in the town of Moosonee. We were honoured to work with local language dialect coaches, for the northern Cree language and cultural advisors,” Keeper said. “Through the experience of working with the people of Moosonee, we saw the resilience of the people in that community, and that is what this film is about, the resilience of the Bird family.”

Don McKeller, told Breakfast Television in Toronto, that in the book, the character Suzanne, works as a model in New York, Toronto and Montreal, but in the film we scaled it down to Toronto.

“As an outsider I heard stories of the troubles in communities like Attawapiskat, but I never been up there, so when I read the script, I immediately got into theses characters,” McKeller said. “I could feel the family, and the repercussions of what they were going through.”

Keeper says the reaction to the film, in terms of the film festivals, they’ve had near sell-out on all the screenings, and have been getting good feedback.

“What I hope audiences will take away from this film is that they remember the family portrayed in the movie and remember this region which most Canadians don’t ever get to see. I just really hope people take away some knowledge of the culture of the Northern Cree. Also how the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women affects people and families, because they say this is a national tragedy and we try to honour their stories as best we can in this project.”

The film opens on March 22, 2019.


Indigenous Soldier Database Lists Over 150,000 Names

Yann Castelnot is a former resident of Vimy, France, who immigrated to Canada 13 years ago. Over the past 20 years, he’s been researching Indigenous people who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and the US Army. He’s an amateur historian who’s done his investigation voluntarily, and collected the names of over 154,000 veterans to date.

Castelnot’s efforts earned him a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation in 2017, an award given to those who’ve contributed to the remembrance of
the contributions, sacrifices, and achievements of veterans.

I had the opportunity to interview the historian, Castelnot, who said he’s always been fascinated with North American Indigenous people.

“It started with a passion for the North American Indigenous people during my childhood, I was like a lot of French, very curious about this culture, and I started to read a lot on the subject, to attend exhibitions, to enter associations,” said Castelnot. “In 1998, I saw an article about Sioux in the trenches. At the time, the internet was not as developed as today, and the subject of Native American veterans was not addressed anywhere. There were some vague documents, but nothing more.”

He began by looking for information about Native soldiers that enlisted in both world wars, and then created a list of these soldiers.

“It had to be a temporary project since I thought it would be too difficult to find information and names. I started by creating the list of Native Canadians during the world wars – easier for me because of the proximity of the military cemeteries,” Castelnot said. “I later added the names of those from the USA, than those of Korea, and finally I decided to look for all those who served after the date of December 29, 1890, the date of the massacre of Wounded Knee and the official end of the Indian wars.”

6/07/2018 Québec, Québec, Canada Her Excellency presents the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers to Yann Castelnot. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, presented honours to 26 recipients during a ceremony on July 6, 2018 at the Citadelle of Québec. Credit: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall, OSGG-BSGG


In 2013, he received the Diamond Jubilee Medal, and it triggered him to search for other wars. “Would those who served in the Boer War, or the War of 1812 also have the right to be honored?” said Castelnot.

Yann uncovered a lot of interesting information beyond well-known soldiers like Francis Pegahmagabow, Tommy Prince, Thomas Longboat, Joseph Brant, and Henry Louis Norwest. He said we could add to that prominent list the names of Sgt. Jerome Frank Narcisse – a recipient of three military medals, Captain Smith Alexander – Military Cross and recipient of the Order of the Black Star of Poland, and a woman from the Six Nations named Krystal Lee Anne Giesebrecht Brant – Master Corporal, and descendant of Joseph Brant.

When it comes to Native veteran history, it’s also necessary to include the lack of information, the errors often conveyed, and the historical oversights, Castelnot pointed out.

“We forget that more than 11,000 Natives fought alongside their British friends during the War of 1812,” said Castelnot. “We forget that nearly 30,000 of them fought with the French or English during the colonial wars because they had established military, political, and economic alliances with newcomers. North American history is not only about massacres.”

Indigenous men, young and old, volunteered for the same reasons as other Canadians, and they were respected by their brothers-in-arms.

“There are some cases of racism, but it’s marginal,” said Castelnot. “They did not have an easy life when they returned from the front, for a majority of them, yet they massively reengaged during World War II.”

Restoring data is important. For example, before starting his research, Castelnot heard there were 7,000 to 12,000 enlisted during the two world wars, and 500 dead; whereas in reality, more than 14,800 Indigenous served in the Canadian army, resulting in 1,600 deaths. The database includes information and stories about the United States’ first code talkers; on Admiral Clark, who served during the two World Wars, and Korean War; Walkabout Billy, who was one of the greatest heroes of the Vietnam War; the first Native American officers during the War of 1812; and completely Native American units during the American Civil War who fought for the south. In each war there is a special case to tell.

I asked Castelnot if it was true that most Indigenous soldiers never received farmland and money that was promised to them when they returned from World Wars I and II.

“The story is a bit more complicated. It is necessary to go back to the context of the time: Reserves were administered by Indian Affairs, and those who lived there depended on the Indian agents. Money and land were controlled by these agents,” said Castelnot. “It should be noted that there were a few instances where these agents actually worked for the good of people in their reserves, and thereby did encourage young people to go out of the reserves and live ‘free’ with their own money and property.”

It must also be remembered that the First World War had an impact. Native people are no longer perceived as a savage, but as a brother in arms (within the war) who has done his duty. Most of the soldiers send money to their families still on the reserves, where they were no longer enfranchised. As a result, the money belonged to the reserve and not to the family, and that is the same for the lands, so they mostly disguised their aboriginal status in order to obtain off-reserve property.

When you look at the Indian Affairs reports of the time, you realize that more than half the Aboriginal soldiers hired did so without declaring their status, and the Indian officers actually learned by chance that these men (and women) were enrolled. The majority of Indigenous soldiers lived on reserves and did not own property – land and money to come back to without any benefits from their wartime efforts.

But in summary, this remains a minority case.

“In fact, in the Indian affairs archives (RG10 de bibliotheque and archives Canada) there are nearly 2,500 document references for land transfers for Aboriginal veterans on reserves (at least those known to date), this is small compared to the 8,300 who served,” said Castelnot.

In 2003, the federal government offered a public apology and compensation to Native veterans.

Castelnot’s database is one of the largest collection of Indigenous soldiers’ names, and provides a way to learn more about Indigenous men and women’s contributions to Canadian, and American forces.

Luc O’Bomsawin, founding president of the Aboriginal Veterans of Quebec Association, told CBC News that the database has shed much-needed light on history that’s often forgotten or “put aside.”

“His work is essential, and there’s not too many people that did the same kind of work with that dedication,” said O’Bomsawin, an Abenaki veteran from Odanak, Que.

O’Bomsawin said he was surprised by the new information Castelnot uncovered, such as the number of soldiers who received decorations, and even just the sheer number of soldiers from both sides of the border who served in various conflicts.

“We were told different numbers, but nobody really had something to base their assumptions on,” said O’Bomsawin. “With him going through the records, and newspapers, and whatever he’s searched, he managed to change these figures. The figures that he puts on are a lot more serious than what I’ve seen up to now.”

Castelnot’s database is at


National Film Board looking forward to final year of National Cinema Tour

Donna Cowan is a networking agent for the National Film Board of Canada, and she spoke with
First Nations Drum about the Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) tour, a must see for communities and educators wanting to view films made by Indigenous film makers.

“The Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) collection is comprised of NFB films that have been made by Indigenous directors,” Cowan said. “Currently there are almost 250 films, and that number continues to grow as the NFB has committed 15 percent of its production budget to Indigenous-made films.”

Nearly 1,100 screenings of the Aabiziingwashi film collection have been held across Canada since 2017. Many Canadians have sat in dark theatres, community centres, church halls, and schools to learn about treaties, policies that created residential schools, Sixties Scoop, the current child welfare system, and their devastating effects.

“Through these films and the powerful discussions that follow, people are better understanding this dark history and the systems that are still in place today resulting in many Canadians demanding more of themselves, and of their government, with respect to Reconciliation,” said Cowan.

Cowan says screenings have also taken place in small, remote First Nation, Metis, and Inuit communities across Turtle Island. From Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to Kivalliq Region in Nunavut to Lennox Island First Nation on the East Coast, Indigenous-made NFB films have brought communities together to hear ancestors speak their language and to learn more about their history and cultural traditions.

Children watching a film on a screen made of snow.


“Our community partners across the country have also been very creative,” Cowan said. “In Ottawa at the Asinabka, festival films were shown on screens made of snow, in Vancouver they screened in a longhouse, and in Toronto the audience watched a 40 foot blow up screen as they sat under the stars.”   

I asked Cowan, how have audiences reacted to the selected films across the country?

“The response to the Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) Indigenous Cinema tour has been very positive so far. We will continue to offer these films for community screenings as well as for individual viewing on our website at Educators can use these films in classrooms by subscribing to CAMPUS, our educational website.”

The film collection dates back to 1967 when the “Indian Film Crew” was formed as part of a community engagement initiative to use film as a tool for change by training Indigenous filmmakers to tell their powerful stories from their point of view.

The first film created was The Ballad of Crowfoot, by Willie Dunn. Recent releases include Alanis Obomsawin’s Our People Will be Healed, a story about the new school in Norway House; We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, which followed Cindy Blackstock as she challenged the Canadian government and fought for the welfare of Indigenous children on reserve; Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk is a film showing the devastating effects on the Inuit communities after the ban on the commercial seal hunt; Tasha Hubbard profiled Betty Ann Adam and the reunification of her siblings as they deal with the after effects of the Sixties Scoop in Birth of a Family; and Marie Clements’s musical documentary The Road Forward examines the connection between Indigenous nationalism in the 1930s and First Nations activism today.

For the last 26 years Cowan has focused on festivals, film screenings, comedy theatres, filmmakers, and actors. As vice president of operations at Second City in Chicago, she increased sales, and improved morale. In 2004 she joined the National Film Board of Canada’s marketing department, becoming integral in the launch and distribution of most of the top films the NFB launched in the last decade.

“It is films like these from our collections that have helped Canadians to understand the issues a little bit better, and provide thoughtful insight into the images they see on the nightly news,” said Cowan.

Persons and organizations interested in booking a film can discuss their interest with the NFB team who will provide suggestions and help curate local screening for their particular audience.


Tsuu T’ina Nation Hosting National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference

Hemp plant

The Cannabis Act has created a monumental economic opportunity for Canada but it also brings unprecedented social and political concerns for Indigenous communities. These concerns and opportunities are on the agenda at the 2018 National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference. In an open letter posted on the conference website – – Chief Lee Crowchild of the Tsuu T’ina Nation says legalizing recreational cannabis has created debate within First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities, and that the social, economic, and health benefits will have an impact on each community for generations to come.

“This will be the first cannabis conference to feature leading experts from the medical, legal, and business communities with proven experience in cannabis and hemp,” said Crowchild. “It is important that we are all fully informed as to how the legalization of cannabis will affect our communities, from health and safety, to economic benefits, to our treaty rights and sovereignty; the opportunities for Indigenous communities are boundless.”

The conference is designed to address these questions and provide a valuable networking opportunity for Nations looking to enter into business relationships with other Nations and with industry experts. The conference will feature 24 expert speakers, a trade show, and 18 workshops that include social responsibility, the business of hemp, retail opportunities, “Cannabis & Hemp 101” and more.

Conference Chair Howard Silver reiterated concerns raised at the recent BC Assembly of First Nations cannabis meeting with Health Canada that the legislation was passed without providing Indigenous communities “the opportunity to be compliant” within the current federal framework.

“Without adequate engagement and consultation, Indigenous communities have been left unprepared,” said Silver. “The issues behind Bill C-45 and First Nations become that much more complex once sovereignty, land and treaty rights, self-government, community wellness, economic development, jobs and training, policing and enforcement, etc., come into play.”

Late last month, Health Canada issued a license under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations to Seven Leaf Med, which became the first licensed producer located in a First Nations community.

Health Canada spokesperson André Gagnon says, in New Brunswick, the Listuguj First Nation entered into a partnership with Zenabis, a federally licensed producer that has established a facility near the community that is providing access to employment, and other opportunities.

“Health Canada is currently considering 19 license applications by organizations that are either Indigenous-owned and operated, or have close Indigenous affiliations,” said Gagnon “There is growing interest on the part of some Indigenous governments, communities, and organizations in ensuring that Indigenous peoples can enter and benefit fully from the new cannabis industry.”

The Cannabis Act and its regulations have set out an open and fair federal licensing process that would allow a diverse industry for the production of cannabis to emerge. Several Indigenous-affiliated organizations already participate in Canada’s cannabis for medical purposes industry. Currently, there are seven federally licensed, Indigenous-affiliated producers of cannabis for medical purposes.

Health Canada is providing a navigator service to help guide applicants through the licensing process to better support Indigenous participation in the production and manufacturing of cannabis.

“Self-identified Indigenous applicants are referred to a licensing professional that is dedicated to working with Indigenous applicants, who will reach out and be their guide throughout the licensing process,” said Gagnon.

The 2018 National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference is hosted by the Tsuu T’ina Nation, and takes place November 18-21 at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary.


Siksika Teen Crowned Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess

Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation

Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation

Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First NationAstokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation has been crowned 2019 Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess. The 19-year-old Astokomii, which means “Calling Thunder” in Blackfoot, competed against contestants representing other Treaty 7 First Nations – Blood Tribe, Peigan First Nation, Tsuu T’ina Nation, and Stony Tribe.

Astokomii began dancing at the age of four, and has always danced Fancy Shawl. She was in complete disbelief when her name was announced as the winner among six candidates.

“I thought I was hearing wrong when they announced my name, mostly because the five other girls were so friendly, positive, and such good role models, plus I was the youngest of the group.” said Astokomii. “The most challenging part of the pageant I think was initially putting my name forward, it took a lot of courage in me because at times I still doubt myself, but this is something I really wanted to do, and I’m so glad I did.”

This is the first year the role has taken on the new “First Nations” title after officials last year changed it from “Indian.” The First Nations Princess will make hundreds of appearances locally, nationally, and internationally to educate people about Indigenous culture, and their ties to the Calgary Stampede.

Many factors played in her decision to run for the Calgary Stampede First Nations title.

“My main drive was my anxiety, which is sort of ironic because for years my anxiety held me back from so many things, but I’ve learned to cope a lot better,” said Astokomii. “I wanted to show that even with dealing with internal struggles such as anxiety that I could still be a princess. I want others to know that anxiety is not a weakness, and you could still do big things. Anxiety is something we all experience in our lives, and I figure with such a big platform such as the Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess, it will allow me to talk about it in a positive way.”

Vanessa Stiff Arm, former Calgary Stampede Indian Princess and current program coordinator for the Calgary Stampede Elbow River Camp, said that Astokomii plans to bring awareness to people suffering from mental illness.

“She will also educate people on the rich culture of Treaty 7 First Nation culture throughout Calgary, Canada, and the world, and be spreading western hospitality wherever she goes this year,” said Stiff Arm.

Over a two-and-a-half week period, six candidates were judged on their public speaking, personal interviews, their traditional dancing, and how well they mixed and mingled with different groups of people. They were also judged on their knowledge of the Calgary Stampede, and Treaty 7.

Astokomii is looking forward to representing the Calgary Stampede.

“Among many other things, the Calgary Stampede has always shown that we really are ‘Greatest Together,’” said Astokomii. “Personally, I have never seen an event of such big influence work together with so many people. It’s done amazing at representing not only Western heritage but Indigenous heritage as well. To me, the Calgary Stampede truly shows how well people of many different backgrounds can work together, and learn from each other.”

Astokomii is a recent graduate from Siksika Outreach where she earned the Governor General’s Award for Highest Academics, and she is the Indigenous Liaison for the Town of Strathmore. Her family background includes the Yellow Old Woman, Red Gun, Many Guns, and Larocque families. Astokomii’s parents are Gisele Backfat and Cassius Smith, and her grandparents are Darlene Yellow Old Woman and Cody Munro.

“This year we had three ladies from Siksika, one from the Stoney Nakoda, one from Tsuu T’ina, and one from Piikani,” said Stiff Arm. “It was a big group this year, and I hope to see some of them at next year’s pageant.”


SKOOKUM Music Festival Draws Huge Crowd Despite Monsoon Rainfall

Headliners The Killers performing on final night | Photo by Johnathan Evans

Headliners The Killers performing on final night | Photo by Johnathan Evans


SKOOKUM Music Festival Draws Huge Crowd Despite Monsoon Rainfall

By Kelly Many Guns and Laura Balance Media Group

An estimated 50,000 music lovers were enchanted by over 50 stage performances involving some of the world’s most famed artists during the inaugural SKOOKUM Festival, held September 7 to 9 at iconic Stanley Park – one of the biggest urban green recreational areas.

Festival director Paul Runnals said when his organizing team envisioned SKOOKUM, their goal was to create an event that was accessible, inclusive, and sustainable. “Our team wanted to produce a festival that would be unlike anything done before in this region, successfully incorporating food, art, culture, and of course music. The response we had throughout the weekend was overwhelmingly positive,” said Runnals.

Incessant weekend rain showers couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of festival-goer’s on hand there to see headlining acts The Killers, Florence + The Machine, the Arkells, Metric, and many others. Aboriginal artist Murray Porter, the Mohawk piano player from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, played his country blues. Porter’s soulful voice sang contemporary stories about Canada’s Indigenous people, and also on the universal theme of love.

Performing before a hyper crowd at one of the smaller meadow stages on Saturday evening was The Snotty Nose Rez Kids, the hip-hop duo from the Haisla Nation of the Haislakal-speaking people. Recreating their identities within their own contexts, they aim to reclaim their voices and share them with a wider audience.  

Crystal Shawanda of the Wikwemikong First Nation belted out a country rock and blues-filled set under a Sunday afternoon monsoon downpour. Though Shawanda’s parents raised her on country music and taught her how to sing and play guitar, it was her oldest brother who introduced her to the blues. He would hang out in the basement cranking out Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Etta James, and Crystal would sit at the top of the stairs straining to hear those soulful sounds.

The renowned, award-winning recording artist, educator, and visual artist Buffy Sainte-Marie performed on the Forest Stage as the rain came down. Sainte-Marie said she was honoured to be invited to play SKOOKUM and be surrounded by so many diverse musicians.

In 2017, she released Medicine Songs, a collection of songs about the environment, alternative conflict resolution, Indigenous realities, and greed. Part rhythmic healing, part trumpeting wake-up call, Medicine Songs is the soundtrack of the resistance.

Also well received was the SKOOKUM After Dark Program, which included 11 well-attended shows at various Vancouver venues.

More than 15,000 people attended opening night on Friday, with a crowd of 18,500 and 17,000 Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The majority of attendees were from the lower mainland and approximately 18 percent were from outside of region, resulting in a significant economic impact for the community.  

“An event of this magnitude doesn’t happen by accident,” said Runnals. “We have an incredible team at BRANDLIVE and hundreds of volunteers, all of who went above and beyond to deliver a world class event.”

Many festival attendees took advantage of transportation challenges associated with holding an event of this magnitude in Stanley Park by utilizing the SKOOKUM shuttle service, public transit, and EVO’s free valet service.

Along with reminders to recycle and compost, SKOOKUM Festival-goers were encouraged to reduce their environmental footprint by bringing their own reusable drink containers – and in large part they embraced the opportunity.

The Festival had no reports of major incidents, or medical-related issues.  

Event organizers pan to return to the Park Board and Local First Nations to seek a multi-year agreement that will bring back the festival in 2019.


BC Sports Hall of Fame Set to Unveil Indigenous Sport Gallery

The BC Sports Hall of Fame newest exhibit will recognize Indigenous athletes who have made an impact on British Columbia’s sport history

On September 25th, the BC Sports Hall of Fame will unveil an exhibit celebrating and recognizing Indigenous athletes who have made an impact on British Columbia’s sport history.

The Indigenous Sport Gallery celebrates the rich history and many contributions to sport by First Nations and Métis athletes, teams, coaches, builders and volunteers in BC, and attempts to remedy the fact that Indigenous athletes and teams have not been properly celebrated and honoured over the course of our province’s history.

Jim Lightbody, Chair of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, says the sport in the Indigenous communities has forever been intertwined.

“The new Indigenous Sport Gallery at the BC Sports Hall of Fame is another step towards celebrating the Indigenous athletes, coaches and builders who have made positive impacts on sport in BC and will educate future generations of these important accomplishments – both in our province and on the world stage.”

Released after a five-year cross-Canada consultation process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued 94 Calls to Action in order to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” Call to Action #87, calls upon all levels of government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, sports halls of fame, and other relevant organizations, to provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history. Together with its partners, the BC Sports Hall of Fame advances this Call through the new Indigenous Sport Gallery.

The Indigenous Sport Gallery will feature over 1,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space, including: information about traditional Indigenous games; artefacts and memorabilia from Indigenous athletes in all levels of sport; a feature on the North American Indigenous Games; and a dedicated space, the Circle of Champions, which honours the Indigenous athletes that have been formally Inducted to the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Lara Mussell Savage, Director of Sport for the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity & Recreation Council (I·SPARC) and a Trustee of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, says the Indigenous communities of BC have had a massive impact on sport in our province, and it is great to see the BC Sports Hall of Fame and its partner organizations recognize this through the creation of a new Indigenous Sport Gallery.

“We hope the Gallery will inspire the next generation of Indigenous athletes and teach all British Columbians about the incredible stories of Indigenous athletes and leaders.”

The Indigenous Sport Gallery Exhibit is open to the public beginning, September 26, 2018 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.  The location: BC Sports Hall of Fame is at Gate A at BC Place. For more information about the BC Sports Hall of Fame, please visit:

2018 Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly-Election for National Chief

Perry Bellegarde and Kelly Many Guns

The 2018 AFN Annual General Assembly was held on July 24 to July 26 at the Vancouver Convention Centre amid cruise ships and the beautiful Burrard Inlet’s picturesque setting.

A total of 522 chiefs attended the Assembly, along with their proxies, to vote for a National Chief. It took a second ballot to declare incumbent, Perry Bellegarde ultimately came out as the winner of this year’s election. There were five candidates who ran for national chief, including Kathryn Whitecloud, who did not go onto the second ballot because she secured the fewest votes in the first round of voting. The national chief must secure 60% of the votes to be declared the winner:

  • Perry Bellegarde — 328
  • Sheila North — 125
  • Miles Richardson — 59
  • Russ Diabo — 10

Controversy swirled at the convention centre as the voting took place.  Candidate Russ Diabo, a policy analyst from Kahnawake in Quebec, accused Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett of “political interference” on the Wednesday after she met with a group of chiefs on voting day.

Diabo told CBC News that, “This is the first time I have seen a Minister come in to influence chiefs on voting day,” said Diabo. “I see that as political interference.”

A statement from Minister Bennett’s office read, “In no way did the Minister interfere in the electoral process for National Chief. This is a decision for First Nations to make without outside interference.”

The Ministers office also said that “the Minister was invited by Regional Chief [Marlene] Poitras to listen to the regional concerns of Alberta Chiefs this morning.  ‎At no point was the election for national chief ever discussed.”

After the results revealed that Perry Bellegarde was elected national chief, Diabo addressed his closing statements to the convention centre, “You’ll suffer the consequences” in reaction to election results. A chorus of boos erupted during Diabo’s closing speech.

Carolyn Bennett addressed the Chiefs on July 26th to a half empty convention centre, as most chiefs returned home after the June 25th elections.

Also speaking, were the families and representatives of Colten Bouchie, urging the national chief and leaders to end the injustices.

Carolyn Bennett speaking

Greyeyes Stars in Role of a Lifetime

Michael Greyeyes and Jessica Chastain in Woman Walks Ahead

Michael Greyeyes and Jessica Chastain in Woman Walks Ahead


Canadian First Nation actor Michael Greyeyes plays Sitting Bull, the great Sioux leader, in the summer movie, Woman Walks Ahead.

Greyeyes co-stars with Academy Award-nominee Jessica Chastain, who plays Catherine Weldon, and Academy Award-winner Sam Rockwell, who describes his role as the legendary Sitting Bull as one he was destined to play.

“Playing Sitting Bull is the role of a lifetime, and I am truly honoured that I was chosen to portray this great historical leader. My entire family were, of course, excited and very happy that I got the role,” said Rockwell.

Woman Walks Ahead is about Weldon, a portrait painter from 1880s Brooklyn, New York, who travels to North Dakota to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and becomes embroiled in the Lakota peoples’ struggle to maintain their right to their land.

I asked Greyeyes about the main challenge playing Sitting Bull. “Trying to play someone who’s larger than life. An actor can’t possibly recreate someone, a whole person, but I wanted to create the mood, the emotional life of the character so that audiences could see what Sitting Bull may have been feeling during that time,” said Greyeyes.

He says studying the Lakota language was also a great challenge in preparing for the role. “I knew some of the history of the period, but what helped me the most was studying the Lakota language. World view is embedded in any language, so as I studied my Lakota dialogue I had to come to understand how cultural meaning was revealed inside the language,” said Greyeyes. “The production provided me with resources, so that was of great help. I also had the guidance of Ben Black Bear, my language instructor. He’s truly an inspiration.”

In the movie, Sam Rockwell plays Silas Groves, the US Army officer who tries his best to sow division among the Sioux to thwart Sitting Bull’s effort to convince his people not to forfeit Sioux land.

The scene where Sitting Bull gives a speech in full Lakota dialogue is one part of the movie that stands out in Greyeye’s memory.

“The commission speech! I felt a lot of pressure to get that scene right. We must have shot that scene 30 times in one day,” said Greyeyes. “I just wanted to get it right because I knew there would be Lakota speakers watching this movie and I wanted to make sure that speech was accurate and truthful, as Sitting Bull was a great orator. It is a significant scene in the film and I wanted to do it justice.”

Catherine Weldon (1844 -1921), was a Swiss-American artist and activist with the National Indian Defense Association. Weldon became a confidante and the personal secretary to the Lakota Sioux Indian leader, Sitting Bull, during the time when Plains Indians had adopted the Ghost Dance movement.

Greyeyes said before he got the script he was not aware of the story between Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull. “No, I was not aware of her story before I read the script. I am just glad we are able to share this story, as this was a dismal period in American history,” said Greyeyes. “The state wanted Lakota territory and were willing to use violence and starvation to clear the land, so we discover Sitting Bull at this desperate moment in time, caught in a titanic struggle for survival.”

It could be said there are some comparisons to the film and what is happening in today’s Trump Administration so I asked Greyeyes his thought on this issue.

“Unfortunately, there are too many comparisons that can be made to the Trump administration,” said Greyeyes. “We, Indigenous people, have been resistant to the settler agenda since long before the days of Sitting Bull, and we continue to be the resistance today. Everything from the Dakota Access Pipeline to the more recent ethnic hatred around immigration. This is very familiar to us as native people. Sad to see so little has changed.”

Greyeyes said working with both Chastain and Rockwell was a great experience and that both actors had great energy. “It was so wonderful working with Jessica; she is one of the most generous and intelligent actors I’ve ever worked with,” said Greyeyes. “Working with Sam was also a great experience, so hard-working and generous. He worked really hard to learn his Lakota dialogue; he and I would get together to practice on the weekends. They were both incredible collaborators to work with.”

Greyeyes has starred in 31 TV movies and series beginning with his 1993 debut on American television’s movie of the week (MOW), Geronimo. Presently, he plays the role of Qaletaqa Walker, in Fear the Walking Dead.

One movie that sticks out as one of the most memorable for Greyeyes is a 1997 movie of the week. “It was a film I did for CBS, actually a MOW called ‘Stolen Women, Captured Hearts.’ What was interesting about it is that I got the most fan mail, by far, for that movie, back when we actually mailed stuff, before the internet and Facebook,” said Greyeyes. “It reached a world-wide audience, and I received mail from around the world, reminding me that movie had really made an impact to their thinking. It really struck me how important and positive the media is in conveying that history.”

The list of great Native American and Canadian actors like the late Chief Dan George, Will Sampson, and Floyd Red Crow were true idols and actors Greyeyes looks up to. So I asked him if it was tough for him and his contemporaries like Adam Beach, Graham Greene, and Wes Studi, to find good roles as a native actor.

“Really tough to find a good role as an actor. Period,” said Greyeyes. “The native roles are, therefore, even tougher to find, to tell our stories authentically, but the writing is getting better. I played Qaletaqa Walker in ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ and I enjoyed playing that character. He was unusual in that he was both brutal and keenly intelligent at the same time.”

Along with being an actor, Greyeyes is a choreographer, director and educator. He is from the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. His father was from the Muskeg Lake First Nation and his mother was from the Sweetgrass First Nation, both located in Saskatchewan.

“I grew up in Saskatoon, in Treaty 6 territory, so I didn’t grow up on the rez. But my family and all our relatives were either on reserve or in Battleford, so I was able to spend a lot of time there,” said Greyeyes. “Of course, our band, Muskeg Lake, like many other communities, now has something like 80 percent membership off-reserve.”

Woman Walks Ahead is a good movie and captures a moment in time that many people are probably not aware of. Greyeyes as Sitting Bull is truly a great performance and is worth watching the movie.

Finally, I asked Greyeyes what he hoped audiences will take away from the movie.

“I certainly want people to be aware that Sitting Bull was assassinated, that his death was politically motivated,” said Greyeyes. “Like I said earlier, it was a dismal part of history, a terrible landscape of violence and aggression against our peoples. It is a great opportunity for the film to show this to audiences, allow them inside our struggles, and show them a neglected aspect of this shared history.”

Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull

Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull

Indspire Celebrates 25 Years

Inspire Celebrates 25 Years

Photographer Baz Kanda
Performance: STAR DANCERS by Kaha:wi Dance Theatre


The first National Aboriginal Achievement Awards in 1993 were held to celebrate excellence in the Aboriginal community.

Those awards were televised and it was an exciting time for many First Nations, Metis and Inuit people because they were seeing themselves for the very first time being recognized and honoured in a first class ceremony.

Since then the awards were changed to the Indspire Awards and have been hosted in cities across the country with this year’s ceremony being held in Winnipeg for the third time.

This year’s theme for the awards ceremony was, “Indigitropolis, Where Language Lives,” which came from the vision of Indigenous language reclamation and revitalization.

The Indspire Awards Ceremony program reads, “When it comes to Indigenous language, there are many layers, but at the centre of the conversation is a striking reality: Indigenous People across Kanata have witnessed the near extinction of their languages since the dawn of the Residential School era(s).”

This impacted community well-being, sense of self and identity. This is why the movement of Indigenous language reclamation and revitalization is essential if our communities are going to thrive.

The goal was to create a show that embodied the essence of, “Indigenous languages thriving.” To us, Indigitropolis is a place where Indigenous languages live and thrive. It is where Indigenous culture, ceremony and identity prosper, where everything in life is witnessed through an Indigenous world view. It is rural, it is urban, it is everywhere.

This year’s hosts were actors and comedians Darrell Dennis and Kyle Nobess. Performances included Cheri Maracle, Indian City, the Asham Stompers, Star Dancers, member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra with choreographer and dancer Santee Smith.

Presenters included Dances with Wolves actress, Tantoo Cardinal, actor Johnny Issaluk and CBC Radio host of Unreserved, Rosanna DeerChild.

In the program, the awards committee said they were inspired by the neon signs on a skyline for the stage’s unique backdrop effect.

“We translated the words ‘Speak’ and ‘Language’ into nine Indigenous languages including Innuaimun, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, Nisga, Michif, Ojibwe, Inuktitut, Dene and Plains Cree, and erected a skyline that embraced the entire stage to ensure that every performance, recipient reveal, and host introduction was being supported by language, identity, and indigeneity,” according to the awards committee.

The 2018 Indspire Awards will be televised on APTN and CBC in June, with the date to be announced in May.