Posts By: Kelly Many Guns

Siksika Nation Mother Shocked After Learning Son’s Accused Killer is Set Free on Bail

As a young boy Kristian was a traditional Blackfoot dancer who traveled to many powwows throughout North America

This is the story of a mother’s worst nightmare. Five months after learning that her son had been murdered, Melodie Hunt-Ayoungman must now suffer the indignity of watching one of the two murder suspects get set free on bail.

Twenty-four-year-old Kristian Ayoungman was a promising young hockey player and respected role model in the Indigenous community of the Siksika Nation in southern Alberta. The 24 year old was shot and killed on Highway 817 south of Strathmore at about 3:30am Sunday, March 17. Two brothers, Kody Allan Giffen, 22, and Brandon Giffen, 25, were charged with first-degree murder. Kody Giffen has been released on bail.

First Nations Drum asked Hunt-Ayoungman to share her thoughts and emotions when she heard the news that her son’s killer was being released on bail. 

“My first thoughts were, ‘Seriously? This is actually being considered, that they would actually allow someone who helped take my boy’s life leave jail?’ What about the safety of the victims, our community, and other people,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “I am still in disbelief how these guys could have taken my boys life. It took me backwards remembering how the police came to me to tell me that Kristian was a homicide victim, that he was shot. This release reminded me how Kody was a part in helping this all happen. I remembered the shock I fell into, how I dropped when I was told the news about my son, how I was screaming and crying in disbelief saying, ‘No not my boy, he is such a good kid, not Kristian!’ Lots of hurt memories of that day came back.”

Reuben Breaker is a member of the Siksika council and has been supporting Hunt-Ayoungman through her nightmare. He told Global News that he’s less optimistic about the case. “This just re-opened the wound, to know what this young man is being charged with,” said Breaker. “If one of our boys had murdered a non-Native boy, we wouldn’t have access to bail let alone granted bail.”

Kristian’s tragic death occurred about eight hours after the popular and former Junior B hockey player participated in a Wheatland Kings alumni game. Darcy Busslinger is a team manager for the Strathmore Wheatland Kings Junior hockey team. He told Global News that Kristian was one of the good ones. “I had a great visit with Kristian up in the dressing room after, and he was telling me all about his job and what he was going to do for the summer,” Busslinger said. “It’s just crazy that we’ve had to go through this in the last five years. We’ve lost four other community kids that played hockey and we are a tight bunch.”

Kristian Ayounman was a great hockey player

Colten Wildman, Siksika Buffaloes player and coach also told Global News that he was in disbelief of the news. “It was one of those things where you don’t want to believe it,” said Colten Wildman, who also played hockey with Ayoungman for eight years. “You deny it and when you find out more details, you’re just immediately crushed. He was just a good kid on and off the ice. You were very lucky to know him on the ice, but you were pretty special to get close with him off the ice.”

Hunt-Ayoungman says she never imagined that she would join the ranks of countless Indigenous mothers who have had to sit in court and witness the trial of those charged with murdering their child. 

“Never does a parent ever expect their child to leave before them, and there I was sitting in this courtroom for my boy. For the first time I was going to see the guys involved in taking my sons life away from us all,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “They took away such a genuine person. Why, why did they do this, how could they do this? These were the questions going through my mind.”

Hunt-Ayoungman said her son did not deserve to be murdered, that he was at the high point in his life, and just living life as a young person on his way to becoming successful. “He was so kind and respectful to everyone. I shouldn’t be going through this,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “What did we do to deserve this?” 

The grieving mother said that she did not want her son’s murder to define his life. “Kristian loved hockey. That was the love of his life. As soon as he could walk he already had a hockey stick in his hand with a ball running up and down the hall shooting the ball,” said Hunt-Ayoungman. “As soon as he could take one of his first sentences I distinctly remember him telling me as we were driving, he looks at me and says, ‘Mom, I want to be in the NHL.’ I remember looking at him and seeing such a confident look on his face, and the way he said it. 

I remember telling him, ‘OK my boy, if that’s what you want to do, you can do it.” 

As a child, Kristian had nets set up outside his house to shoot his puck into and loved anything sport related. He would golf, play catch, and hit the baseball around with his Uncle Mory. He learned to also bead. Kristian started playing hockey on the Siksika Nation as a pre-novice before advancing on to play with teams in Strathmore and Okotoks where he played Bantam and Midget AA hockey. He was a part of many championship teams, won many trophies, and was always getting sportsmanship awards. 

Kristian’s Blackfoot name was Kakato’si, which means Star, which is also his middle name. Raised with traditional Blackfoot beliefs, he spent a significant amount of time with his mom’s sister, Dawn, and her younger brother Mory. “Kristian was a traditional dancer and was very successful at it,” Hunt-Ayoungman said. “When he was the age of tiny tots we already put him in juniors, when he was in juniors we put him in teens. He was just that good of a dancer; teens were intimidated by him because he would win most of the time. We travelled throughout powwow country all over North America.”

Hunt-Ayoungman herself was a very accomplished jingle dress dancer and passed on her traditional dancing abilities to Kristian. Kristian performed and danced at the Calgary Stampede for many years, and even danced for Queen Elizabeth.

Hunt-Ayoungman says Kristian was a role model on the Siksika Nation. “He was genuine, kind, loving, caring, very well respected and very respectful to others. Kristian tried hard in everything he did; was a perfectionist – when he learned something he made sure he learned how to do it well. He was a role model in our Siksika Community in the way he carried himself, the way he treated others, and how he did his best in everything. These are the kind of Native Men we want in our First Nations communities. Leaders for others. He very well ‘Led by Example’”

Hunt-Ayoungman says she can’t discuss too much about the legal issues but did say preliminary trial dates have been set for early 2020.

Blue Rodeo Performs a Stellar Set at the PNE

Jim Cuddy

Blue Rodeo played a 90-minute set before a sold-out crowd of 7,000 enthusiastic fans at the Pacific Northern Exhibition (PNE) Amphitheatre. They performed many of their greatest hits that propelled them to Canadian rock-icon status.

Blue Rodeo emerged in the early 80s and scored their first big hit “Try” at a time when radio airwaves were saturated with glossy hair bands and teen pop stars. “Try” was a huge country-folkish hit in Canada, and since then Blue Rodeo’s lead singers, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, have traded hit after hit on Canadian radio. 

The band formed in 1984 and are celebrating 35 years playing together. Cuddy once said, “Don’t follow trends; just be who you are.” It seems to have worked as Blue Rodeo has always written and played their own music. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2012 joining music giants Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, and Rush. 

Blue Rodeo opened the PNE Summer Night concert series on Saturday August 17th. It was their first appearance at the PNE Amphitheatre. Opening the show, Cuddy sang one of the band’s biggest hits, “Five Days in May,” which was released in 1993 during the Grunge-rock era. It seems that Blue Rodeo just sailed along with good country, rustic, rock, and folk tunes despite all the current hypes and trends of that time. 

Jim Cuddy & Greg Keelor

Cuddy still has the pipes to sing songs like “What am I doing here,” “Piranha Pool” and “Head Over Heels.” I guess it’s true with the old saying, “the older you get, the better you get.” Keelor took centre stage and crooned into the haunting “Diamond Mine,” the band’s 1989 sleeper hit. Keelor sings “Diamond Mine” live so wonderfully that it almost spellbinds the audience. Next up was the up-tempo “C’mon” before the band strummed their way to Bob Dylan’s “I Shall be Released,” which was famously covered by the rock group The Band in their 1976 concert documentary, The Last Waltz. “Dark Angel” was so acoustically wonderful, and Keelor’s vocals made the crowd go “shhhhh!” You could hear a needle drop until the thunderous ovation.

Cuddy then took to his piano to sing “After The Rain” and his blues-like “ooohs” and “aaahs” set the crowd into appreciating what they were listening to. This is what makes Blue Rodeo so good live. 

They know how to get their audience so zoned into their slow songs that when it’s time to pace-up the show, Cuddy tells the audience “Okay it’s time to get off your seats and stand up.” And then the band rips into “You’re Everywhere” from their Casino LP, and Cuddy’s vocals on “Til I Am Myself Again.”  Before their “good-night” teasers, they leave the PNE audience wanting more when Keelor waves and points his microphone toward the audience to sing, “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” which is one of Blue Rodeo’s biggest and most recognizable songs.

He brought the entire crowd to its feet to sing along. After eight minutes of the crowd cheering for more, the band emerged from backstage to go into their crowd pleasing encores “Try” and “Lost together.”

If you haven’t seen them yet, then you must see them next time they’re in your town or concrete jungle, and then find out for yourself what we’re all talking about after a Blue Rodeo concert.

Air Canada Crew Share Their Historic Flight Experience

A Major International Airliner First

Air Canada marked National Indigenous Peoples Day by proudly highlighting the achievements and contributions of its Indigenous employees. On June 21, an Air Canada jet was flown by an all-Indigenous crew of two pilots and nine flight attendants for the first time in the company’s 54-year history. Passengers aboard Flight AC185 from Toronto to Vancouver flew in Air Canada’s flagship Boeing 787 Dream liner also served by an all-Indigenous ground crew.

Marie France Roy is Air Canada’s Official Languages & Diversity Partnership Manager. She says the all-Indigenous crew idea came about in 2018 after Air Canada decided to proudly highlight the achievements and contributions of its Indigenous employees.

 “We decided this event would coincide with the June 21st National Indigenous Day celebrations, and really from there it was a matter of finding out and planning the Indigenous crew within our Air Canada team,” said Roy.

Crew members spoke with First Nation’s Drum to recall their experience aboard this historic flight. 

Air Canada In-flight Service Director Karen Chapman is a Coast Salish from the Cowichan Tribes on Vancouver Island who’s been flying with Air Canada for 19 years. Chapman was excited when she learned the news that Air Canada was considering the possibility of doing a flight with an all-Indigenous crew for National Indigenous Day.

“We have many proud Indigenous colleagues that want to represent our company and our communities, and what an amazing way to do it. The day they called me to say we were going to be able to do it was one of the best days of my career,” said Chapman. “I was extremely grateful for all the people at Air Canada that made it possible. It was a team effort.”

Chapman says her fellow Indigenous co-workers are all involved within their communities. 

“They participate in Pow Wows, the Longhouse, Sun Dance, Sweat Lodge, and more. They’re a very knowledgeable team that sheds light on many different aspects of the Indigenous cultures.”

Chapman says the crew received a lot of positive feedback from passengers on board their “special flight.” 

“I actually do get asked quite often what nationality I am, and passengers are always intrigued about Indigenous culture,” said Chapman. “I’ve also been told by Indigenous passengers that they are proud to see me in the position I’m in within my company.  It makes me even more proud.” Chapman continued, “Many passengers told us they were so happy we were doing this flight and that they could be a part of the occasion. 

“One passenger had tears in his eyes after First Officer Lewis Yesno made his ‘welcome announcement’ in his Ojibway language. We saw passengers shedding tears while our crew was welcomed into the boarding area by the Musqueam dancers once we arrived into YVR. It was very touching to hear the positive comments and see the emotion.”

Chapman says that making her arrival announcement over the PA to the passengers was an amazing feeling. “Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Vancouver International Airport, located on the traditional lands of the Musqueam people.”

First Pilot Lewis Yesno is from Eabametoong First Nations in Northern Ontario. Lewis says he’s always wanted to fly the skies since he was a little boy. 


“This position has allowed me to travel the world, see other cultures, and experience things I could only dream of when I was a kid,” said Yesno. “Growing up on the reserve, I’d see the planes far up in the sky with the airplane exhaust trail, and I would tell my cousins and friends, ‘One day I am going to be up there flying those planes.’ I always knew that is what I wanted to do when I grew-up.”

His advice to young Indigenous people who want to become a pilot is to never give up on their aspirations to become whatever they want.

“With perseverance, one can achieve anything,” said Yesno, who first flew on a familiarization flight after attending a Geraldton Composite High School Career-Day Fair in September 1979 and then acquired his pilot’s license in March 1983.

He says that Air Canada is a very-diversified company that hires people from all backgrounds from all over the world and is very happy to be a part of the Air Canada Family.

“The all- Indigenous crewed flight from Toronto to Vancouver was awesome and a once-in-a-life- time experience,” said Yesno.  “I’m very proud to have been a part of it.” 

Members of the business community also expressed their thoughts on the all-Indigenous flight crew – the first by any major international airliner.

“Leading by example, Air Canada is first out of the gate to deploy an entirely Indigenous-operated flight and acknowledging the contributions of their Indigenous employees. This is an unprecedented move to advance Indigenous participation and business initiatives and will motivate other companies to support long-term sustainable opportunities that enhance our economy,” says JP Gladu, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

Sharon Sunshine is a member of the Fishing Lake First Nation and a Saulteaux Cree in Saskatchewan. She’s worked in the airline industry for over 20 years and joined the Air Canada family almost three years ago.  Prior to Air Canada, she worked for smaller carriers and as a trustee for the Fishing Lake 1907 Surrender Trust

“I always wanted to work and fly with Air Canada because they are a global airline, and the opportunities are endless,” Sunshine says. “Working at Air Canada, we have the ability to challenge ourselves and grow in our professional development. For example, I take part in career fairs to promote Indigenous recruitment. 

“We go out to the communities and discuss our roles as flight attendants. We answer questions, and our goal is to inspire future flight attendants or pilots, or anyone who would like to work at Air Canada.  Another example is we have language courses available so that we may learn French and feel confident with basic phrases. There are so many different special assignments that we can apply for, and it is an exciting time to be a part of this great company.”

Sunshine says her thoughts on the Indigenous flight was one of enormous pride.

“To take part in something so momentous really is a highlight in my career. As flight attendants, we all shared the same narrative, which is being proud to represent the First Nations community and to be role models not only for our people but for corporate Canada.  Air Canada really allowed us to showcase that pride, and I am so grateful for that opportunity. The passenger feedback from that day was everyone kept congratulating us as crew members and Air Canada for allowing the event to take place.” 

Sunshine says that passengers asked her about her Fishing Lake First Nation, her language,family, and the origin of her name.

“There was genuine interest and excitement that was palpable,” Sunshine said. “For any Indigenous person who is considering a career in aviation, I would say ‘Go for it!’ You get to work with people from around the world and learn so much about their culture, and they learn so much about yours.”

Squamish Nation first Indigenous group to Undertake large scale urban project in Canada

What’s a band to do with an oddly-shaped 11-acre parcel of land that’s dissected by the Burrard Bridge? The Squamish First Nation envision building high-density housing on it and then using the profits to reinvest in its own people.

Not all nearby residents are pleased with the prospect of having a 3000 rental unit housing development hinder their view of Vanier Park, English Bay, or whatever happens to lie on the other side of what they deem an obstruction. Kitsilano resident Larry Benge is co-chair of the West Kitsilano Residents Association. He’s conflicted over the talk of high-rise development and is quoted in the Vancouver Courier saying he “doesn’t know whether to get excited or get depressed, quite frankly. I think my reaction overall is wait and see.”

Knowing the land’s history may provide potential detractors to development with a better perspective. According to the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Foundations, an information resource on key topics relating to the histories, politics, and cultures of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, the land was an ancestral village of the Squamish Nation until 1913. In that year, the provincial government entered the Reserve and coerced the residents into selling their land. Each male head of household was paid $11,250 to evacuate and relocate to Howe Sound. Ninety-years later, the land was returned to the Squamish after the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Canadian Pacific, which had been granted the land for the railway, should return it, as-is.

Since the proposed development site sits on First Nations land, the Squamish are not legally required to follow city restrictions on blocking views, and the City of Vancouver has no say in what happens to the property. A service agreement for roads, fire, and police services will need to be negotiated. “This is the first time an Indigenous group is undertaking a large-scale urban development project in Canada. We’re very proud of this opportunity that’s before us,” said Khelsilem, a Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson.

Though the Squamish have been living in the area for thousands of years, they’ve been relegated to spectators while a city was built around them to the economic benefit of corporations, the government, and Anglo-Canadians. “Meanwhile, our own people are still in poverty. We have a lot of working poor. We have a lower average income than the average Canadian,” said Khelsilem. “We have all kinds of other challenges around health, elder care, and housing needs.”

Developing rental housing units would bring much-needed relief to the tight Vancouver rental market with its less than a 1 percent vacancy rate, according to Khelsilem. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart expressed his support for the project in a Globe and Mail article. “This is an opportunity for the city to demonstrate its commitment to reconciliation with the Indigenous communities,” said Stewart.

The Squamish Nation are known for being one of the top business-minded First Nations in B.C. They own the land beneath the Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver and collect rent from tenants. The band is in the process of selecting a developer for the Burrard Bridge site, and Squamish Nations members will decide on zoning and business terms by referendum most likely within six months. “Nothing is confirmed at this time. We have been in negotiations with a local [Vancouver-based] developer and are working with them to develop terms of a proposed deal that our members will ultimately decide on,” said Khelsilem.

Khelsilem says they’re exploring options for Squamish members to rent within the development.

“It’s too early to say, but we do envision building a comprehensive, complete community that would include a range of housing types, along with public amenities.”

There is an eagle’s nest at the proposed housing site. First Nations Drum asked Khelsilem about Squamish traditional protocols when moving an eagle’s nest. “We’re aware of a few eagles in the area, though it’s unclear at this time whether their nests are on our lands or the adjacent lands,” said Khelsilem. “An environmental assessment will be done before any work begins on the site.”

The income generated by this significant project will be used to fund much-needed social, health, housing and education programs for Squamish members, according to Khelsilem, who said his people are in a “housing crisis as a Nation.” “We’re going to ensure that a lot of this revenue goes towards affordable and social housing options for our members.”

Khelsilem says now is an incredibly exciting time for the Squamish Nation. “The Squamish Nation prides itself in not waiting for the government to do this for us. We’ll do it on our own. For our people, this is overdue,” said Khelsilem. “They’re wanting us to…create wealth and return it to our community.”

Learn more about the history of our lands at IndigenousFoundations.Arts.ubc.ca/Mapping_Tool_Kitsilano_Reserve/

UBC Pre-med Workshops Taking Applicants

Staff/Faculty Members with Indigenous MD Graduates, Class of 2018

One eight-word phrase that no person likes hearing is, “You should really see a doctor about that.” But when we do hear it, we’re thankful there are medical professionals to help us. Young Indigenous people interested in becoming a doctor should mark their calendar for July 24-26. This is when the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will hold its 16th Annual Indigenous MD Pre-Admissions Workshop.

One eight-word phrase that no person likes hearing is, “You should really see a doctor about that.” But when we do hear it, we’re thankful there are medical professionals to help us. Young Indigenous people interested in becoming a doctor should mark their calendar for July 24-26. This is when the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will hold its 16th Annual Indigenous MD Pre-Admissions Workshop.

James Andrew is the UBC MD undergraduate admissions coordinator. He spoke with First Nations Drum about how the workshop evolved the last 16 years. “When we first started out, we delivered our pre-admissions workshop only at the UBC campus in Vancouver. We now deliver the workshop at each of our program sites every other year,” said Andrew. “For example, last summer’s workshop was held at our Island Medical Program site in Victoria. Next year’s workshop will be at the Southern Medical Program in Kelowna.”

Since the workshop began, Andrew said they are noticing that many med students who attended as pre-med students are participating as chaperons and role models for workshop participants. On workshop focus points, Andrew said, “Students get a preview of the medical school curriculum and visit the multi-purpose lab like medical school students. They also try to help solve a case in a case-based learning session like the real medical students experience.”

First Nations Drum asked Andrew if there’s been a high level of interest by high school students and if these students followed-up and continued on their path to working in the medical field? “Yes, definitely. When we first started our workshop in 2004, we were only targeting the Indigenous post-secondary students. As time went on, we noticed several high school students showing interest in attending,” said Andrew. “In 2010, we decided to open up four spots for high school students completing Grades 11 and 12.”

The workshop takes place at the Vancouver Fraser Medical Program at the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey Campus, Vancouver BC. The purpose of the workshop is to provide Indigenous students with the necessary tools to be successful in their application process into and then completing the undergraduate MD program. Workshop presentations will be given by Indigenous and non-Indigenous physicians, medical students, residents, university staff, and faculty members.

Indigenous Students completing Grades 11 and 12 or attending college or university in BC are encouraged to register. There is no cost to attend, and accommodations and some meals will be provided. Travel to and from the workshop is the student’s responsibility.

Quotes from previous workshop participants:

“I enjoyed myself at UNBC; everyone involved in putting the pre-med workshop did an excellent job. See you in three years.”

“I am going to be a doctor!” – One of the program’s first graduating students from 2008 who is now a family physician in Northern Alberta.

“This was a life changing experience for me. You all helped me to feel proud, hopeful, and most importantly, wanted by the program and UBC. The respect and love I experienced from everyone was truly moving. I hope to do you all proud and bring honour to my family and the Métis Nation. Thank you.” – Class of 2009 student who is now an ear-nose-throat specialist.

Participants will meet current Indigenous medical students and practicing Indigenous physicians.

Program space is limited. Apply ASAP. Registration deadline is Friday June 21.

Water Protector Continues Working, Representing Her Generation

Autumn Peltier
Autumn Peltier by Linda Roy of Ireva photography

March 22 is designated as World Water Day – an annual UN observance day highlighting the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources with sponsored events around the world.

Here in Canada, the Water Docs Film Festival organization in Toronto honoured 14-year-old Autumn Peltier with the Water Docs 2019 World Water Warrior Award for her continued work in world water issues.

Autumn is a young lady from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and is Canada’s youngest water activist. She has been raising awareness of water issues, participating in sacred water walks, and spoken at more than 200 different events while travelling around the world.

When Autumn addressed the United Nations on World Water Day 2018, she told international leaders to, “warrior up.” In her Water Doc Festival acceptance speech, Autumn said that she doesn’t do her water protection work to get award recognition.

“We do this because our water needs us now. Everything needs water,” said Autumn. “Our work will continue, as everyone, every child, every plant, every insect, and every animal deserves clean drinking water.”

First Nations Drum asked Autumn what she’s been doing since we interviewed her in September 2017. At that time she was in the running for the International Children’s Peace Prize, where she was among the top three. “I spent my World Water Day at home. I have been so busy and I’m still grieving the passing of my auntie Josephine Mandamin,” said Autumn. “I needed to spend my day doing what I needed to do for myself and remember my auntie, why I started advocating, and how I will proceed.”

She said that the state of our water in Canada and around the globe is in a crisis. As of April 2016, there were 78 long-term drinking water advisories affecting First Nations public water systems. As of July 2018, 34 (44 percent) of these long-term drinking water advisories were removed. The greatest number of advisories (11) was lifted in February 2018.

Drinking water advisories are public health protection notifications about real or potential health risks related to drinking water. Autumn says that when one “boil water advisory” is resolved, another one pops up. “Our water ain’t getting any better,” said Autumn. “Politicians can actually put things into action; no more talking and no more promises. What are you doing? What will you do to help the state of our water?”

I asked Autumn if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has lived up to his promise when he told her, “I understand that and I will protect the water.” She said that her faith in the Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership is not good right now. “He bought a pipeline and approved it. My people are suffering in BC, and the waters are at risk,” said Autumn. “I know things take time, but our people have had boil water advisories longer than I’ve been alive, and that should not be.”

Autumn said she’ll continue to advocate for the protection of water but while this is important, schools is even more essential. “I’m in grade nine and it’s really hard to keep up with my studies, and sometimes it’s hard to travel. I don’t like missing school,” explained Autumn.

Stephanie Peltier is Autumn’s mother and she says her hopes for Autumn as a water protector is that her daughter makes a difference in people’s thinking about water’s Sacredness and the seriousness of climate change.  

“Also that she inspires more youth to think seriously about their future and the future of drinkable water around the globe,” said Peltier. “Autumn being at a young age still, my hopes is that her dreams come true to become a lawyer so she can fight for her peoples’ Human Rights and the lands and the waters, and for all the experience she is gaining at a young age to keep her on a good path.”

I asked Peltier if teens and friends of Autumn understand the important job her daughter is doing. “I believe teens are now learning and using their voices to create change. Autumn gets mail and messages from others her age,” said Pelter. “My advice is not just as a mother to a water protector, it’s as a parent of a child that had questions. When your child asks questions, answer as best as you can, listen to the concerns and refer them to people who know more than yourself. Always encourage your child and support them as much as you can because we only have one chance to make a difference in our child’s lives.”

Some quick facts: Canada ranks as one of the top consumers of water. Eleven liters (three gallons) run from the average tap per minute.

Autumn Peltier

Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up

Jade Tootoosis
Jade Tootoosis in one of many rallies that sparked outrage throughout Canada
The late Colten Boushie
The late Colten Boushie

August 9, 2016, was a hot summer afternoon. Colten Boushie, a young Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation, spent the day swimming with friends. On the drive back home their car got a flat tire so the group decided to walk to a farmer’s home to get some help. What transpired was truly shocking. After they entered Gerald Stanley’s rural property, Boushie would die from a gunshot to the back of his head.

Last year’s acquittal of Stanley by an all-white jury captured international attention. The verdict raised questions about racism embedded within Canada’s legal system and propelled Colten’s family on to the national and international stages in their pursuit of Justice.

The latest documentary sensitively directed by Tasha Hubbard is Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up. The film weaves a profound narrative. It encompasses the filmmaker’s own adoption, the stark history of colonialism on the prairies, and a transformative vision of a future where Indigenous children can live safely on their homeland.

Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up has been chosen to open the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on April 25. The film follows the Boushie family, their lawyers, and others as they seek Justice to this senseless act that caused national and international outrage directed against the Canadian justice system.

The documentary shows Colten’s sister, Jade Tootoosis, addressing the United Nations. In her April 2018 speech, Jade recommended that the UN Special Rapporteur – an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme – undertake a study on the systemic racism and discrimination on Indigenous people within the juridical and legal systems in Canada. Jade received a huge ovation after delivering her speech.

“This study must produce recommendations to insure the protection of Indigenous families who utilize the judicial and legal system. This will advance our calls on the Canadian government to establish a royal commission on the elimination of racism in the justice system,” said Jade.

Colten’s mother, Debbie Baptise said that she was waiting for her son to come home the evening of her son’s death, when RCMP showed-up at her home.

“I had put Colten’s supper in the microwave, and was waiting for him to get home, when my son told me, look at all those cars coming,” said Baptise. “The cops burst into my home and told me, what’s Colton Bouchie to you?”

Debbie told the police that Colten was her son, upon which they abruptly told her that her son was deceased.

“I was in shock, then the cops held my hands to my back and told me if I had been drinking.”

This was the treatment the RCMP showed on a night when a  mother received devastating news that her son had just been killed.

Eleanore Sunchild is one of the Boushie family’s attorneys. The film includes the press conference where Sunchild said that the acquittal sent a message that it’s open season on Indigenous people followed by her calling out a biased judicial system. “But it’s not open season on our people; the whole process was stacked against the Boushie family from the beginning,” added Sunchild.

Sheldon Wuttunee is former chief of the Red Pheasant First Nation. Just before Gerald Stanley’s 2017 second degree murder trial, he told reporters that there was still a little inkling of faith in the legal system.

“I don’t know if ‘justice system’ is the proper term, but when we can use excuses in today’s society as an engine revving, and a vehicle driving into my yard, someone hopping onto my quad, to chasing them [Boushie’s friends] and smashing their windows [referring to Stanley smashing Boushies vehicle windows], kicking their tail-lights, shooting them [again, referring to Stanley shooting], then we’re in a very troubled place,” said Wuttunee.

Wuttunee cites long-standing animosity and racism between whites and indigenous as the root of the problem. “This racism has been around us for many, many generations, this is not strange to us. It is the non-native narrative that usually wins, and that’s got to change,” said Wuttunee.

The film’s opening at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival will make history when it becomes the first film by an Indigenous filmmaker to open Hot Docs and the first National Film Board (NFB), work to open the festival since its inaugural year. The largest documentary festival in North America, it runs through May 5.

The documentary is a Downstream/ NFB production. The NFB will be rolling out the film via festival, theatrical, and community screenings over the course of this year. CBC will broadcast Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up in the fall. First Nations Drum will publish a review of Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up in the April 2019 issue.

Nicole Robertson Reflects on Her Role in the Media

Donald Trump is known for dishing it out, but not too many people who are willing to challenge him back. Especially to his face. Nicole Robertson (above) heard Trump toss off a racial slur before a press conference in Bismark North Dakota in July of 2016. Trump, then on his presidential campaign referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” to that, Robertson, who was one of the journalist at the press conference, called him out and shouted, “Offensive.” To which Trump replied, “sorry.”

Women across the globe will be honored for their accomplishments and achievements on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, with the theme, #balanceforbetter.

One such First Nations woman who’s inspired her generation and future generations is Nicole Robertson. Nicole is a Media Specialist and President of Muskwa Productions & Consulting. Muskwa Productions brings 18 years of experience in the media.

She specializes in media relations, training and video production. Her business services also include educational and commercial videos.

Nicole is the youngest of her two siblings and is from from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba.

First Nations Drum talked with Nicole and discussed her role in the media.

When did you start Muskwa Productions, and what gave you the idea to start your business?

“Muskwa Productions which is now Muskwa Media turned into an idea when I was working as a journalist in television, radio and print. In those 10 years, what happened is, I realized a lot of our First Nations people were in a place where they did not know the full story and the media was painting a picture that wasn’t basically the truth for First Nations in this country. A lot of the news coverage was based on stereotypes and based on the negativity and not based on the reality. I was trying to change the narrative. Also you have to realize this was pre smart phones, the internet, and social media. I have a passion to educate Canadians and the world about who we are as Indigenous people and essentially improve communications with our neighbours in our own country and abroad.”

What are the main challenges you face with your business?

“I know that people hire me for me, so I am a brand in itself. I realize that trying to take on too much is not a good thing, because I just do not have enough time because I am a single mom. I have a daughter and I need to have a balance. I don’t want to miss important milestones in my child’s life and at the same time I don’t want to miss on major events and news in Indian country that the Indigenous community wants me to help share in the media, so it’s a very delicate balance. Of course my daughter is my main priority, so yeah there is challenges.”

So far in your career, what are some of the achievements that stand out?

“I would say, being recognized by my peers who nominated me for Alberta Chambers of Commerce in 2018 and I won the Indigenous Entrepreneur Woman of Distinction. Also working with the youth, inspiring them and at the same time they inspire me. Having the opportunity and the honour in speaking at different events across the country. Of course another huge inspiration is my own daughter, and being told by her that I am one of her role models.”

How has the business landscape changed since you began your business?

“The Internet, smart phones, and social media. I remember owning the very first blackberry, long story short, I am so glad technology has improved because when you look at the media, a lot of what we do is based on technology. Another change is the willingness of our people to speak out is a big change. Before there was a reluctancy for many First Nations and leadership to open up to the media, now it’s reversed to consistently share our stories, so that is something that has changed massively.”

What are your thoughts on current Liberal MLA, Jody Wilson-Raybould controversy?

“I would say I am on team Jody, she is one of the woman I look up to.  Jody has been, I would say, thrown under the bus by her own party. She is a woman of integrity, I’ve known her when she was the regional chief of British Columbia and she’s paid her dues and has been working in this area for many years. She basis her integrity on her indigenous roots and speaking the truth and I think people will know a lot more about that integrity in the future.”

Your advice for Indigenous women who want to own their own business?

“You must do your research and follow what you’re passionate about, first and foremost. Because if you’re doing what you’re passionate about, then what you’re doing doesn’t really feel like work.  It is something you wake up to every morning and say, “wow, I’m humbled and I enjoy what I’m going to be doing today.” So it is important to know your gifts and how you’re going to share this with the world.”

Nicole added to end our interview that she wanted to mention that on the day of this interview, Thursday, February 21, 2019, that she  shared a picture on social media, about her longtime friend, Jennifer Podemski.

“She has been a friend of mine for the past 25 years and this is the first year that she is not going to be directing the Indspire Awards.  We have come such a long way as Indigenous women in media and television and film, and I realized we are paving the way for the younger generation, and it’s important for me to have that legacy and respect.”

Osoyoos Chief to be Inducted into Business Hall of Fame

Clarence Louie, Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band will be inducted into the 2019 Canadian Business Hall of Fame on June 19, 2019. Mr. David Denison, Chancellor of the Order of the Business Hall of Fame says the 2019 Class of Companion Inductees is a very special group which recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of Canada’s most distinguished business leaders.

“The Canadian Business Hall of Fame is honoured to recognize their enduring contributions to the business community and our country,” said Denison.  “We will have the great privilege of highlighting their excellence in business leadership, outstanding professional achievements and dedication to bettering Canada’s social fabric.”

Clarence Louie, the first Indigenous person inducted into the Business Hall of Fame was born in 1960 and raised on the Osoyoos Indian Band by his mother. Due to high unemployment, many adults on his First Nation community had to work as transient labourers on fruit orchards in nearby Washington State. Louie was forced to be self-sufficient during his childhood years. At age 19, he left BC and enrolled at the First Nations University in Regina. He then completed native studies at the University of Lethbridge. After receiving his degree, he returned to home to Osoyoos.

At 24 years of age, Louie was elected as chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Louie has won every election but one since 1985. The band has 540 members, and controls 32,000 acres of land. He started the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation (OIBDC) in 1988. Through the corporation’s efforts, the previously impoverished band started or acquired nine businesses, including tourism, construction, and recreation companies. The band now employs 700 people including non-First Nations. A high-profile business started by the OIBDC during Louie’s tenure is Nk’Mip Cellars, the first aboriginal-owned winery in North America.

First Nations Drum had the chance to speak with Clarence Louie and discuss his induction into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

When did your interest in business start?

“I guess when I was first elected chief back in December of 1984 because you quickly realize in order to create self sustaining jobs on the reserve you have to be in business affairs, there aren’t enough jobs in the band office for every band member; and the biggest employer should not be the band office. The only way to create jobs is to get involved in economic development and business.”

One of your main goals was to hire band members, was this difficult, and how did you go about getting members trained and qualified for their positions?

“Well any band’s main goal is to employ band members, of course you can’t always do that, because you need experienced people and you need to hire qualified people for those jobs whether that be in finance or any position. I know many First Nations who hire white people or whoever because you need people to keep the ship running. This is why you need to set aside money for training, and the money that comes from Indian Affairs for Education is never enough, so you have to create your own revenue to cover and employment & training. Leasing revenue pays for everything around here at Osoyoos Indian Band. Not all band members want to work for their band, so you have to hire non-band members, and it’s no different here at Osoyoos. Every band has some capacity building to do, so we set aside money to send band members to go get their education and training, whether it’s in Canada or the U.S., so they have an opportunity to manage some of our businesses.”

You are the first Indigenous business person to be inducted into the Canadian business Hall of Fame, what are your thoughts?

“Well again I’m not the original entrepreneur here, as elected chief, I don’t own any of these companies here in Osoyoos. So I find it strange that I’m being singled out, because I didn’t put any of my money in these companies, they’re owned by the band, so it should be the band recognition because this was a team effort, not only one person. I played a role in Osoyoos accomplishments and success, but there’s council, and band members that have to agree in the business ventures and land leases, so it’s a recognition for the Osoyoos Indian Band.”

What are some of the achievements that stand out?

“Well all the jobs we’ve created. We now have more jobs than we do band members. Every First Nation can’t say they’re independent if they can’t create their own money, it’s a simple reality. If your money comes from Indian Affairs, then you’re a dependent First Nation, if the biggest employer on the First Nation is the band office, then that’s wrong. You can’t be independent if you don’t create your own revenue.”

You have been elected chief of the Osoyoos since you were 24 years old, how has the business landscape changed for you, since 1984?

“No, I ran for chief 17 times and  been elected 16 times since 1984. Well of course I’ve learned  a lot, I have a lot more business contacts, experience. We’ve done some stupid things, and we learn from those mistakes. When I was first elected, we only had 2 council members and now we have 5 council members and a Chief, plus our population has grown. We have more mouths to feed, more demands, therefore we have to make more money and create more jobs.”

It seems you started from scratch to your current business and investments (including a vineyard and winery, a four-star resort, and a 9-hole golf course) what were the main challenges you faced?

“Well it always boils down to money and that is the main obstacle.  We need money to seek out good advisors to create proposals and grant money. We also needed to change our mindset that we can’t always depend on Indian Affairs for money and we have to start creating our own economy and become more business minded and we need better finance people, number crunchers, better business minded individuals, and hire business advisors. We need to move forward and get on our economic horse.”

The welfare rate on First Nations in Canada is quite high, what is the rate, if any on Osoyoos Indian Band?

“In every community you have people on welfare, some have good reason, cause of their health, or maybe a disability, single mothers raising children and of course we have our group of ‘lazy ones,’ I think every community has their ‘lazy ones. 80 per cent of my people or more are employed compared to many First Nations that have 50 per cent of their people unemployed. We have a membership of 540, but like every band, not all our members live on our First Nation, we have members scattered throughout the U.S. and Canada, but the majority live on the reserve, and we’ve had members move back to Osoyoos because of the opportunity of jobs. But we have more jobs then we do have band members. Is everybody working, ‘no.’”

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders are saying they have authority over the territory and the elected band councils have authority over the band reserve, would you like to comment on this issue?

“We don’t have hereditary chiefs in the Okanagan First Nations, so we don’t have to deal with this issue here, but all people on our reserve still have a say on decisions that are important to Osoyoos. My understanding is the First Nation is owned collectively not individually.

What are your thoughts on current Liberal MLA, Jody Wilson-Raybould controversy?

“I have too many other issues to deal with on my reserve, that’s a national issue, we have a national chief, and of course you have your provincial AFN (Assembly of First Nations) chief, and Union of BC Chiefs, so we elect them them and they get paid to keep their focus and eyes and ears on national issues.”

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.