Posts By: Kelly Many Guns

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 NativeVeterans-en.e-monsite.com.

 

Williams Lake Singer Set to Perform At Orange Shirt Event


Sandy Carifelle, will perform songs from his Stand up Proud CD on September 30th in Williams Lake B.C. in support of Residential School Survivors

Country-Rock singer Sandy Carifelle is set to perform songs from his Stand-up Proud CD on September 30 as part of the 2019 Orange Shirt Day events in Williams Lake BC. Orange Shirt Day recognizes residential school victims and survivors. He wrote the CD title’s cover song by the same name about five years ago, but didn’t record it until 2018.

“The lyrics tell of how the kids were taken away from their parents and homes to attend residential schools, and how they couldn’t speak, sing or dance to their culture,” says Carifelle, who was raised on the Peavine Metis Settlement in Northern Alberta and now lives at Williams Lake. “As strong as we are as First Peoples, we still stand up proud no matter what – something our people are known for.”

Carifelle’s father was a residential school survivor. His experience served as motivation for his son to write the song in tribute to all residential school survivors. “Because of his experience in residential schools, my father couldn’t show us affection and never told us he loved us unless he was under the influence,” says Carifelle. “He never did bad things to us, and I don’t recall ever getting a spanking from him.”

Orange Shirt Day was created by Williams Lake BC-native Phyllis Jack Webstad, who was wearing an orange T-shirt the day she was stolen by the government and force-relocated to a residential school. Nuns took
away her orange T-shirt upon her arrival. Hence, Orange Shirt Day.

September 30 is chosen as the date for the annual event because it represents the time of year when Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes and relocated to residential schools.

The show will be recorded and aired on Canadian Geographic TV Channel at a later date.

Burns Lake up next to Enter Indigenous Cannabis Market

BC Bud Set for Sale in 2020

Burns Lake-based Nations Cannabis is set to become the first Indigenous band in British Columbia to operate a licensed Cannabis growing facility. A leader in the Indigenous cannabis business, Nations Cannabis is currently going through the late-stage federal licensing process. Their goal is to be fully approved, operational, growing and marketing its product as early as possible in 2020.

Former Burns Lake First Nation Chief and Municipal Councillor Wesley Sam is a company founder and executive co- chair of the fully Indigenous-controlled production company. “We started the application process to acquire a standard cultivation license through Health Canada last August, through the Navigator program – which guides all applicants,” said Sam. “We are a late-stage applicant. We recently received word that a high-level review of the application has been completed. That’s a positive sign, indicating the application is moving through the process as planned and there are no areas of concern.

Sam insisted that the company be based in Burns Lake to ensure that the company was developed through an Indigenous-lens, which encompasses more than simply growing cannabis. The Indigenous-lens philosophy means ensuring the local economy and Indigenous people in the region benefit from a social and economic standpoint. Nations Cannabis will provide jobs with wages necessary to support a family, return 5 percent of earnings to meaningful social and economic impacts for local communities and Indigenous populations, and develop health and education partnerships with lasting benefits. Operating through an Indigenous lens also means not going public.

Sam says that full-time employees are still needed in Horticulture and Plant Maintenance; Facility Maintenance; Finishing and Packaging; HVAC and Mechanical; Agricultural Pest Management; Business Administration and IT; Quality Assurance and Control; and Security and Storage. These positions are in addition to the employment opportunities associated with construction and the re-purposing of the Burns Lake Specialty Wood Building that has sat empty for years. Phase I should see up to 50 hires within the first year.

Once construction of the cultivation facility has been completed, Nations will move into the next stage of the process, which involves providing an “Evidence Package” demonstrating the building and appropriate security systems meet mandated requirements. The next stage involves growing product for the purpose of providing samples to Health Canada – Evidence Control – to ensure they meet all required guidelines and standards. It is at that point that a license would be granted. And of course, once a license is granted, there is an ongoing monitoring and inspection process.

Burns Lake is a northern interior community with a population of approximately 2,000 people located at the junction of Highways 35 and 36, which carries thousands of people to the town for shopping, banking and other needs. Six local First Nations call the region home – Burns Lake; Cheslatta Carrier; Lake Babine; Nee Tahi Buhn; Skin Tyee; and Wet’suwet’en). The cultivation facility is not on reserve land but is on First Nations land owned by the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation, which has six directors, one from each local First Nation band.

The community’s proud tradition and history has been put to the test by the downturn in the forest industry, which has been the lifeblood of the region for many years. This makes the development of Nations Cannabis more important because of the role it can play in providing jobs with wages suitable to support a family.

Sam says that Burns Lake fully backs Nations Cannabis. “We have consulted with and have received the support of Burns Lake and the Regional District, and are meeting zoning requirements and obtaining building permits,” says Sam. “We have consulted with neighbours who are near the cultivation facility, hosted a community meet and greet in April, and continue to reach out to groups and organizations in the region. We also have the support of the local First Nations [all of which own shares in Nations] and support of the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation.”

Cannabis Cultivation Facility in Burns Lake

Sam and his business colleagues attended the recent Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Cannabis Summit in Vancouver. First Nations Drum asked Sam to share feedback his team received from other First Nation leaders and business operators.

“I believe First Nations want to be a part of this industry because they can see some possibilities for addressing issues like employment and poverty through this form of economic development,” says Sam. “But they also understand there are significant hurdles they need to overcome to get there, including a long and extensive application process, the need for capital, and a solid business plan.”

On a national level, there are currently three First Nations in the cannabis-growing business. This includes the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who, in 2018, retrofitted an 84,000 sq. ft. former bottling plant located on their land and began producing medical and recreational weed.

Akwesasne’s cannabis business is 100 percent band owned and has 75 employees. Business has been good and the band plans to expand to a 100,000 sq. ft. facility in the near future. Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), located next to The Pas in Manitoba, is another First Nation community that’s gotten into the weed business. They partnered with National Access Cannabis (NAC), in a 51/49 company ownership split. OCN and NAC focus on the recreational segment of the business and sell their products in NAC’s Meta Cannabis Supply Co. stores. They recently opened a dispensary in the OCN providing jobs for 12 Opaskwayak. The Siksika Nation in Southern Alberta hold Canada’s second largest reserve in land mass. Siksika’s goal is for 100 percent ownership.

Some people believe that cannabis use leads to hard and addicting drugs. First Nations Drum asked Sam if Nations Cannabis has programs in place to teach the positive health aspects of cannabis and also address addictions issues. Sam said that Nations Cannabis’ goal is to do more than simply grow cannabis and addressing the question of addiction is part of their mission. “We will be returning 5 percent of earnings to provide meaningful social and economic impacts for local communities and Indigenous populations,” says Sam. “That will include health and educational partnerships with Carrier Sekani Family Services and First Nations Health Authority [in-progress]. Education, as it pertains to cannabis and addiction issues, will be a focal point. We are also establishing a Memorandum of Understanding to pursue education and Cannabis Cultivation Facility in Burns Lake
research opportunities with the University of Northern BC, and this may also be an area of collaboration.”

Wesley Sam | Nations Company Founder and Executive Co-Chair.

Sam says that on a broader level, they feel Nations Cannabis can play an important role in providing natural alternative treatments to serious health issues and conditions that are prevalent in many Indigenous communities, not the least of which is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “We are keenly interested to further understand the potential health benefits of Cannabis and in any research Health Canada undertakes that may show the benefits of cannabis in treating other ailments and conditions,” says Sam. “We will be taking direction from Health Canada on medically approved treatments based on their approved research findings.”

The Indigenous perspective, says Sam, is to recognize that people are dying every day from opioids and First Nations have a duty to explore alternatives. “While not a solution to the systemic problems of health among Indigenous Peoples, Nations Cannabis can be part of the solution for treating and advocating for its People,” says Sam. “We feel Nations Cannabis will provide a strong return on investment and have all the building blocks in place to be successful, and in doing so, create some tangible and positive benefits for Indigenous Peoples in the community and region.”

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.