Posts By: Kelly Many Guns

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.

 

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.

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

Children watching a film on a screen made of snow.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hemp plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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