Posts By: Kelly O'Connor

Indigenous Fashion Week

The first annual Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) presents the most distinct and progressive Indigenous artists working in fashion, textiles and craft May 31 – June 3, 2018 at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, Ontario. Featuring four exciting runway showcases and a curated exhibition, IFWTO also offers panels and lectures, as well as hands-on workshops and a marketplace.

Founded by innovative Dene artist/designer Sage Paul, Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto is committed to the advancement and empowerment of Indigenous artists and designers. The marketplace includes works by 75% Indigenous women artists among 40 vendors offering fashion, food, cosmetics, lifestyle, craft, textiles and more from Canada, the US and Greenland, with a spotlight on the far north.

In multi-day, hands-on workshops, participants will learn about Indigo Dyeing (Tuscarora Nation), Black Walnut Dyeing (Tuscarora Nation), Navajo Rug Weaving, and Beading for Beginners (Dene Nation).

The IFWTO panelists and lecturers include Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, designers, and industry academics and leaders sharing knowledge about Indigenous Dyes & Fibres, Storytelling & Symbolism in Textiles & Design, Cultural (In)Appropriation, Indigenous Entrepreneurship and Indigenous Fashion Futurisms.

“Indigenous fashion can redefine mainstream fashion and art: our fashion illustrates our stories, traditions, sovereignty and resiliency,” says Sage Paul, Artistic Director. “IFWTO is about carving out space for Indigenous fashion, craft and textiles and we are thrilled to be presenting Indigenous artists and their works from across Canada, the USA and Greenland this Spring.”

Four live runway shows inspired by traditional seasons of the moon showcase stylish men’s and women’s wear, street wear, avant-garde, traditional regalia, jewelery and craft from  23 Indigenous artists and designers.

The line-up of artists and designers at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto include: evening-wear designer Lesley Hampton; beader and accessory designer Helen Oro; haute couture fashion designer Sho Sho Esquiro, known for her mix of fabric, furs, skins, shells and beadwork; and Dorothy Grant, who combines Haida art with classic clothing design.

The New Moon show (Thursday, May 31) recognizes Spring and birth in new work and emerging artists: Lesley Hampton, Evan Ducharme, Warren Steven Scott, Janelle Wawia, Sugiit Lukx Designs (Yolanda Skelton), and Meghann O’Brien.

The Berry Moon (Friday, June 1) celebrates summer and powwow season with traditionally inspired work and regalia of the future: Catherine Blackburn, Mi’kmaq Design (Ingrid Brooks), Helen Oro Designs, Niio Perkins Designs, Timeless Shadows Apparel (Tracey Heese), and Injunuity (Cheryl & Carissa Copenace).

On Saturday, June 2, the theme is Harvest Moon, a time of year to gather and prepare for the winter months. The runway presents an intergenerational honouring of matriarchs, with designs that recognize the vitality of stories and teachings passed through generations, featuring works from Dorothy Grant, Delina White, Artifaax (Denise Brillon), and The Chinimiwin Collective.

With Frost Moon enters the winter months on Sunday, June 3 in a showcase of Inuk street style from Nunavut and Greenland and high Dene fashion featuring seal fur, vibrant colour and bone from Nuuk Couture, Sho Sho Esquiro, Hinaani Design, Victoria Kakuktinniq, Tania Larsson, and Crystal Worl.

Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto celebrates the beauty and vitality of contemporary Indigenous expression and its connection to Indigenous knowledge and ways of life. Led by Indigenous women, IFWTO is offering audiences an authentic, accessible opportunity to connect with Indigenous artists and celebrate cultural expression. “Our community is bursting at the seams with new works in fashion, craft and textiles, and we are proud to be recognizing their artistry at the first Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto,” says Sage Paul, Artistic Director. “This year’s program of artists and designers represent the diversity of design, expression, and tradition from nations across North America and Greenland.”


Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto launches May 31 – June 3, 2018 at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West). Ticket Sales and Workshop Registration open April 1, 2018. Visit []

Follow IFWToronto on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram for more details.


Going Home Star: A Heartrending Tribute to Residential School Survivors

The Canadian residential school system operated on a federally sanctioned policy aimed at eradicating First Nations culture. That is the truth. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of Going Home Star, commissioned with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), is part of reconciliation.

Founded in 1939, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Canada’s premier ballet company, under the artistic direction of André Lewis for more than fifteen years. Over a decade ago, Going Home Star was first envisioned by the late Cree elder and activist Mary Richard and André Lewis. Multi-talented Tina Keeper (Cree activist, producer, actress, TRC Honorary Witness, and former MP) later joined as associate producer and soon the company assembled a remarkable team of some of Canada’s top artistic talents, including Giller Prize-winning Canadian author Joseph Boyden, acclaimed choreographer Mark Godden, and Juno Award-winning composer Christos Hatzis.

As a profession, ballet is a relatively exclusive and particular calling. “It is a little bit ironic,” Joseph Boyden admits. “We are taking a very European form and introducing it to a First Nations experience.” The company was aware from the outset that they were taking on a sensitive subject and took measures to collaborate with First Nations in meaningful and imaginative ways. “It was a risky project,” Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told the Toronto Star, “but I knew something magical could happen, and it did.”

Going Home Star began its nationwide tour this January in Ottawa, concluding with the Vancouver premier April 7-9. Lewis feels this production is his best work since The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (a production Elder Mary Richard loved). He also recognizes the subject matter is difficult, but extremely important. “This chapter in Canadian history needs to be a dialogue in schools,” he said.

RWB Company dancers in Going Home Star, 2014; Photo by Samanta Katz

RWB Company dancers in Going Home Star, 2014; Photo by Samanta Katz


“We feel immensely honoured to have been entrusted with this story and to use the ethereal beauty of ballet to further an imperative dialogue around truth and reconciliation,” says Lewis. “Born from a collaboration between some of Canada’s finest creative minds, it is a gorgeously raw, exquisitely honest work whose artistry and message will resonate in the hearts of all Canadians.”

Going Home Star tells the story of Annie, a young First Nations woman adrift in a modern lifestyle of excess until she meets Gordon, a trickster disguised as a homeless man. Scenes shift through time in an otherworldly realm as Annie and Gordon travel the roads of their ancestors, rife with injustice and abuse. They walk together through the past and into the future, helping one another carry the weight of that legacy.

Mark Godden’s choreography is not a “tutu and tiara” ballet. The dance style is contemporary and emphatic, with expressive movements that communicate powerfully raw emotion as well as tender vulnerability. Joseph Boyden says, “Ballet cuts right to the heart of what’s most beautiful physically in humanity and what’s most beautiful in story.” An original score by Christos Hatzis provides a richly-layered soundscape that incorporates spoken word and the voices of Steve Wood and his Northern Cree Singers, along with Polaris Prize-winning Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq and the occasional echoes of classical works (Rite of Spring, Swan Lake, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet).

RWB Company dancers Sophia Lee and Liang Xing in Going Home Star, 2014 performance. Photo by Samanta Katz

RWB Company dancers Sophia Lee and Liang Xing in Going Home Star, 2014 performance. Photo by Samanta Katz


The heart of the ballet is cradled in the teachings of the four directions. Annie is South (red), a fiery young urban hairdresser who spends her downtime doing everything her mother warned her against, living fast and going nowhere. Her new found friend Gordon is North (white), a man of winter living hand to mouth on the streets, scooped by social workers as a child and toughened by a life in foster care. Gordon remembers his grandmother’s stories of Nanabush the trickster, and it is Gordon who holds the key to Annie’s awakening.

Niska is West (black), a young woman imprisoned in residential school. Their goal is to break her, but she will not be broken. She comes from a family of healers; her strength is in the earth and the grounding rhythm of the drum. Memories of her family keep her going. Charlie is East (yellow), a child suffering and desperate to find a way home. In Niska, he has a friend and ally, a light in a dark and lonely place. It is significant that the children knew to find the north star, Lewis explains. It’s a small but meaningful detail, knowledge likely to have been shared by their parents, not something they would have learned in the school. “When they escaped from the school, that was the way home.”

Theodore Fontaine, former chief of the Sagkeeng Ojibway First Nation in Manitoba, wrote of his own residential school experiences in a memoir, Broken Circle. He attended the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School for ten years (1948-58) and the Assiniboia Indian Residential School from 1958 to 1960. André Lewis shared that Mr. Fontaine had seen the ballet and felt Going Home Star has helped in his own healing and that it was a positive experience to see this performance.

Thelma Musqua also attended residential school in Manitoba. She spoke at a reconciliation event in Nipawin, Saskatchewan and shared her story in the Nipawin Journal. “My life was turned upside down,” she said. “There were things I believed in that I had to let go. What your parents taught you was demon worship.” Each child at the school was assigned a number and learned how to work. “It was not education at all,” Musqua said.

Her description of the school itself illuminates the metaphor of the schoolhouse on Gordon’s back in Going Home Star. Musqua recalls the cement building was a physically and emotionally cold place. “You had to forget about feeling, loving, forgiving. The sadness, the pain. It was a very cold environment.” Before going to the school, she remembers a warm and safe place with no violence. “We knew when we could play and when we had to sit still. We would always listen. It was very beautiful.”

By the time Thelma Musqua left the school, everything changed. “I had a broken spirit,” she says. “I knew how to work, that was it. I was so ashamed of who I was.” Going to ceremonies and listening to the community elders helped her navigate. She went to a university and became a social worker, but her siblings, who also attended residential schools, were less able to cope. “I leave the past in the past but I never forget,” she said.

The story of Going Home Star isn’t just about the characters onstage. “This is a story of Canada,” says Joseph Boyden. “This is one of our stories that we have for years and decades and centuries refused to face as a nation.” He explains, “For almost 100 years Aboriginal peoples were not allowed to practice their own dance, to speak their own language, to practice their own religions.” Now people are beginning to realize “we not only have to face this story as a nation, but we need to.”

Present History by Candace Curr with a letter to survivors.

Present History by Candace Curr with a letter to the children of residential schools.

RWB Company dancers in Going Home Star, 2014; Photo by Samanta Katz

RWB Company dancers in Going Home Star, 2014; Photo by Samanta Katz


I am personally grateful to have attended the premiere of Going Home Star during its tour in Coast Salish Territory. The lobby of Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver was bustling with activity before the performance. Everywhere you looked, people were engaged. There were information booths and displays of art and carvings. Smudging took place on the patio outside. There was also a lovely little tree decorated with paper stars bearing messages of hope and reconciliation, some written in the languages of the people. Health care workers were also on hand if anyone felt “triggered” by the performance and needed support—an unusual service, but a uniquely compassionate gesture.

The buzz of activity settled only when Tsatsu Stalqayu Coastal Wolf Pack arrived with drums and song, focusing attention and spirit before the ballet began. It was uplifting to hear their singing and drumming again when the performance was over. I turned to exit the aisle and noticed the entire row of people behind me was still wiping away tears from their faces—a humbling, yet comforting, experience of shared emotion.

Watch highlights of Going Home Star online [].


Tree of Stars

Tree of Stars

Coastal First Nations Dance Festival Shares Diverse Performance Arts Of Pacific Northwest

damelahamid screenshotThe Coastal First Nations Dance Festival is a weeklong celebration that honours rich cultural traditions through transcendent performance. Presented by Dancers of Damelahamid in partnership with the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA), the annual event features a line-up of captivating performances showcasing the vibrant and distinct stories, songs, and dances of Indigenous peoples of the northwest coast.

Headliners this year included two of Canada’s most electrifying young performers: James Jones and Tesha Emarthle. Ontario-based Tesha Emarthle presented a smoke dance, a traditional and dynamic heart-pumping style of war dance featuring lightening-speed footwork. James Jones from Edmonton has performed extensively with pow wow drumming-infused electronic group A Tribe Called Red. He was a 2009 finalist with So You Think You Can Dance Canada and recently performed in the 2015 Pan Am Games. Jones and Emarthle worked together for a series of school performances, introducing K-12 students to the rich history and traditions of First Nations dance and storytelling.

“As we near a decade of festival performance, it’s truly a thrill to witness the evolution of the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival and its vital role in the cultural fabric of Vancouver,” says Festival Artistic Director Margaret Grenier. “Each season, we endeavour to assemble a talented pool of emerging and established performers, which serve as a critical link in strengthening and upholding the rich cultural traditions of Indigenous peoples. We are honoured by the opportunity to share such a diverse and meaningful array of First Nations artistic practices in the grandeur of the Great Hall at MOA.”

Margaret Grenier grew up in a small community, “immersed from a young age in the practice of songs and dances that had been passed down for countless generations.” She explains, “It was through this experience that I entered into a relationship with my ancestral memories. Today, as a traditional Gitxsan dancer, a practice which interweaves many artistic disciplines, I have found a means to make a tangible connection with my ancestral lineage.”

The 2016 festival featured an exclusive preview of Dancers of Damelahamid’s Flicker, an innovative and dramatic performance featuring intricately carved masks. The Gitxsan “people of the river of mists” are part of the coastal group of cultures with distinctive button blanket regalia. Their history of masked dance inspires a compelling performance, celebrating the diversity and depth of Indigenous cultures. According to Gitxsan history, Damelahamid is the original city where the first ancestors were placed on earth from heaven. For countless generations, Gitxsan songs and dances have been performed in the feast hall and played an integral part in defining art and culture. Though banned by the Canadian government for several decades, social change created a new context for the dances to survive by being shared as public performance. The Dancers of Damelahamid transform time and space, bridging the ancient with a living tradition.

Photo courtesy of Dancers of Damelahamid

Photo courtesy of Dancers of Damelahamid

For the past nine years, Dancers of Damelahamid has presented dance groups from the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Kwakwakawakw, Gitxsan, Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Haida, Tagish, and Tlingit First Nations. International performers from as far as Australia and New Zealand have also shared their traditions, connecting the festival with the global community of Indigenous dance.

The Lax Kxeen Traditional Tsimshian Dance Group has travelled the world sharing their unique and authentic song and dance. “We write and sing songs that portray our four clans (Raven, Eagle, Killerwhale, and Wolf) and also milestones in our lives and those of our group members, keeping our culture alive and well. Our songs are powerful and tell the stories of our communities.” Just remember to keep a sharp eye on your shiny things when Raven dances by.

Eagle Dancer Cori Derickson lives her life close to the land and her culture, and dance has helped focus her energy as well as heal her spirit. She is a Suknaquin (Okanagan) interdisciplinary artist and one of the few female Eagle Dancers in North America. “I make art for a purpose,” she says, “to stay connected to who I am as an Indigenous woman expressing my views, educating, acknowledging who I am. When I dance or sing and play the drum, I am praying for our people, our lands, and our future.”

The eagle is a powerful and sacred being connected to both the earth and the spirit world, inspiring traditional and contemporary arts among many North American Indigenous peoples. Eagle feathers often adorn regalia or sacred objects, and during certain dances eagle down is scattered, swirling through the air as the dancers move and falling like a blessing.

Photo courtesy of Dancers of Damelahamid

Photo courtesy of Dancers of Damelahamid

Tradition and language are very much alive among the Northwest Coast peoples. They are being practiced, passed down, and shared. Throughout the week, songs and drums resonated to the rafters, calling to the spirit. We are all related. The peoples’ voices and languages translated in feeling, pitch, tone, and rhythm. Expression and movement told their stories.

Git-Hoan songs and dances are presented with an energetic and proud style that, while different than most contemporary dance groups, is based on ancient traditions that belong to all coastal tribes. Renowned carver and culture bearer David Boxley formed the Git Hoan Dancers to revive, practice, and share the Tsimshian way of life that was once forbidden.

The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers are the most prominent traditional dance group in the Yukon. They work to bring cultural revitalization and social transformation within their communities by reclaiming their culture traditional art forms of song, drumming, dance, and storytelling.

Songs and stories have great value. To hold them is an honour, and they are treasured. Sometimes they are traded or gifted to a performer. The art of performance continues to evolve, though its roots remain deep in traditional culture.

Git Hayetsk Dance Group leaders Mike Dangeli (Nisga’a artist and carver) and his wife Mique’l Dangeli (Tsimshian art historian and curator) make it a priority that the Git Hayetsk (people of the copper shield) sing the songs of their ancestors as well as create new songs, dances, drums, rattles, masks, and regalia to reflect and record their experiences as contemporary First Nations people.

Andrew Grenier, dancer and production manager for Dancers of Damelahamid, dedicated 15 years under the guidance of Damelahamid Elders Ken and Margaret Harris, learning from their stories, songs, dances and teachings. Elder Margaret Harris is a respected Cree Elder from northern Manitoba and wife of the late Chief Kenneth Harris. She was immersed in the traditions of the Gitxsan and founded the Haw yaw hawni naw Festival to revive First Nations arts and culture. Her 40 years of experience teaching Cree and Gitxsan dance and her wealth of traditional knowledge and wisdom is invaluable in guiding the Dancers of Damelahamid.

In 2017, the festival celebrates its 10th anniversary. Given the diversity of amazing talent drawn to the stage, next year’s event promises to be spectacular. Connect with Dancers of Damelahamid at [] and on Facebook [].

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World

Haida Gwaii is a remarkable place. This remote archipelago off the Northwest coast of British Columbia attracted the attention of film director Charles Wilkinson and his partner/producer Tina Schliessler, who have made “some of the most important environmental documentaries being made in the world.” Haida Gwaii is world famous among environmentalists for managing to “draw a line in the sand and stop unsustainable development,” explains Wilkinson, and that is what sparked his creative interest.

Since first contact, the Haida people have suffered and survived outbreaks of smallpox that decimated their population, as well as government assimilation efforts aimed at wiping out Native culture and language. Exploitation of natural resources (excessive commercial logging and fishing) has also left its mark on the land and the people who live there, currently struggling with the impact of climate change and the showdown over the Northern Gateway pipeline. Greg Klymkiw of Film Corner has said Wilkinson’s latest work “might well provide the most persuasive aesthetic argument to save these islands at all costs.”

Alex Martinuik on the rocks. Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World.

Alex Martinuik on the rocks. Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World was directed by Charles Wilkinson.

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World completes Wilkinson’s “Ok or not OK” eco-trilogy, which includes Peace Out and Oil Sands Karaoke. It is an inspiring and hopeful story that highlights the breathtaking natural beauty of Haida Gwaii and the unique community where 14,000 years of Haida tradition mingles with progressive, modern urbanites to create “a sustainable world that well may survive the formidable challenges of the 21st century.”

The film features Haida hereditary Chief Allan Wilson, renowned activist Guujaaw, and non-indigenous eco-activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki, in addition to local residents. It is a contemporary look at a community with ancient roots and resilient people; some were born there and some came to visit or work and loved Haida Gwaii so much they decided to spend the rest of their lives there.

The Haida Gwaii film took the top prize when it premiered at the 2015 Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto and won Most Popular Canadian Documentary the Vancouver International Film Festival. “We’re really proud of the film,” Wilkinson says. “It tells the story of an amazing place and people—people who have endured and survived the worst this world can give. And they’ve done it with style, grace, intelligence, and humour.”

Screenings at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver have repeatedly sold out, and proceeds from special “benefit screenings” in support of opponents to the Site C dam go to the legal defense fund for defenders of the Peace Valley. Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land have occupied the remote Rocky Mountain Fort campsite (historically a fur trading post) since late December to defend their traditional territory against construction of the dam, which would flood 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries.

At a recent Vancouver screening, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the UBCIC spoke to the audience. He talked about his grown children and his many grandchildren and how important it is to preserve the wildlife and pristine forest and oceans for future generations. He also spoke proudly about the courageous group of land defenders camped in the Peace River Valley. Grand Chief Phillip recently visited the camp, accompanied by renowned environmentalist David Suzuki, to offer support.

A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has been set up for the Rocky Mountain Fort camp. To donate, go to [].

Signs posted at Rocky Mountain Fort Campsite in the Peace River Valley.

Signs posted at Rocky Mountain Fort Campsite in the Peace River Valley.

The BC government insists the Site C dam project is necessary to provide for future power needs, but opponents say flooding the valley will destroy valuable farmland and devastate critical wildlife habitats. BC Hydro has been increasing construction activity in the area despite protests of Treaty 8 First Nations, local landowners, and environmentalists. The Peace Valley Environment Association, Sierra Club BC, and the Yellowstone to Yukon Wildlife Conservation Initiative are working together with farmers, First Nations, food security groups, conservation organizations, scientists, and concerned citizens to stop the Site C dam on BC’s Peace River. For more information, visit [].

B.C. Utilities Commission typically reviews energy projects before they begin construction, but they have not reviewed the Site C project. If the Canadian government is serious about improving relationships with Aboriginal peoples, Grand Chief Phillip believes reviewing the Site C proposal is a good place to start.

The UBCIC has denounced BC Hydro’s “deliberately provocative and reckless attempts at fast tracking construction” despite the legal uncertainty of the project. Although the matter is before the courts, BC Hydro has been moving equipment in toward the camp, while publicly saying they are speaking with protestors and local authorities to try to peacefully end the standoff. The RCMP made three arrests at the north bank entrance of the project in early January. No arrests have been made at the Rocky Mountain Fort campsite, but Grand Chief Phillip is “deeply concerned that BC Hydro’s actions are increasing tensions on the ground.”

“We are absolutely outraged that BC Hydro is working at the proposed dam site when critical court proceedings are in motion and a decision on Site C proceeding has yet to be determined,” Grand Chief Phillip said in a statement. “Members of Treaty 8 and landowners are defending their land and way of life, and in response BC’s Crown Corporation BC Hydro presents impoverished take-it-or-leave-it offers to private land owners and sends First Nation contractors to face-off with Treaty 8 Elders, women, and residents,” explains the Grand Chief. “It appears the sanctity of private land rights and the promise of reconciliation with First Nations do not apply at the proposed Site C site.” He added, “We completely reject the blatant hypocrisy and racist double standards being promoted by the BC Liberal government through its Crown Corporation BC Hydro.”

The road ahead looks difficult for stewards of the land. The proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion will increase tanker traffic, and an oil spill along the BC coast would be devastating to the environment, the wildlife, the people, and the economy. Dam construction at Site C threatens critical habitat and some predict power costs will increase across the province, with benefit going to industrial interests and the people footing the bill.

Corporations and governments are intimidating entities with a lot of money to drive their will forward. They look at land and see expansion, resources, economic growth, and ears ring with the promise of jobs, money, a better “standard of living.” But to the people who live and breathe in the cradle of the Peace River Valley, their commitment to the land started long before there were corporations and industry, and it extends generations into the future. The land sustains them, and they want to preserve its bounty. Industry comes to resource-rich lands with its hands out and its mouth full of promises. When the land is destroyed and its resources ravaged, when the construction jobs dry up and the valley is flooded, what promises will be made after that?

Local And Just: Indigenous Food Sovereignty Summit 2016

Join Four Arrows Regional Health Authority at Canad Inns Destination Centre Club Regent Casino Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba (March 1-3, 2016) to share and learn about Indigenous cultural food practices and the ceremonies, stories, and traditional languages that honour food. Indigenous food sovereignty is about reconnecting people to their food sources and allowing them to play an active role in providing their own food. “It’s a look back at the food practices our communities have used for centuries while looking forward to reclaim our food identities.”

IndigenousFoodSovernSum2016-600x928 The industrial food system provides much of the food we eat, but there are concerns over its sustainability for food producers, the environment, and local economies. Manitoba continues to experience family farm bankruptcies, the contamination of Aboriginal food sources, and high rates of poverty and food insecurity. Many communities have poor access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. The Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance brings people together from across urban, rural, and northern Manitoba to create food justice in their communities. The alliance is made up of citizens developing alternative food systems that provide local, fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate, fairly-produced and affordable food (food security).

Alternative food systems can take many different forms, such as community-supported agriculture farms, community kitchens and gardens, and traditional hunting, trapping, or fishing. Four Arrows RHA has been working with First Nation communities for over ten years through programs that focus on access to local and healthy food, and a resurgence of culture is happening across the country as people go back to the land. Culture connects people to the language, places to our ceremonies, and food to our traditional teachings.

Byron Beardy, Food Security Coordinator at Four Arrows RHA, has travelled all across Turtle Island talking about Indigenous food and has witnessed the peoples’ desire to reconnect with their food systems. Byron feels connected to Mother Earth and has found a definite need for this knowledge within himself. “Too often we hear stories of food insecurity, of people going hungry in Indigenous communities. Those stories are important, but so are the stories of how we are spending time on the land, growing, gathering, hunting, fishing, and trapping.” Byron believes it’s time to share stories that can help “reignite the fire within our communities.”

At the food summit, the Dene, Dakota, Cree, Ojibwe, and Oji-Cree and will share their food stories and insights into their food culture. This gathering is being organized by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people, and with Indigenous people to spark that fire, to share, to laugh and to eat, and to listen with our full hearts.

A gala dinner is scheduled for March 2nd, featuring traditional indigenous food and entertainment by Innu musician Florent Vollant. Registration for IFS Summit 2016 includes all daytime events, lunch, nutrition breaks, and entrance to the Food & Film Night on March 1st. For additional information and registration details, go to [] or call Four Arrows Regional Health Authority toll free (1-866-653-3441).


One Tribe Comic Anthology Supports Shannen’s Dream For Better Education

The Falling of the Sun (TM & © 2013 Steve LeBlanc)

Publishing company Jack Lake Productions Inc. has announced a unique and exciting new project. The One Tribe benefit comic book anthology is a non-profit book to be published in 2014 in association with James Waley of Pique Productions. The collection is being produced in support of improving First Nations’ reserve schools in Canada, with all proceeds going to the Shannen’s Dream campaign, which was formed to carry on the courageous work of the late Shannen Koostachin. Some of the top comic creator talents in the country have contributed work to support this worthwhile cause.

Shannen Koostachin, a young activist from the Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast in Ontario, had a simple and practical dream: safe, comfortable schools and culturally-based education for First Nations children and youth. In her brief life, Shannen worked tirelessly to convince the Federal government to give First Nations children a proper education. According to The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada website, “First Nations schools receive less funding per student than provincial and territorial schools, and zero dollars for things like libraries, computers, languages, or extracurricular activities. Many schools are plagued by serious health concerns such as extreme black mould contamination, high carbon dioxide levels, rodent and reptile infestations, sewage fumes, and unheated portables.”

James Waley, editor and graphic coordinator for the One Tribe project, says he was shocked and mortified that the Attawapiskat First Nations reserve had to declare a state of emergency due to substandard housing conditions. Reflecting on the outpouring of aid to victims of Japan’s tsunami and the disaster in Haiti, he noticed, “Canadians are quite eager to rush to the aid of people half a world away from us, [but] a huge segment of our population, suffering in our own backyard, is so often ignored and overlooked.” He says, “It was becoming increasingly clear that Attawapiskat was simply the tip of the iceberg of an ongoing crisis that most citizens and our government have allowed to continue for much too long.”

Shannen attended J.R. Nakogee elementary school, which was condemned and closed because of a decades-old fuel leak. Classes had been held held in makeshift portables since 2000, and by 2007, the federal government had backed out of three commitments to build a new school for the Attawapiskat community. Shannen and others took action and began a Students Helping Students campaign using Youtube and Facebook to share their experiences. In 2008, Shannen bravely spoke out on the steps of Parliament Hill, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2009 at the age of 14.
On July 27th, 2008, Shannen sent a letter to government officials, written in both Cree and English. In it, she revealed she wanted to become a lawyer, and she wrote frankly about the state of her own school: “For the last eight years, I have never been in a real school since I’ve started my education. For what inspired me was when I realized in grade in grade eight that I’ve been going to school in these portables for eight long struggling years. We put on our coats outside and battle through the seasons just to go to computers, gym, and library. I was always taught by the parents to stand up and speak out for myself. My message is to never give up. You get up, pick up your books, and keep walking in your moccasins.”

She talked about leadership and her father, Andrew Koostachin, who taught her “to look up to the Seven Grandfathers. Love, Respect, Truth, Honesty, Humility, Bravery and Wisdom.” He taught his daughter to put God first, then family, then education. “School is very important!” Shannen wrote. “This why I’m here, because children before grade 5 had already lost hope.” That statement is heartbreaking. Shannen was brave and strong to fight for what she felt was right. She stated honestly, “One, I do not like broken promises. Two, I do not like seeing my siblings going to school in washrooms. And three, I would like them to know too that I AM NOT GIVING UP.”

She wanted Minister Strahl to face the facts. “He knows that we are sick and tired walking back and forth outside in the cold winter, the cold wind, the cold rain, the hot sun. He knows that. It’s just that he doesn’t understand. If he did understood he could’ve just give us a school just like that!” Some might say the situation is far too complicated for such a simple solution, but if a government official’s child had to take classes in a run-down portable, that “new school building” promise would have been fulfilled in a hurry. Shannen also offered words of hope to fellow students, telling them not to be afraid, telling them to ignore the people who try to put them down, encouraging them speak out, think about the future, and follow their dreams. “I would tell them NEVER give up hope,” Shannen wrote. “Get up; pick up your books, and GO TO SCHOOL. But not in portables.”

Tragically, Shannen died in a car accident on May 30th, 2010, but her vision of better education is carried on through Shannen’s Dream, a student and youth-focused campaign designed to raise awareness about inequitable funding for First Nations children. Supporters are encouraged to write letters to their Member of Parliament, to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and to the Prime Minister of Canada. The Caring Society is an independent national organization with a vision is to ensure that First Nations children have opportunities to grow up safely at home, be healthy, and be proud of who they are. For additional information about Shannen’s Dream, visit [].

The One Tribe anthology contains about 200 pages of outstanding work by Canadian comic creators from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal backgrounds. James calls it “an all-ages full-colour comic book anthology not just for kids, but suitable for readers of any age. One Tribe will contain storylines exploring a potpourri of humour, drama, slice-of-life, horror, adventure, science fiction, and fantasy with a wide variety of art styles from the mainstream superhero and cartoon approach to alternative and underground.” James says, “I’ve always felt that comic book storytelling was a great resource for both learning and teaching materials. Students of any age respond to comics enthusiastically as they bring a lot more life and excitement to what might otherwise be boring classroom lessons. Students engage more quickly with material in this format, and with short attention spans being rampant in this age of the internet that’s a win-win situation, for sure! Studies have shown, also, that most material presented as sequential art tends to enhance students’ linguistic and communicative competence.”

Contributor Richard Van Camp [] has written numerous novels, children’s stories, and comic book scripts; one of his books, The Lesser Blessed, was recently produced as a feature film. Chad Solomon [] produces the beloved series Rabbit and Bear Paws, which he has self-published in a series of graphic novels and storybooks along with an entertaining puppet show he presents at schools, libraries, and events throughout Ontario. Jay Odjick ( has done animation and comics, but is best known for his superhero creation Kagagi the Raven, first published as a graphic novel through Arcana Comics and now being developed into an animated series.

The collection also features the top-notch talents of Troy Little (writer/artist on Angora Napkin), Brandon Mitchell (writer on Sacred Circles), Nick Bradshaw (artist on Wolverine & The X-Men), Kevin Sylvester (writer/artist on Neil Flambé), Mark A. Nelson (classic artist on Dark Horse Comics’ Alien series), Tom Grummett and Karl Kesel (artist/writer team on Section Zero), Nik Poliwko and Martin Powell (artist/writer team on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The War Chief), Jim Craig (artist on The Northern Light), Mike Cerkas & Larry Hancock (artist/writer team on Silent Invasion), and Rob Walton (writer/artist on Ragmop), with more to be announced in the months ahead.

Copies of the book will be sent to schools on reserves across Canada at no cost, and will also be available at libraries, comic shops, and bookstores everywhere through JLP’s worldwide distribution network. A crowd-funding Indiegogo campaign will begin on Friday, August 30th to raise funds to cover production costs and a modest page rate for the comic creators, but James says almost all of them have chosen to waive that payment and direct it to Shannen’s Dream instead. A free launch event is planned at Toronto’s top comic book shop, The Silver Snail, on Saturday September 7th. Featured artists and writers will be doing sketches and discussing their work in the anthology. Stay tuned at [] or find OneTribeAnthology on Facebook. For information about book sales and distribution, contact Jaak Jarve at (416-222-9445) or toll free (800-269-9206).

Richard Wagamese Bringing Storytelling Back

A special storytelling presentation by Richard Wagamese on November 5th at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver kicked off the 15th Annual Provincial Conference on Aboriginal Education, jointly hosted by the First Nations Education Steering Committee, Métis BC Nation, and the BC Ministry of Education. Over 700 educators attended the conference (themed “Reconnecting the Generations”) featuring two days of workshops, informative panels, and guest speakers including Dr. E. Richard Atleo, National Chief Shawn Atleo, and Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Rayboul.

Richard Wagamese is an award-winning Ojibway columnist, author, and storyteller from Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario (now living in Kamloops) who has been bringing stories to life for thirty years. “The focus of my work is to bring storytelling back,” he says. “We all need stories. They inform our sense of the world, and they let us know who we are and where we came from.” His presentation of Smoked Fish, Bannock, and Indian Tea is “a 90-minute mix of theater and humour coupled with traditional and contemporary storytelling” that illustrates why storytelling is vital to healthy communities.

Stories rekindle the energy of creation and awaken a sense of wonder within us. They give us something to stand on, a reason for being who we are. A storyteller’s ability is a gift from the Creator, and Richard says, “I had to trust that gift. Then, acting on that trust, I had to start telling—to step out of my shyness and sense of inadequacy and start telling stories. The more I did that, the more I connected with that authentic voice.” An authentic voice doesn’t necessarily mean only one voice. Richard developed several characters, each with a unique speaking voice, identity, and story to share. “The characters come from the people and situations I have met in my life,” he says. “They are real, and the audience connects with them because they’ve met them too, somewhere along the road.”

Richard’s sense of humour wraps itself around serious lessons about life, love, and community. Teaching through stories is a tradition among indigenous peoples worldwide, a tradition all but lost in our “modern” world of technology-assisted communication and faceless exchange of information. We tweet and text and send e-mail, but when is the last time you felt the excitement of going to the mailbox and finding a real letter written by a real person, especially for you? When is the last time you sat with someone, just listened, and truly heard someone else’s story? In the oral tradition, stories are sacred things, and sometimes they take minutes or hours or even days to tell.

Richard’s presentation revolves around “real” stories about human beings rather than using myth/legend/animal metaphors. His performance is all about “re-igniting the fire of storytelling,” and showing real human beings learning these lessons seemed the best way to go. “We are all one great, grand story, and each of our lives is an essential thread in that tale,” Richard says. “There’s no myth in that message—it’s a spiritual truth.” He points out, “All we have is the story of our time here. That’s it. When our physical life is over, as individuals and as a species, all that will remain is the story of our journey together on this planet. That’s a crucial message.”

Film, TV, the Internet, and even print media is becoming more and more visual in its information delivery, and it seems as pictures matter more, words matter less. Storytelling has gone digital, and something is lost when the imagination is spoonfed. Social trends continue toward instant gratification and abbreviated communication, and it’s becoming harder to encourage people to value the practice of reading, writing, speaking, and listening—especially impatient youth in classrooms. “We need to talk to each other. Really talk. Not on the cell phone, not in a tweet or a text, but in real conversations about real things,” Richard says. “We need to create time in our homes that is sacred story time, where we can sit and talk and share about the events of our days, our thoughts, our imaginings, our fears.” He suggests making storytelling non-threatening and valuable for youth by using story circles in classrooms so students can share “in a formal, traditional, ceremonial way because EVERYONE has a crushing desire to be HEARD despite the technology.”

Richard believes that everyone has an authentic voice. “We were born bearing the gift of language,” he says. “When I began to learn the traditional principles of storytelling, the old ones told me that my greatest tool as a storyteller was my authentic, original voice. To learn to find it, I needed to practice principles, beginning with humility, then faith, then trust, then bravery.” Humility allows the storyteller to bring the story to life for its own sake, giving the audience or reader an opportunity to “see themselves in a story” and identify with events or characters, which in turn creates an opportunity for personal growth and awareness. Richard says, “Our youth especially really need to be able to see themselves in our storytelling, regardless of what form or medium that takes place in.”

Richard developed a pair of manuals to help storytellers discover and share their authentic voice. How to Be the Writer You Always Wanted to Be and From the Oral Tradition to the Printed Page explain how Richard learned to create spontaneous oral stories and transfer that same energy to his writing. Both are available at and are suitable for classroom or personal study. Richard Wagamese is available to bring his performance or a storytelling workshop anywhere people are interested in rekindling that essential creative energy. For more information, contact Richard through his website.