by Xavier Kataquapit 

Many families along the James Bay coast are headed out onto their ancestral lands during this time of year. It is our most important season as so many events coincide that make it a perfect time to hunt and gather food. Even though it is still winter weather, temperatures moderate at around zero degrees which makes it more hospitable and manageable. This is also the time of the Niska, the Canada Goose migration where millions of these birds fly north for their summer nesting season. 

    Several of my family members make the journey to cross a small strait at the mouth of the Attawapiskat River over to Akamiski Island, the largest island in James Bay. The name of the island is a Cree word that means ‘land on the other side’. It is an area that has been visited by my people for generations and many families from my home community consider this island their traditional land. 

    My brother Joseph, his wife Lynda and their sons Orion and Landyn recently made the trip to gather food for themselves for the spring hunt. I was happy to see him and his family make that hunt in the same way our father Marius Kataquapit had done for us when we were young. My other brother Lawrence and his wife Christine also braved the challenges of travelling to the island in the very early spring. They enjoyed the rejuvenating aspect of being out on the land in the midst of real Canadian wilderness. 

    My brothers have established a well built camp on the southern shore of Akamiski close to many areas where dad had once trapped for animals to feed and sustain our family. Many years ago when I visited this family camp with my parents I recall that dad always enjoyed sitting on the high gravel bank of the south shore to admire the vast grey ocean water of James Bay. He reminded us about the many times he had walked along this same shore alone with just a toboggan or a small team of dogs to make this way to his camp or head back to the community. He said it fascinated him to think that he had been there when it was freezing, challenging and he was lonely and with few supplies and food. I understood that when he reflected on his early years it reminded him of all of his fellow hunters and gatherers who survived on the land. 

    Akamiski Island is an important historic place as my people have hunted and trapped there for generations. We identify this island as part of our traditional lands but Canadian, provincial and territorial governments see it differently. As Mushkego Cree, we reside in Ontario but the island and all islands in James Bay are actually identified as being part of the territory of Nunavut. To complicate matters more, two thirds of the eastern end of the island is identified as the Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary by the federal government. This arrangement has historically made it difficult for our leaders to assert our territorial rights to hunting and trapping on this land. We are residents of an outside province, on an island under the stewardship of a territorial government that is a thousand kilometres north and protected by a federal government that is headquartered a thousand kilometres south. We do our best to live with the politics regarding this great island. The western third of the island is not as regulated and my people freely use the land as we have always done in the past. This has to do with our ancestral right.

    The rewards of visiting and using this land come with plenty of risk for all those who venture out to Akamiski as there is danger for travellers who risk moving over thawing ice and snow for hours. It takes plenty of skill, knowledge and awareness to travel safely on this land and frozen ocean. Everyone maintains a network of communications among each other to monitor the weather, the ice, the open water and where other fellow travellers are located. People maintain their safety through their individual skill but also rely on one another to stay aware of the dangers. 

    The south shore is much like the northern muskeg river banks with high gravel bluffs, pine forests and fresh water lakes and creeks. The northern coast is a wide open flat landscape of tidal coast land, lowlands and swamp. It is excellent bird habitat and it is easy to get lost in what seems like a never ending expanse of flat land, scrub and tidal ocean water that seems to have no coastal edge. In the midst of this barren landscape are a few large boulders that sit above the silt, clay and scrub. Our people have used them as markers and their unusual placement on the flat featureless land are seen as grandfathers or ancestors that stand watch over the people and the animals that roam Akamiski, ‘the land on the other side’.

Indigenous Student Awards for Post-Secondary Education

“Listening to learn, rather than to respond is one of the greatest lessons I learned from my grandparents”, says Indigenous Student Award recipient Jamie Coukell who is European from her father’s side and First Nations from her mother’s side. Raised in Nanoose Bay, she had the privilege of being neighbours with her grandparents who integrated Jamie into their culture. Jamie’s grandparents were an important part of her life and as Jamie took care of them this experience motivated her to pursue a career in Health Care. 

Winning this Indigenous Award encourages her to pursue her dreams of continuing a post-secondary education. “It is an honour to be selected for this award, encourages me to continue my journey of learning and also motivates me to give back to my community”, says Jamie. 

Since high school, Jamie has been involved in many extracurricular activities like soccer, and even now at UBC she is part of the intramural soccer team.  Jamie also enjoys music and was a member of a band – she plays the saxophone.  Jamie believes that sports and music can be strong tools in maintaining good health.  She believes in her own life the two activities have offered an “escape from a busy school schedule and allowed me to set aside time to be active and creative” – both effective means of maintaining good overall physical and mental health.Jamie’s ability to sympathize with others is one of her strong skills. She is easy to talk to and that helps people to trust her. Patience is a virtue and Jamie says that she learned to be patient from her grandfather. “I try to make a comfortable environment for everyone”, says Jamie hoping that these skills will help her in her chosen health care profession.

Currently, Jamie is a member of the Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) Committee, where she works alongside other students to create a more inclusive environment for BIPOC students within the Faculty of Kinesiology at UBC. “Taking my culture into my living is important for me. Joining the BIPOC committee has helped me to understand the importance of equity and inclusion.  Jamie is hoping to work in Physiotherapy and rehabilitation helping Indigenous communities as a health care worker that creates an equal and safe environment for everyone.

Xaanja Free is currently taking a Master’s in Library and Information Studies specializing in First Nations Curriculum Concentration at the University of British Columbia’s School of Information.  She recently received a $5,000 Indigenous Award in support of these graduate studies.

Xaanja shared with us that there are only a small number of Indigenous Librarians in Canada, and she is hoping to work for one of the few when she graduates from her master’s program in the Spring 2023.  

She was motivated to choose her course of study  and career when reflecting back on when she was a foster child, for it was in the library that she found refuge and answers to questions that most children ask of their parents. “While in foster care, I did not feel like I belonged anywhere, I did not feel loved or supported to achieve anything.  I had to learn to love myself for what I can achieve, and to appreciate what I can do on my own is my strength and my power. Over time, education became my mother and my father; I realized that research and learning is freedom –so becoming a librarian is where I was  meant to be.”

In her studies at UBC, Xaanja is passionate about supporting the construction of positive Indigenous identity to combat negative stereotypes.  Xaanja created a video that is shared on the UBC library website entitled Rethinking the Canon: A Contemporary Response to the Indian in the Cupboard. “My video discusses how a library can support positive Indigenous identity by seeking out books that include derogatory/negative descriptions of Indigenous peoples and shelving the book with a companion text written by an Indigenous author to provide readers an alternative to consider.  

This book pairing responds to questions and assumptions in the problematic text and serves as an alternative to banning or removing a ‘bad’ book from the stacks.  When Indigenous identity is formed by one who is non-Indigenous, we need to be mindful of what is being portrayed and how that portrayal is affecting how we consider one’s culture and peoples represented.” Xaanja encourages other Indigenous students to apply for scholarships and awards – like the Indigenous Award she received from the Irving K Barber BC Scholarship Society. She noted that the Award easy to apply for and that the renewal process is straightforward.  [Students can receive renewals of their Awards for up to four years.]   She further commented that unlike a debt, awards do not need to be repaid.  She closed by say, “Receiving this award is truly an honour!  My family and I are very grateful” Xaanja is a wife and mother of four children, she is a graduate of the University of Victoria where she previously earned a degree in Art History with a Minor in Education.

Education as a Vehicle for Empowerment and Sovereignty

A member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, Janine Nanimahoo was born and raised in Wabasca. An alumni of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP), Janine was impressed by the Northern Lakes College commitment to accommodating parents. As a woman raised with her culture’s traditional dedication to family, Janine appreciated NLC’s parent-positive atmosphere.

“We had a newborn in our class,” Janine reminisces, “and everybody was fine with that. If I was a new mother and I had hundreds of students in the class with me, no way would I be able to bring my baby,” says Janine, comparing the NLC experience to that at larger universities. It was these nuances that created a welcoming environment.

The main reason Janine chose NLC was its proximity to home; a key, Janine believes, in empowering many Indigenous and rural students. “Being able to study close to home gives students that sense of family and security. We need to be able to travel home from school that same day to care for those who depend on us. Many of our people don’t want to leave the reserve, but education is part of moving a person forward. It helps you further yourself, and then you bring that education back to your people.”

And bring her skills home, Janine did. Upon graduating in 2008, Janine was hired by the Bigstone Education Authority to teach grade five at the local school. After five years in the classroom, Janine and her family moved to Edmonton. In 2016, she graduated with a Master in Education specializing in Indigenous Peoples Education from the University of Alberta. Despite this achievement, Janine knew her educational journey wasn’t over.

“My heart is in protecting our treaties,” Janine explains. “For so long, our people have been told what to do under the Canadian government, but now more and more of us are getting educated. Now it’s like, ‘No, we chose how we live, how our ancestors lived. We have our own laws and, as Cree people, we have our own lives.’ That’s where I want to go. I want to protect our sovereignty.” 

With this spirit of determination, Janine applied for both a doctoral program and law school. She was accepted into both, and ultimately chose the U of A Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge program, with the goal of building a career within the legal system and, eventually, entering into politics. 

A model of inspiration, Janine urges others to continue working towards their full potential. She explains, “Education helps you grow as a person. It instills pride. It instills that ‘Hey, I can do this,’ belief, and NLC supports that attitude. And we can do this! Our people should be running, operating, and doing everything within our Nation. NLC supports us in that effort – or at least it gives people a little push towards a fuller life.”

Janine currently lives in west Edmonton, 15 minutes away from where she teaches elementary school in Enoch Cree Nation. She begins her legal studies in September 2021.

Northern Lakes College continues to offer a variety of partnership degrees, including the Community-Based Bachelor of Education with the Werklund School of Education, UCalgary.

Working together and making space for Indigenous communities

Steve Stark considers it a compliment when business colleagues compare him to a Swiss Army® knife. “When I hear that in a meeting I laugh, but it’s true,” he says. Steve is the president and CEO of Delta-based Tsawwassen Shuttles Inc. (TSI), one of the 13 Indigenous-owned or -affiliated businesses working on our Pattullo Gas Line Replacement project in Burnaby. As the owner of a diversified company employing 35 people, Steve is proud to be compared to that versatile and iconic pocket knife. 

Steve launched TSI in 2011 as a charter shuttle bus service in Tsawwassen. He’s steadily grown his business to offer transportation, marine, street sweeping and watering services around the Lower Mainland. “TSI is known for diversification,” he says. “When someone is looking for help with something—whether or not it’s on my website—I’ll either be able to provide that resource, or I’ll refer them on to another successful business that can.” 

Raising the bar for others to follow

Steve has worked hard to develop a successful business and set an example for others to follow. 

“I’m driven to succeed,” Steve explains. “It’s important to me to set the bar high for community members and help them wherever I can.” 

Steve’s desire to help his Tsawwassen First Nation community by creating local jobs, offering equity to community members to help them start their own business and supporting the work of local organizations, such as Reach Child and Youth Development, caught the attention of the BC Achievement Foundation. In 2021, it awarded Steve and TSI with an Indigenous Business Award.

Steve credits the Tsawwassen First Nation community for his business success. “The award belongs to Chief Ken Baird and others like him in the community who are willing to give others the space they need to grow in a healthy, positive way,” says Steve. Steve received 20 letters of recommendation in support of his award nomination, many of them from companies TSI had worked for, including FortisBC.

Steve says his relationship with FortisBC started a number of years ago, and has continued to grow. “I’ve been crossing paths with people from FortisBC for quite some time and gotten to know them. At this point, our relationship is not really about business anymore,” he explains. “For me, it’s about the fact that FortisBC is willing to stand behind someone who is trying to change the trajectory for First Nations people on a variety of different levels.”

Sharing the benefits of our projects with Indigenous communities

Providing Indigenous communities with business development and employment opportunities is an important business priority for FortisBC and is identified in our Statement of Indigenous Principles

“We’re cognizant of the importance of Reconciliation,” says Greg Edgelow, Indigenous relations manager at FortisBC who is of Cree and mixed ancestry. “It’s important to be aware of the past, acknowledge what’s happened, look at ways to atone and take action on them—we need to ‘walk the talk’.”

We work closely with our construction contractors to share details about our projects – including employment, training and contracting opportunities – with local Indigenous communities and businesses. We start by actively engaging with the business development teams of Indigenous communities and requesting their business registries. These registries are then shared with our construction contractors, who communicate with the Indigenous businesses on the registries and make them aware of the contract opportunities that are available on our projects.
On the Pattullo project, our construction contractor, Peter Kiewit Sons ULC (Kiewit), oversaw the procurement process. Out of the more than 40 contract opportunities they awarded, 13 went to Indigenous-owned and -affiliated businesses. The contracts with Indigenous businesses are worth more than $10 million in business combined, including work such as tree trimming and clearing, traffic control,  paving, soil disposal, land leasing, site security, street lighting, fabrication, quality control and street sweeping.

“The open, competitive bidding process for the Pattullo Gas Line Replacement project revealed how important Indigenous businesses are to our projects,” says Greg. “Nearly one third of all subcontractor bids Kiewit received were from Indigenous-owned or -affiliated businesses. Plus, the significant number of contracts Kiewit awarded to Indigenous-owned or -affiliated businesses speaks to the quality and competitiveness of their bids.”

Sharing knowledge

Steve Stark, President & CEO, TSI and member of the Tsawwassen First Nation

TSI secured the contract to provide street sweeping services for the Pattullo project. “We appreciate having that business, but my relationship with FortisBC is about so much more than that,” notes Steve. In the spirit of finding ways to expand business opportunities for Indigenous communities in other parts of BC, FortisBC asked Steve to share his knowledge about business ownership with them. Steve was happy to help. “I’m starting to talk to other First Nation communities about entrepreneurship—strategizing ways they can start or grow a business,” says Steve. “I’m a huge proponent of opening doors and making space for others to succeed. FortisBC is actively doing that for Indigenous communities and businesses.” 

UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY – Happy New Year 2022

by Xavier Kataquapit

We are getting ready to wish each other a happy new year 2022. We have been through and are still going through an historic pandemic with Covid19. As a matter of fact right now, the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire. So far, most of us have done well with following the rules from public health in getting vaccinated, wearing masks, socially distancing and washing hands often. 

    Nobody knows exactly how bad things can get with this new highly contagious Omicron variant. It could result in having to shut down things considerably again and place more restrictions on gatherings, retails stores and schools. 

    Hopefully, this pandemic will wane to a great degree and we might simply  have to get annual vaccinations to deal with it. In remembering the 1918 Spanish flu, it took several years for it to go away as it kept coming back again in waves on a regular basis and managed to kill some 50 million people world wide. 

    One thing for sure, is that we all know now what it feels like to have a crisis at our door, in our town, in our city, in our province and in our country. In the past, most of the terrible things we saw in the news were happening in some other country. We were one of the many countries that went to war for all kinds of reasons and ended up killing thousands of thousands of people and terrorizing them in other parts of the world. This time something called a virus decided to give us a little reminder that we are not immune to disaster and terror ourselves. There is no real safe place in this world right now from this pandemic. 

    For a lot of reasons, most of our world has ended up with capitalist, money based societies like we in the west have or authoritarian dictatorships like Russia or China. Happily here in Canada, we have what we refer to as a social democracy. We don’t just hail to the very wealthy and the money people but we also try to make life better for average person. We are lucky that we live in a country like this and although it is not perfect, it is worth protecting our democracy and a more fair way of life here. 

    Maybe this pandemic is a teaching for us. Perhaps that teaching has to do with we as people here on Mother Earth needing to figure out how to develop systems of government and economies that are more fair, just and kind. That means that each one of us has to raise our voice to make sure that we don’t end up living in a world where only the very rich and powerful make the choices that all of us have to live by. We need a democracy in place that provides public education at all levels, public health care in all its forms and care for the elderly, marginalized and disadvantaged. We could move forward on the basis of the teaching of this pandemic to provide society here in Canada, North America and globally that is more of a change for the better. 

    Let’s face it, our economy is suffering right now and may even come close to collapsing because of the power of a virus. That virus is making people sick and the result is an endangered economic system and general devastation of our society. That points out that the only thing that matters in this world in terms of economy, societal structure and government is the health and welfare of its human population. So the economy and money based system means nothing and can not survive without the active healthy participation of people. 

    This should remind us of the power we have as individual human beings. As an Indigenous man, I can say that my culture does not put money first and never has. We are seen as being poor money organizers and managers but in fact Indigenous cultures are based more on human values and a respect for Mother Earth. Maybe its time for all of us to question this enslavement to the almighty dollar and the very wealthy billionaires on this planet that control most of our world’s wealth. We absolutely need a more democratic, fair and just society in order for our species to survive. That is a very powerful lesson that this pandemic is teaching us. 

    So heading into 2022, it is up to each one of us to make sure that our voice is heard in directing our human civilization to the choice for democracy rather than fascism or authoritarianism. Happy New Year 2022.


By Savannah Walling (hl Gat’saa) and Nadine Spence

Communities across the land are under stress from the collateral damage of intergenerational legacies of displacement and systemic racism, and from mental stress resulting from the pandemic, physical distancing, closure of gathering places and isolation.  

How do we recover from history’s weight?  How do we move towards healing fractured families, communities and environments damaged by generations of horrendous loss? The loss of language, culture, economic independence, and ancestral homelands.  The loss of children and the confidence to protect them. Disappearing salmon, food sources, and food gathering knowledge.  Imposition of institutionalized racism and exclusionary policies.  Pain coping addictions and collective forgetting to avoid passing pain on to future generations. We can’t change what our ancestors 

An Honourary Grandmother Eileen (Albert) Spence and her son Roger Patrick Spence

experienced. We can’t change their actions. We’re living with the historical and cultural legacies.  

Our communities need cultural activity that unpacks history, embraces cultural roots, engages the transformative power of story and song, raises creative voices with stories of resilience and survival with dignity, builds relationships of respect and connects peoples and communities across lands and waters.  

A three-year multi-community multi-generational project is bringing together Indigenous families, tribes and territories of the Fraser and Thompson River watersheds to honour the lives and lived experiences of grandmothers who traveled to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  Many lost connections with families and friends and their grandchildren don’t know their stories.  Family members are working to restore relationships between generations and communities.

This cultural work takes place Nov. 5-7 at Oppenheimer and Strathcona Parks in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, on unceded ancestral homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.

Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey 2021 Launch is produced by Further We Rise Collective/Sacred Rock Society in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre /Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival with three days of ceremony, teachings, storytelling, and art respecting Mother Earth, including a day co-hosted by the 7th Wild Salmon Caravan, the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Vancouver Parks Board.  

The launch of Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey begins with the Nlaka’pamux wildfire fighters (IN-D-SPENCE-ABLE) carrying a travelling message chest from Vancouver’s sidewalks into Oppenheimer Park, to be welcomed by Stephen Lytton and Kat Norris. 

Victor Guerin, Suzette Amaya, and Autumn Walkem will share the Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey history and vision: from art and ceremonies to the journey of travelling message chests. The public can participate by writing messages to their ancestors, Grandmothers, and family and placing them in the message chest to help guide the spirits and memories of their families back home, to be properly respected and laid to rest. 

To recognize and release generational Indigenous traumas

We all survived

Our Youth will gain a better understanding

Together we lighten grief’s burden

For a healthier better future

The journeys of travelling message chests

From the heartbeat of their nations in the high mountains

Through their salmon birth and death places

Alongside their Thomson and Fraser River watersheds

Pause in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Before carrying on to the Pacific Ocean

Then returning to their starting place

To complete the cycle

Grandma, you, and your children may not have been protected, valued, or respected,

So, we are going to do that for you, and all the grandmothers of today

 We will continue loving you, in doing so loving ourselves, 

breaking every cycle every single day.  

We honour you and your children now and forever Grandmothers

Honouring Our Grandmothers Healing Journey aligns and interweaves wiith water and Mother Earth and thus aligns with the work of the Wild Salmon Caravan in their celebration of the spirit of wild salmon. 


a Cedar Planting Ceremony

With a Cedar traveling Message Chest

We honour our Grandmothers

With earth, water, fire and air

Planting new Cedar Trees

To grow Strong

To Represent Indigenous food, medicine and healing

And connect us all for generations to come.

The partners are honoured to support this healing journey that links an inner-city neighbourhood with communities up-river and honours indigenous women, history, language, salmon and ways of life.

To participate in future projects

Further We Rise Collective is supported by Sacred Rock Society, whose founding was inspired by the Nlaka’pamux community of Spence’s Bridge, BC, with the vision of connecting indigenous arts, cultural heritage, language, with health, education, and the natural environment.

Further We Rise/Sacred Rock Society are inviting Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, grassroots organizations, businesses, and communities to participate and support the future journey of these honour chests for the next three years.

If you would like to help, contact

Choose Peace Not War

by Xavier Kataquapit

In the summer of 1918, two of my grandfathers were taken from my family and sent off to a war they did not understand or wanted to be part of. My grandfather James Kataquapit was one of the lucky ones who went overseas and came back. My great grandfather John Chookomolin succumbed to the Spanish flu during this period and he died and was buried just outside the city of London, England in the United Kingdom. 

    They were taken from their homelands on the James Bay coast with 20  other young men in their prime to take part in this war. The survivors who came back like my grandfather James explained that they had been told that they had to take part in order to help a ‘Kitchi-Okimaw’, a King that represented their land and country. These were young men who had only ever known life in the wilderness and spoke only their traditional Cree language. They had only ever understood the world that our people had known for thousands of years. 

    They left Attawapiskat in the summer of 1918 and paddled south to the Albany River to access the railway network that had recently been built. From there, they moved further south where they joined thousands of other young men in army camps to be readied for war. It must have been a great shock to them to see all the new technology, the trains, the transportation networks, the cities, the towns and the great masses of people that were changing the landscape everywhere. After a few short months of training and teaching, they were moved further away to the east to access the ocean and from there they were boarded onto ships to make the journey to Europe. 

    My grandfather James recounted the story often to my family about that experience. At one point they just followed orders and directions because they couldn’t say or do otherwise. They felt trapped and unable to avoid their circumstances. In any other situation, it would be called kidnapping and abduction and being forced to do the will of others without your consent. When they boarded their ships and went out onto the Atlantic and moved away from the coast, they believed that they were lost forever and would never return home again. 

    In the sadness of that crossing, many of them contracted a new disease that was spreading across the globe. They ended up with the Spanish Flu and my grandfather John was reported to be deathly ill by the time they arrived in Liverpool. John was sent to a field hospital where he lingered for over a week and succumbed to his sickness alone and separated from everyone he knew. Later he was buried at a small cemetery next to a village called Englefield Green, just outside the great city of London. I have knelt at his grave in that place among the rows of headstones.

    My other grandfather James and the rest of his group became part of the Canadian Forestry Corp that were tasked as manual labourers to manufacture lumber and building material for the war effort. Although much of their time was devoted to forestry and lumber, they did see glimpses of the destruction of war when they were assigned to guard duties and other work in cities and towns in northern France that were affected by the fighting. 

    My grandfather was somewhat content with his situation as he was promised that he would be paid and compensated for his time and labour. He understood that he was being paid and he agreed that any money he made would be sent back to his family on the James Bay coast. When he returned back to Canada, it was another shock to discover that he would receive little to no reward or recognition for the time he spent in a war he never agreed to. 

    After being forced away from his homeland and taken overseas, he was simply dropped off at war’s end in a northern rail town in northern Ontario and told to return home on his own. He had to make the two to three week long trip north again on his own along the river system to return to his family. When he arrived, he was greeted with the news that his family had received little to no money from either the church or the Hudson Bay store that handled all communications and payments for the soldiers who left. Again there was little to nothing he could do about it and he and the other veterans of that war returned to their lives as if nothing had ever taken place but of course they were changed forever. 

    In the case of my great-grandfather John Chookomolin, he had left his wife Maggie and their new three month old daughter in the hopes that he would return. Maggie managed on her own for a while but then died unexpectedly a few years later leaving their daughter an orphan during a time when everyone was doing their best to just merely survive. Back then being an orphan with no family that could help meant certain death. The daughter was my grandmother Louise Paulmartin and she was taken in by a church orphanage in Fort Albany who raised her and placed her into an arranged marriage when she was 16. The family never knew what happened to my great-grandfather John until the 1980s when a family member did some research.

    We always look at the surface of war as the battle between good and evil, the fight between the forces of freedom and authoritarianism. Both sides use the same language to their people to justify the fighting. In reality it is only those with the greatest wealth who stand to win in any war and those with no wealth to do the losing, the fighting and the dying. Those who cry out for war are usually the first to point their finger at others to do the fighting. 

    Every year we pass around the phrase Lest We Forget in homage to those who fought and died for a war. Yet we are too quick to forget the reasons why those wars were fought in the first place and we fail to remember who benefited and who lost the most from those conflicts. War is a nasty business and always has been about resources, wealth and power while pretending to be for the cause of freedom and helping others. The only people to gain from war are the very wealthy and of course the multi-billion dollar armament and war industry. Yes, Lest We Forget is a strong reminder to remember that war is no way to advance civilization and these days with nuclear weapons in abundance, conflict poses the risk to end life on this planet. 

    We should take time to remember those veterans like my grandfathers who took part in a war but we should do their memory justice by also remembering why they fought, what they fought for and what was left for them.


Take Back Your Life

            When was the last time you went offline and spent time away from the internet and social media? How often do you find yourself checking to see what is happening online during your day?

            When I am at home in town with a high speed internet connection that has endless data to stream, I am constantly online. I read news articles, watch Youtube videos, read internet forums, then jump over to social media feeds. That is only the start of my internet addiction. I watch video streaming services on my TV and on my phone I use various apps throughout the day. I stream my music to listen anywhere I go. Sometimes I’ll find myself doing multiple things on the internet. I’ll watch a streaming program on my big screen, while scrolling through news stories on my laptop and following social media on my phone.

            As exciting as I find all this activity and information, often I feel a sense of anxiousness and nervousness about it all. When I am online, I feel like I am connecting to people and that feels exciting. Unfortunately, much of the time, I fall into a rabbit hole that is filled with fear, anger and anxiety. There are many studies that point to the fact that much of social media is a contrived world of fake users and automated content that is meant to reaffirm our worst fears and deepen our sense of anger in the world. These two emotions hit us hard and they are what drive us to look longer, respond often and keep a watchful eye for more content. It is in the best interest of all social media to keep us angry and afraid of the world. The more negative we feel about everything, the more active we are online to share those emotions with others and increase the popularity of these platforms. Advertising is attracted to where the action is, so social media loves to generate content that gets people involved as that is how they make their money.

            To take a break from this endless digital experience, I spent the past week at my remote cottage where I am located just outside the edge of any cell phone signal. I have some options to gain a signal but it is difficult and unreliable. I only use the internet when I absolutely have to, for the most basic tasks, using as little data as possible. I’ve stopped streaming video, I’ve stopped listening to music and I’ve stopped tapping into social media to see what everyone is doing.

            For the first day or two, I felt a sense of withdrawal from the world. I constantly felt uneasy at the idea of not being able to go online for anything. Instead, I was forced to just read the books I had with me, talk to my partner in the dim light of the living room, listen to the birds and animals or just stare at the lake, the trees and the endless sky.

            After a week I started remembering what the world felt like before the internet. I could just sit alone quietly, at peace and think for myself. I had time to finish the dozens of little projects around the house. I felt my day expand and grow longer as I now had moments to just rest and sit in the sun, take a walk in the forest or cut brush on my land. I was no longer hounded by the endless digital voices that simultaneously make me feel happy, afraid, humored and angry all at the same time. I also had time to work on a book.

            It was great to get back to a life that I once had a couple of decades ago when my days were filled with action, exercise, outside work and actually talking with others in real time.  I have never been the type to be bored but I have to admit that this addiction to the internet and social media has cost me my health, mindfulness and a general satisfaction with life on a daily basis.

            Perhaps we should take time away from the internet once in a while. Try it for yourself for a day or two. Do you remember the last time you had a day to yourself, with just your thoughts and the contact of the people around you? As humans, we survived thousands of years without a constant connection to everything. I think we are all capable of disconnecting from the world of the internet and social media once in a while to reconnect with ourselves. Otherwise many of us are going to end up overweight, out of shape, anxious and depressed.  It’s time to take back your life.

We Know How To Manage This Pandemic

This has been a worrisome month. After a year and a half of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, like everyone else I was hoping that things would be getting more back to normal after our world more or less was shut down. In many countries in the world the numbers of deaths and cases have been dropping and just when things were looking good for us here in northern Ontario, the Porcupine Health Unit area had increased cases and in particular my home of Attawapiskat, the remote communities of Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moosonee and Moose Factory on the James Bay coast all had outbreaks.

We have been fortunate in northern Ontario that our infection numbers have been low until just recently. Most of this has been due to the fact that we are more remote and rural so that protects us to a degree. However, with people moving about, air travel and work places deemed essential still operating this virus took hold. There were not many deaths or severe cases of sickness along the James Bay coast and in other Indigenous communities across Canada because these First Nations had been prioritized for vaccinations. Many people don’t realize that the vaccines won’t stop you from getting the virus but it will in most cases lower the cases of severe disease and deaths. That is why it is necessary to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. Can you imagine the disaster this virus would have created in sickness and death in remote James Bay communities without vaccines?

As vaccines continue to roll out in Canada we are seeing a decrease in cases and deaths in general. However, things are starting to open up now and there is a fear that we might not be out of the woods with this virus for some time. There are new variants like the Delta Variant that is challenging the vaccines and the experts say there will be more more variants developing. This means we will probably need booster vaccine shots at some point to deal with new variants.

It looks like vaccines will most likely not be able to solve this pandemic globally but they will help us manage it in countries and regions. First world countries that have the most vaccinations will probably manage well in opening up to some form of normal over the next year or so but many parts of the world will not be able to do that. That means we won’t really be safe from this virus because people will move about internationally and this Covid-19 will continue to spread as newly developed variants.

The bottom line is that we are living in a new world. We have learned so much about viruses and disease in general over the past year and a half and that has kept many of us safe. Many people have had to keep working in close quarters in plants, mines, production and distribution centres and essential services. Our governments and public health units have developed many ways to deal with this virus. We now know our best protection has been with the wearing of masks indoors in public places, staying two meters apart from others and washing hands often.

As things open up and new variants arrive we still need to remember that, yes we can have more freedom, we can get together safely and we can even begin to travel again. However, we also have to remember all the things we learned to cope with this virus and the new way we see and understand disease and how it spreads.

Vaccines have been proven to work and although they might not solve this pandemic on a global basis, they will allow us to manage life in many parts of the world. I am very thankful to the Indigenous leadership at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Chiefs of Ontario (COO), Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), our tribal councils and Indigenous political bodies across Canada for doing such a great job to lobby the governments so that our communities were prioritized for vaccines. Right now I can point to the success of that advocacy in the outbreaks that were safely managed on the James Bay coast. Thanks also to the federal government, provincial governments, public health units and all those doctors, nurses, paramedics, personal support workers, teachers, as well as all essential workers for risking their well being to keep us all safe and for propping up our economy. Things are looking better every day and we will manage this nasty Covid-19 virus. We all have to remember what we learned over the past year and a half to stay safe.

Time for a Change – First Nation Women Taking Leading Roles in Indigenous Affairs and Canadian National Politics

Indigenous Woman making History this month:
Mary Simon for her appointment to Governor General of Canada | Photo courtesy Aljazeera

Chief RoseAnne Archibald, elected Chief of the Assembly of First Nations | Photo courtesy CTV

Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky Deer elected Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake | Photo courtesy APTN

Though Women’s History Month is not until October, three First Nation women made history on three different political fronts in July.

On July 3, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer became the first female and the first LGBTQ2S+ Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. On July 6, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Mary Simon as Canada’s Governor General. Two days later, on July 8, RoseAnne Archibald was elected as Grand Chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer

For the 12 years prior to her election to a four-year term as Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, 41, served as a council chief on the Kahnawake Band Council.

Describing the experience as “overwhelming,” Sky-Deer says her priorities are developing an economic strategy that honours treaties to share land and resources and to focus on healing.

“That is what is owed to us,” said Sky-Deer, about her plans for an economic strategy that includes building affordable housing and attracting well-paying jobs to the MCK community of about 8,000 people located outside Montreal.

Sky-Deer said that the trauma, sadness, and grieving over the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools are to be addressed by empowering people through community-oriented actions to enhance language and strengthen cultural identity.

“We could start to do activities in our culture, spiritually, ceremonially, to lift the spirits of our people in our minds so that we can be ready for the work in the challenges ahead,” she said.

Many of today’s social challenges are a direct result of the tragedy of the residential-school system, and Sky-Deer, who believes the greatest way to honour the memory of Indigenous children who died there is to build a better today for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Married with five step-children and two grandchildren, Sky-Deer said her identity as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ and being elected as Grand Chief is a “sign of the times.”

“We need to own who we are. I want to be a positive influence and role model, an inspiration to youth who feel that they are different. I want them to know that they are worthy, can achieve dreams, goals. And that LGBTQ2S+ is not a barrier. The Creator put us here with gifts.”

Sky-Deer continued, “It’s about looking at the person and character, the strengths, the abilities, and what they can do for the community. Does it really matter who they are attracted to or in a relationship with at the end of the day? Live and let live, and let people be who they are.”

Grand Chief, Sky-Deer does not intend to rule from the top but instead receive community input through think tanks staffed by common members of her band. “I think hearing from the people directly, empowering them to be a part of the solution, can help,” she said. “My people want to see more engagement, empowerment, ability to be part of the decision-making. All of these things are elements of our traditional way of governance.”

Sky-Deer won the post of Grand Chief with 573 votes. In second place was another female, Gina Deer, with 368 votes, MCK had been without a Grand Chief since Joseph Tokwiro Norton passed away last summer.

A Florida, USA, resident for eight years in the early 2000s, Sky-Dear played quarterback as a professional football player for the Daytona Beach Barracudas of the Women’s Professional Football League.

While in the States, she earned a Bachelor degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

“There’s a new age upon us. I feel there’s a turning point in the history of humanity,” she said. “Women in leadership are actually becoming a norm across North America, what we call Turtle Island. It’s just part of the evolution.”

Mary Simon

In another first, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Inuk leader Mary Simon as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General. Simon, who is from Nunavik, in northern Quebec, is Canada’s 30th Governor General,

Her new role is not the first first for Simon, who previously served as the first Inuk to be a Canadian ambassador when she represented Canada as its ambassador of circumpolar affairs and ambassador to Denmark.

The governor general position is also known as the Viceregal representative of the Monarch – the Queen of Great Britain’s representative in Canada.

Under law, the governor general is the second-highest ranking federal position in Canada, outranking the prime minister. Second-in-command after the Queen, Simon is the Queen’s representative in Canada.

“I believe we can build the hopeful future in a way that is respectful of what has happened in the past. If we embrace our common humanity and shared responsibility for one another, Canada’s greatest days are yet to come,” Simon said.

The power to dissolve Parliament and draw up the writs for a general election, on the advice of the prime minister, is now in Simon’s hands. She is also now the top commander of the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Today after 154 years, our country takes a historic step,” said Mr. Trudeau while announcing the appointment at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. “I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment.”

Simon, a product of a federal government day school, wants to facilitate a better relationship between Canadians and Indigenous people and promised to play a significant role in getting Canadians to acknowledge their nation’s sins in its historical mistreatment and abuse of First Nations people.

“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward,” said Simon at the press conference announcing her appointment. “We need to stop to fully recognize and memorialize and come to terms with the atrocities of our collective past that we are learning more about each day,”

Born in Nunavik in northern Quebec to an Inuk mother and a non-Indigenous father, Simon reminded the nation that she has deep Indigenous roots when she told how she spent a lot of time as a child living a traditional Inuk lifestyle that included camping, living on the land, hunting, fishing, and gathering food.

“[I will] be a bridge between the different lived realities that together make up the tapestry of Canada,” said Simon.

After her job as a CBC broadcaster in the 1970s, Simon went on to hold many leadership positions in Indigenous organizations.

In 1975, Simon played a role in brokering a landmark land claim settlement between the Cree and Inuit community with the Quebec government, and also served as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization championing Inuit rights.

In 1982, she participated in the negotiations that led to the change in the Canadian Constitution that formally enshrined Aboriginal and treaty rights in the supreme law of Canada.

As Ambassador to Circumpolar Affairs In 1994, Simon defended Canadian interests in its Arctic territory, which at the time was called home by over 200,000 inhabitants, half of that population being Indigenous.

“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation,” said Simon.

RoseAnne Archibald

RoseAnne Archibald has a remarkable history of breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling. A trailblazer, RoseAnne was the first Indigenous woman to serve as Chief for the Taykwa Tagamou Nation, Deputy Grand Chief for Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, Grand Chief for Mushkegowuk Council, and Ontario Regional Chief.

Now she has become the first woman to be elected as National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). She defeated Muskowekwan First Nation Chief Reginald Bellerose with 50.5 percent of the vote in the fifth round of voting.

“The AFN has made her-story today,” said RoseAnne after her historic win.

Her main priorities in her new role will be fighting systemic racism, supporting the national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women, and addressing unmarked burial sites at former residential schools by working with the federal government to implement the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“With the recent discovery and recovery of our little ones across this country, we are all awake — and what people need to understand and what people need to come to terms with is how settler Canadians have benefited from these colonial practices and how we, as Indigenous people, have been the target of genocide,” she said. “We are going to stare this straight in the face and kick colonial policies to the curb. Change is happening.”

Prioritizing the effects of climate change on Indigenous communities and working with governments and regional chiefs on a post-pandemic recovery plan for First Nations are two additional issues RoseAnne plans to focus on.

During her campaign, she promised to promote a national agenda to make economic self-sufficiency for First Nations a reality and instituting a new AFN 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council.

“While there are things and differences that divide us, there is much that we share,” she said. “We all want our children to grow up proud and surrounded by love, culture, ceremony, and language, and safe and vibrant communities. We want a Mother Earth for them that is not threatened by wildfires and climate change…. We want to be good ancestors and leave a strong legacy for the seven generations ahead.”

RoseAnne is from the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Northeastern Ontario, and has been participating in First Nations politics for 31 years. Elected to represent her home nation at 23 years old, she was also the youngest deputy Grand Chief for Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in Ontario.

“This is a critical time for Canada and we need our women to represent us in a traditional matriarchal manner to address the many injustices,” Archibald wrote in a Facebook post.

AFN represents 900,000 members across 634 First Nations. Its mission is to coordinate action between First Nations for their collective benefit.