Upholding Obligations and Compensating Wrongs: Case Comment on Southwind V. Canada

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in Southwind v. Canada regarding the principles for calculating compensation for First Nations whose reserve lands have been taken without lawful authority.

The decision is a significant victory for First Nations across Canada seeking compensation for the illegal taking of their reserve lands. It builds on a growing body of recent cases which call on the federal and provincial governments to honour and uphold the Crown’s obligations to Indigenous peoples.

What it is about

In 1929, over 11,000 acres of Lac Seul First Nation’s reserve lands in Treaty #3 were flooded following the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Timber was lost, graves were damaged, gardens and fields were destroyed, and portions of the community were severed from one another. The lands remain flooded today.

Canada did not seek Lac Seul’s consent to surrender the lands prior to the flooding, nor did it take steps to expropriate the lands under the Indian Act.

Lac Seul filed a civil action against Canada in Federal Court. In 2017, the Federal Court found Canada breached its fiduciary duties to Lac Seul and that it had breached the Indian Act by failing to obtain a surrender from Lac Seul or take the necessary steps to expropriate the lands. The Court awarded Lac Seul equitable compensation in the amount of $30 million based on the fair market value of the lands at the time they were flooded.

Lac Seul appealed the Federal Court’s assessment of compensation. In 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and upheld the decision of the lower court.

Lac Seul appealed to the Supreme Court asking it to clarify which principles apply when determining compensation for breaches of the Crown’s obligations to First Nations in respect of reserve lands. Courtesy of First Peoples Law LLP

What the Court said

The Supreme Court held that Canada breached its fiduciary obligations to Lac Seul First Nation when it allowed the flooding of Lac Seul’s reserves and that Lac Seul was entitled to compensation for the lost opportunity to negotiate a surrender of its reserve reflecting the highest value of the land.

The Court held that in the context of taking reserve lands for public works, Canada’s fiduciary obligations require it to attempt to negotiate a surrender before expropriating the lands, and ensure the First Nation receives compensation reflecting the nature of the interest, the impact of the taking and the value of the land in respect of the project in question.

Why it is important

Southwind clarifies the principles for the calculation of equitable compensation for breaches of the Crown’s fiduciary obligations in respect of the taking of reserve lands. The decision will have significant implications for both First Nations and the Crown in the resolution of claims involving the unlawful taking of reserve lands.

The decision confirms the Crown’s fiduciary obligations are heightened when it exercises control over reserve lands set aside in fulfillment of a treaty promise. 

The decision also confirms traditional expropriation law principles are insufficient to assess compensation for the taking of reserve lands because Indigenous peoples’ interests in those lands — and the Crown’s obligations to protect and preserve those interests — are fundamentally different from the interests of a private landowner.

In the case of public works such as hydroelectric projects, it is not open to the Crown to simply expropriate the land. Instead, the Crown must attempt to negotiate a surrender of the lands on terms agreeable to the First Nation. Regardless of whether the lands are surrendered or expropriated, the Crown’s fiduciary obligations require it to ensure the highest compensation possible for the First Nation, including compensation for the land’s anticipated future use in connection with the project.

Looking ahead

For decades, First Nations across the country have sought redress for Crown decisions which resulted in the loss of their reserves. The resolution of these claims is a critical component of reconciliation.

The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Southwind resulted in confusion and uncertainty regarding the proper approach to the calculation of equitable compensation for the unlawful taking of reserve lands. The decision of the Supreme Court provides much-needed guidance on the Crown’s fiduciary obligations and the corresponding approach to determining compensation.

The Southwind decision also forms part of a series of recent decisions which set out clear directions for how federal and provincial governments should fulfil their obligations to Indigenous peoples — and the tangible consequences that will result if governments ignore their responsibilities.

At a time when public calls for reconciliation are growing across the country, and in light of numerous legal challenges based on the Crown’s failure to fulfil its obligations to First Nations, governments would be wise to heed the Court’s direction and take concrete action to both address past wrongs and honour and protect Indigenous peoples’ lands and rights now and into the future.

*First Peoples Law LLP was honoured to represent the Grand Council Treaty #3 in the Southwind appeal. The views expressed here are our own.

Courtesy of First Peoples Law

My Father’s Story on the Nuns and Priests


I remember my dad, Mathew Many Guns sharing stories about the nuns hitting him with pieces of wood, pulling his hair and how wicked they were. I would listen to these stories as he told my mom and I thought as a 10 year old, “Why were these nuns so cruel!”

As National Indigenous Peoples Day draws closer and the news that 215 Indian children’s graves have been discovered at the Kamloops Indian Reservation School, all those memories of my dad’s and mom’s stories come back.

My dad  became a well respected Minister of the Catholic Church, serving for the Holy Trinity church on the Siksika Nation until his passing in 1993. 

My parents were strong Catholics, so I always wondered why they believed in the Catholic faith if what they experienced at the Blackfoot Residential School was so horrible.

My dad said “Those nuns were wicked.” He would say,  if he saw one of those nuns as an adult he’d give them a good beating.

One story that stands out is one of the priests hitting my dad over the head with a hammer and as my dad explained, “blood gushed from his nose.” I remember thinking, “I wonder if that priest is burning in hell!”

My mother Cecile Many Guns never really talked about her experiences although she did say that she hated porridge because that’s all they would be served for breakfast, lunch and supper (porridge has no nutrition at all). Meanwhile the priests and nuns ate three course meals.

My dad would be so satisfied to finally hear that the truth has finally come out to the general public because for so long it was only known within our communities.

The discovery at Kamloops Indian Residential School has outraged everyone and I know my Father would be happy because the truth has finally been revealed.

Lakehead University professor receives NSERC funding to create coding program for Indigenous youth

June 9, 2021 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

A Lakehead University Computer Science professor is receiving a $36,000 PromoScience grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to develop and deliver a six-week coding program collaboratively with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives.

Dr. Vijay Mago, Chair and Associate Professor in Computer Science, is creating the program to serve Indigenous youth in grades 7 to 10 across Northwestern Ontario.

“In addition to the coding skills gained through the delivery of programming, our intention is to encourage youth to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and to enroll in high school courses that are prerequisites in the post-secondary fields,” Dr. Mago said.

The results of Dr. Mago’s work will introduce Indigenous youth to modern computer science skills and approaches through a consistent six-week program delivered by a skilled Computer Science graduate student as a new component of existing Niijii Mentorship programming that serves over 4,000 Indigenous students per year.

Lisa Harris, Coordinator of the Niijii Indigenous Mentorship Program at Lakehead University, will facilitate both virtual and in-person delivery of the programming.

“The PromoScience grant in support of our Niijii Indigenous Mentorship Coding Program is an investment in Indigenous youth in Northwestern Ontario,” Harris said.

“Our goal is to increase opportunities for youth to enter into STEM-based education and eventually into STEM-based careers. The ultimate goal is for those same youth to have the option of working in a computer science/STEM career from their home communities, to build capacity and sustainability across the North,” she added.

The Office of Indigenous Initiatives will work with the Department of Computer Science to offer computer programming to the youth of Whitesand and Gull Bay First Nations, said Denise Baxter, Vice-Provost, Indigenous Initiatives.

“The NSERC Promo-Science funding grant allows Niijii and the Department of Computer Science to enhance Ontario’s current coding curriculum while providing fundamental skills development to prepare Indigenous youth for today’s fast-paced and technology-centred world,” Baxter said.

This program will inspire youth to pursue STEM-based education and careers in the fields of computer science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

It will also increase the potential for Indigenous youth in Northern and remote communities to access high-demand, high-paying STEM careers that can be done remotely or in person, and support the delivery of technology and resource distribution so technologies are accessible to these communities.

“We are very fortunate to be working in partnership with the Niijii Indigenous Mentorship Program and Dr. Vijay Mago at Lakehead University,” said Corey Dagenais, Principal of Armstrong Public School.
“The goal of this program is to use coding to support students in developing a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

“Co-teaching opportunities with Lakehead University students and classroom teachers will enhance mathematical thinking and benefit our students as they begin to solve problems and create computational representations of mathematical situations using code,” Dagenais said.

AJ Keene, Superintendent of Education at Lakehead Public Schools, said the school board appreciates its partnership with Lakehead University.

“Coding is new to the elementary mathematics curriculum and it is a subject area that has been received extremely well by students, educators, and parents alike,” Keene said.

“We anticipate that our Indigenous students will benefit greatly from participating in this project, as it combines research and practical classroom experience. The results of the research will hopefully inspire the further implementation of coding in classrooms to apply the learnings collected from this study,” Keene said.

Media: For more information or interviews, please contact Brandon Walker, Media, Communications and Marketing Associate, at (807) 343-8177 or

Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. Lakehead University’s achievements have been recognized nationally and internationally, including being ranked, once again, among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities in Maclean’s 2021 University Rankings; as well as included in the top half of Times Higher Education’s 2020 World Universities Rankings for the second consecutive year, and 99th among 1,115 universities from around the world in THE‘s 2021 Impact Rankings (which assesses institutions against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Visit

Unearthing A Canadian Genocide

KATAQUAPIT FAMILY IN THE MID 1940s in Attawapiskat headed by James Kataquapit (in the centre with fedora hat) and his wife Janie (Wesley) Kataquapit (at the door) with their children (from L-R) George, Marius, Celine, David, Gabriel and Alex. This is the age that both Marius and Gabriel were taken to St Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany. The other children attended the same school at different times during their childhood.

            The story of what happened to the lives of 215 children who lie in unmarked graves in Kamloops, British Columbia is one that is very familiar to many Indigenous families across Canada. Here are two stories I know well from the James Bay coast.

            A ten year old girl and her sisters are forced to join some adults and other children to board a float plane in the northern wilderness of the west coast of James Bay. It’s a strange new experience for this little girl who has only ever known life on the remote Nawashi River with her family. She is frightened by the other children who sniffle and cry around her and she is afraid of not knowing what is going to happen next as this huge bird takes them into the clouds. She and her sisters are taken to Fort George in Quebec to attend a residential school where they will spend many months away from their families to learn the ways of the white man, his language and his religion. They would return home in the summer only to be taken again in the fall.

            A seven year old boy and his younger brother are led away from their parents in Attawapiskat under the restrained cries of their mother and the quiet obedience of their father. As they are walked further from their parents, they begin to realize that they are leaving and they cry at the thought of being taken away. For the next few years these boys would repeat this separation from their parents every autumn to attend the infamous St Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany.

SUSAN PAULMARTIN at one of the Residential Schools operated in Fort George, Quebec in 1956 when she was 13 years of age.

            These are the stories of my parents, my late mother Susan (Paulmartin-Rose) Kataquapit and my late father Marius Kataquapit. Their days at these schools were filled with lessons on how to read and write in English and French and most of all, the study of the Christian Catholic religion. Every memory of their past lives was discouraged, disparaged and disregarded. They were taught that they were worthless and that they needed to become like the teachers, the nuns and the priests they endured every day.

            There is far more to their tragic stories at these schools but I will never know nor do I really want to know. Mom’s experiences paled in comparison to what happened to my father at St Anne’s. Dad never spoke of his experiences until the last few years of his life because it was a source of shame for him. He had spent his entire life repressing and ignoring these terrible memories and when it was required of him to make a statement of his experiences the terrors returned.

            I grew up in Attawapiskat around many family members who had attended St Anne’s Residential school and the residential schools in Fort George, Quebec. As a child of survivors of the residential school system, it was confusing to say the least. No one told us direct stories, but as children we all heard of their experiences here and there over the years that painted a terrible picture.

            It wasn’t until I was an adult that I took the time to learn and study on my own what this history was about. No school I ever attended taught any of this history. In fact history documents that in the late 1800s, the government of Canada was slowly expanding across the land and as it did so, it encountered Indigenous people everywhere. Strategically the power of the time thought these so called savages had to be dealt with. The government saw Indigenous nations as obstacles that had to be removed because they wanted access to all the riches of the lands in Canada.

            My people who were nomadic were pushed onto small tracks of land but that was not enough to satisfy the government. They developed plans to assimilate Indigenous people into European Canadian society. Residential schools were created as a way to remove children from their parents and teach them separately away from home with the goal of ‘removing the Indian’ inside of them. They were in fact kidnapped.

            One of the creators of this system was Duncan Campbell Scott, federal Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs who is famously quoted as saying “I want to get rid of the Indian problem … Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department”

            The fact that these federal leaders wanted to forcibly assimilate a people by kidnapping their children is terrible enough, now it has come to light that the government of Canada knew fully that these residential schools were essentially death traps for the children that attended.

            Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, Canada’s first chief officer of medical health from 1904 to 1921 reported during his tenure with government that residential schools were essentially breeding grounds for disease especially tuberculosis for the children that lived in these places. The government ignored these repeated reports and the recommendations to deal with the reality of forcing children to live in confined spaces, in large groups and with little medical support or care.

            The government of Canada understood what was happening. They had planned for children to be placed in these horrendous situations and turned a blind eye when they started to die. Dr. Bryce’s reports described how on average a quarter of the child population of these residential schools died as a result of disease. That translates into thousands of children across the country.

A telegram or letter written in October 1945 for the admission of a new group of children to St Anne’s Residential school in Fort Albany. This document was rediscovered by a family friend Roseanne Sutherland. On the list is my father Marius Kataquapit, just a week before his seventh birthday. Also on the list is his younger brother Gabriel Kataquapit and my mother Susan (Paulmartin-Rose) Kataquapit’s brother Elie Rose.

            The majority of preventable deaths may have been from disease but there are still the deaths that resulted from the physical and sexual abuse that was prevalent in these institutions. Schools were run by individuals that didn’t want to do this work, held racist attitudes against the children in their care and they were not held accountable by anyone. There was little reporting on how a child died or even where they were buried. Parents were not notified of deaths in a timely fashion and sometimes not at all.

            When one discovers the history as to what was the ultimate goal of government, it’s clear to see that Canada wanted to remove Indigenous people either through death or assimilation. It was in fact an act of genocide and a purposeful attempt to destroy and remove an ethnic group of people.

            The attitude and indifference of the government of Canada over the past 100 and more years has left Indigenous communities traumatized. If their goal was to eliminate Indians, the result was only a long line of broken people who went on to raise children who inherited the trauma and pain of their parents.

            As a child of two parents who were residential school survivors, it is deeply distressing for me to keep repeating these stories of tragedy, abuse, murder and the needless deaths of so many children. I am still lost in the generational trauma and it pains me to see governments still holding back on dealing honestly with this issue, settling our treaties and dedicating efforts to make life better for so many still suffering and coping with this genocide in our country. It is time to unearth the truth and honour all of those lives lost and the suffering experienced by little girls like my mother Susan, and little boys like my father Marius.

Finding Our Way Home

The Annual Mattagami First Nation Pow Wow in northern Ontario was established by local people to encourage culture and traditions in their community. Pictured during Mattagami’s Pow Wow are some of the leaders, organizers and youth who make this event possible every year. From L-R are: Dana McKenzie, Pow Wow Coordinator; Mattagami FN Chief Chad Boissoneau, past Regional Chief Isadore Day, Chiefs Of Ontario; former Chief Walter Naveau, Mattagami FN and Mattagami FN Youth Dancer Tessa Thomas. In front are Mattagami FN member Nathan Naveau, Thunder Creek Drum Group and Max Worme, Lead Youth Male Dancer.
(photo by Xavier Kataquapit) The Annual Mattagami First Nation Pow Wow in northern Ontario was established by local people to encourage culture and traditions in their community. Pictured during Mattagami’s Pow Wow are some of the leaders, organizers and youth who make this event possible every year. From L-R are: Dana McKenzie, Pow Wow Coordinator; Mattagami FN Chief Chad Boissoneau, past Regional Chief Isadore Day, Chiefs Of Ontario; former Chief Walter Naveau, Mattagami FN and Mattagami FN Youth Dancer Tessa Thomas. In front are Mattagami FN member Nathan Naveau, Thunder Creek Drum Group and Max Worme, Lead Youth Male Dancer.

As we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day it is important to realize that our gathering together as a people is not something new as we have been coming together to celebrate our traditions and culture for centuries. I grew up in Attawapiskat First Nation, a small remote community on the James Bay coast in northern Ontario. As children we were always aware of our cultural and traditional past but it was never celebrated or acknowledged. Our parents and Elders had a strong connection to our traditional past but they were negatively affected by their experiences in the Residential School era and the long march of colonialism that sought to diminish and destroy our cultural identity.

It wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that many people on the James Bay coast felt strong enough to really start celebrating and promoting our heritage. They started hosting regular Pow Wows or ‘Indian Days’ celebrations as a way to show our youth that we should be happy to say that we are Indigenous people and that we should be proud of that heritage.
Over the past few decades, I’m happy to say that Aboriginal culture and traditions have been returning to my people up the James Bay coast, throughout Ontario and across Canada. These gatherings are a time to gather in the summer, renew friendships, share memories, food and honour our ancestors. These events introduced me to our traditional drumming and singing and the teachings of our elders.

In my home community, as a teenager in the early 90s, I was impacted by my Elders like the late James Carpenter, late John Mattinas and late Fred Wesley. At the time, much of our traditional past was suppressed because most people were attached to worshipping and following western Christian religions. The most devout Christian followers questioned and resisted allowing anyone to acknowledge our traditional past. It took many years and many attempts and now there are many people who are proud of their heritage and even those who have found a compromise between the two belief systems. Over the years and through the efforts of many of our traditional people and teachers, Indigenous culture has returned to a great degree to our First Nations.

In my home community, many of my relatives now follow and openly celebrate their cultural practices such as laying offerings, sweat lodges, drumming and singing. Those teachings had always been there but had been hidden because our Elders were threatened and made to feel ashamed for having this knowledge. As children, we had learned this shame as well. The healing journey is helping us to break from this feeling of shame and negative self worth.
Many people do not have a good understanding of what Indigenous leadership and Elders mean when they talk about traditions and culture. This is a huge topic that covers spirituality, hunting and gathering pursuits, survival instruction, language, crafts, art, music, historical knowledge, teachings and legends. These days much emphasis is placed on gatherings which feature sweat lodges and healing circles that connect back to our ancestral ways to maintain emotional, physical and spiritual balance and health.

Indigenous youth now have the opportunity to learn the cultural ways of their ancestors through our Elders, leaders and traditional people. There are Pow Wows that celebrate our ancestral past all over this country and at all times of the year. Schools in many provinces are providing more education that represents First Nations, more Indigenous people are becoming educators and traditional events are being developed everywhere. A healing journey from centuries of oppression is underway.

It makes my heart feel good to see so many young people figuring out who they are through learning experiences involving traditional and cultural events. I have seen first hand the change in youngsters when they are introduced to singing, drumming, healing circles and teachings. That heavy burden of generational pain and hopelessness that was produced by colonialism, the residential school system, the creation of the reserve system and the controlling government departments has been replaced by a sense of connection and pride.

It is not always Pow Wows or traditional gatherings. Many Indigenous organizations are promoting culture through well organized workshops, conferences and teaching events that bring together youth with trained Indigenous instructors, educators and academics. One such event like this that I’ve had the honour of attending for many years is the Wabun Youth Gathering. It is an annual summer event held in northeastern Ontario by the Wabun Tribal Council for youth from its territory to give them an opportunity to connect with their heritage and be proud of who they are. After watching the event grow for 14 years, it’s been amazing to see Indigenous youth being taught to not be ashamed of who they are and to grow to become more confident individuals with a strong sense of identity.

I want to personally thank those I have met over the years who are spiritual cultural leaders. What I have come to realize over the years is that it takes people, individuals like these who step forward to dedicate their time, energy and passion to help us find our way back home, to ground us and lift us up to deal with our wounds and weaknesses so that we can walk with more strength and balance on a good trail.

For so many of us our days are often still a struggle but we have survived to this point. Over the past couple of decades, life has taken a turn for the better and there are more opportunities for education and employment. Our youth have access to all of those wonderful traditional people that are clearing a path for us and marking it well with beneficial teachings, knowledge and a connection to our ancestors and Mother Earth. There is no turning back and things will keep on improving and I see a healing taking place. I see that healing in the faces of my nephews, nieces and all the young people I meet these days.

We all have to realize that the more we do to provide the opportunities for our young people to learn their ancestral traditions and culture the better we can help them to be grounded. They have to know and understand our history since the coming of the Europeans in order to really figure out why and how we have arrived at this place in time. We have been poor, hopeless, helpless and caught up in chaos and dysfunction for well documented historical reasons. Figuring all that out and returning to our roots won’t make everything perfect but it will make things better. We have a lot to remember and much to celebrate as we honour our ancestors during National Indigenous Peoples Day.

How to ‘Go Green’: Tips from a PLT Canada Green Leader

A young person looks over the water


Benedict Langille showed it can be easy being green with his “Tips for Going Green” webinar on March 25.

Langille, a member of Seine River First Nation, planned the webinar as part of Project Learning Tree Canada’s (PLT Canada) Green Leaders Program.

“Going green is more important than ever,” he told his viewers. “We want to make sure we’re taking care of the land.”

In January, PLT Canada launched the Green Leaders Program, which involves mentorship, skill development, and community action. The green leaders, Indigenous youth aged 15-25, plan and implement a green community-based project which could be an event, campaign, or another initiative of their choice. Participants receive up to $1,500 from PLT Canada to deliver their project along with training and development workshops to help support their success. The green leaders are also matched with mentors from the forest and conservation sector to help them complete their project and plan their green career pathway.

Langille decided to host his going green webinar because he thinks it’s important to educate as many people as possible about green issues.

“Education is power,” said the Thunder Bay local. “I think we need to be looking ahead for future generations and start tackling these issues now! I thought the webinar was the perfect way to compile all the information in a presentable form.”

Green tips

Going green can protect the earth’s ecological balance, reduce pollution, conserve resources, and more, said Langille. It can also save you money, improve your health, and guarantee the future for your children. 

“You get a healthier you out of it,” he said.

Langille started off his webinar with the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. He said, first, you reduce your consumption; then, you try to reuse objects; and last, you recycle if it can’t be reused. Some of his other tips to help save energy and money were turning off and unplugging electronics like power bars when you leave home for extended periods, installing low pressure faucets and shower heads, seeking the most energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and carpooling or walking.

“It’s the small things that make a difference in the long run,” he said.


Langille also gave attendees some gardening tips and tricks.

“I think now is the time to be reconnecting with the land! It creates independence for people, while also keeping them busy and in touch with being a green community,” he said.

He shared how to create a plastic bottle greenhouse, which reuses old plastic water bottles and helps your plants grow. This project can also be done on a smaller scale, with a single plant inside a bottle. Langille sent out low maintenance seeds like chives, spring onions, and radishes to participants so they could get their gardens started as well.

Green Jobs

Langille currently works as a tree planter for Outland. The 24-year-old also has plans to go back to school to help him land another green job. PLT Canada offers a Green Jobs Quiz that matches your personality to the rewarding green career paths best suited for you and a 50% wage match for employers hiring youth aged 15–30 into jobs that contribute to a more sustainable planet. The Green Leaders Program is one of the organization’s newer initiatives helping youth pursue and advance their green career pathways.

“During my time in the Green Leaders Program, I developed and worked on my confidence and networking—while also developing skills to help me in the workplace and the real world,” said Langille. “I have to thank PLT Canada for not only supporting me during my journey, but also giving me the knowledge, resources, and confidence to pave my own pathway!”

Langille is also featured on PLT Canada’s Voices of Indigenous Youth web map with other young Indigenous people who have worked in green jobs.

Under the Northern Sky: Pictures Of The Past


Over the past decade, one of few benefits of social media has been the sharing of old photographs from the past. Recently, I’ve come across several black and white photos that highlight my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I remember seeing some hard copies of these old photos being shared back home when I was a boy. I recall my parents and my aunts and uncles commenting on these old images in our family gatherings and doing their best to remember the names of the people pictured.

I’ve always had an interest in Mee-see-naw-pees-kee-eh-kan, the Cree word for camera. I enjoy the way a photograph preserves a moment of the past as a means to show future generations what life looked like back then. 

My parents Marius and Susan did their best to preserve a record of our family history through the years and my family still has a collection of photos of our past. They did their best to keep some sort of camera around the house so we could snap photos but the difficulty was in getting those images in print. There were several steps involved. The camera had to be in good working order, you needed to have a roll of film handy and even after taking pictures, someone had to send them to be processed in the south and then mailed back to our remote community. All those steps meant that getting any images at all was a big deal. 

It got a little easier in the 80s when disposable cameras became available but even then, in the north, there was no where to process a roll of film. Even though we took many pictures most of them never came to be because they were never sent out to be developed. 

When I travelled south on my grade eight school trip to Toronto in 1988, mom and dad gave me extra money to purchase disposable cameras. As a naive boy of 13, I bought a dozen cameras and snapped pictures of everything. Then I brought the used cameras back north without realizing I could have developed them while I was away. Mom had to randomly select some film rolls for development as the cost was too great to do them all.  

In the 1990s, photography got a little easier as more and more people were moving back and forth between the city and Attawapiskat, so there was always someone we could count on to drop off films and then bring them back. In the 1980s and 90s a lot of us discovered Polaroid cameras. It was like magic for us to take a photo and instantly have it appear in our hands.  

When I started working in media and writing in the late 90s, I purchased a 35mm film camera. I had to learn a lot including lighting, ISO, aperture and shutter speeds. Once I shot photos I still had to visit Royal Studio in Timmins to have my film developed. Every picture was precious to me because of the amount of work and care put into each one. 

When it came to media printing this was a science that I left to the professionals who had to take my best pictures, manually crop them, process them, treat them, scan them and then embed them onto a layout for a magazine, newsletter or newspaper. 

I felt like I had entered into the space age when I got my first digital camera, a two megapixel Fujifilm. I still had to limit my photography as I could only store my images on an eight megabyte memory card or transfer it onto my 20 gigabyte hard drive on my computer. Soon after, I graduated to a three megapixel camera and then a ground breaking 10 megapixel Olympus Digital SLR camera in 2006. 

Today much has changed in terms of memory capture and storage.  My more modern Nikon camera and my latest Android smart phone camera dwarfs anything I used in the past.  My digital library has grown to thousands of images stored on multiple hard drives over several terabytes. 

I now snap as many pictures as I desire. The problem these days is in taking the time to review and observe the images I’ve captured which all sit hidden behind a digital world rather than in a physical way in print on a wall or in a photo album. Sometimes I miss the old days when a visit to someone’s home usually ended up in sitting around looking at family albums. 

As much as I enjoy new technology, I am still amazed when I discover an old and faded image online in black and white of my home community and the life and people it captured from so long ago.

BC Nurses’ Union is committed to reconciliation

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) recognizes that colonization, racism and systemic discrimination have profoundly  impacted the lives of Indigenous peoples and their ability to access holistic, culturally safe health care. The  recent publication of In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health  Care has merely confirmed that these factors remain endemic to our care systems, while reminding us of the work  that must be done to remedy the many harms done to Indigenous people.  

To this end, BCNU is committed to fostering Indigenous cultural safety, through cultural humility, and eliminating  Indigenous-specific racism throughout our organization. Our commitment is framed through an ongoing  undertaking to establish a genuine and just process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. 

One aspect of this commitment is the establishment of a $1,500 bursary to be awarded annually to an Indigenous  student enrolled in a post-secondary nursing program in British Columbia. 

The BCNU Provincial Indigenous Student Nurse Bursary is an initiative of BCNU’s Indigenous Leadership Circle  and reflects the Union’s support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action, and  in particular, the call to increase the number of Indigenous professionals in health care. 

The bursary recipient will be announced on National Indigenous Nurses Day, which is commemorated during  National Nurses Week, May 10-16, 2021. 

As we strive to create a more equitable union, we will continue to draw on the expert knowledge of Indigenous  members – nurses and health care workers – to help inform the actions we must take and the paths we must  pursue. BCNU is committed to ending racism and discrimination wherever it is encountered. We recognize that  this work must be ongoing—within the union as well as in our workplaces and our communities. 

Christine Sorensen 
President, BC Nurses’ Union

First Nations Healthcare: Discrimination, Progress, and Resilience

Bigstone Health Center, Alberta

Marion Crowe is a citizen of Piapot First Nation and the Chief Executive Officer of the First Nations Health Managers Association (FNHMA).  

Imagine if a pandemic had swept the earth, and the only people who could save you were also known for discriminating against you. 

Ginew Wellness Center in Manitoba

When a system is strained, it often snaps at the point of existing fractures. As we move past the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, cracks in Canada’s healthcare system related to First Nations healthcare have become even more painfully evident. There is hope, but the failings of healthcare as it relates to First Nations have become increasingly concerning. 

Is there doubt our existing healthcare system harbours anti-Indigenous sentiment? Hard ‘no’!  Heartbreaking individual cases are well documented and alive.  Consider the now well-known death of Joyce Echaquan, who, last fall arrived at a hospital in Quebec requiring medical treatment. Instead of care,  Echaquan was insulted by those from whom she needed help. She was called “stupid” and told she would be “better off dead”. Tragically, Echaquan did die. And, while media exploded with shock at the cruel acts caught on camera, others in the First Nations community were dismayed but not surprised. Unfortunately, her experience is not new, nor one of a kind. Her experience encountering racism in the healthcare system has been shared by many others in our community.  

Indigenous people continue to feel excluded from their own healthcare system. With no power to make decisions on how healthcare is delivered, with low representation in the field, with a lack of cultural competency from those who provide services, is it any surprise?  

We have: Joyce’s Principle; Jordan’s Principle; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Calls to Action (specifically 18 to 24); Anti-Indigenous Racism movements; In Plain Sight, Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care Addressing Racism Review December 2020 Data Report (Nearly 85% of Indigenous participants indicated they had faced discrimination in the healthcare system); and numerous other reports that show a failing system. Discrimination in healthcare seems to be a simple fact of life for many Indigenous people.  

But progress is being made, and we are working together with Canada to make things better. The lack of infrastructure, funding and capacity in First Nations communities is no secret; in that context, the government of Canada aimed to provide those communities some of the country’s first COVID vaccine doses. The federal government, in their fall budget, also put aside $15.6-million for new Indigenous health legislation related to fighting anti-Indigenous racism in the healthcare sector. If delivered and developed as hoped, the legislation will support bringing control back to First Nations people over the delivery and development of our own health services. How this approach rolls out will be an important metric in measuring just how serious Canada is about reconciliation.  

We have thousands of battles to fight. Infrastructure countrywide needs to be improved; systemic racism rooted out; cultural competency & humility spread to service providers; resources and power put back in the hands of First Nations. But just as hard times bring to light the weak spots in our healthcare system, they also underscore just how strong First Nations communities are. We do more with less. The First Nations state of healthcare is one of resilience against heavy odds. We fill in gaps by acting as a community. We draw strength and knowledge from our beliefs, traditions and inherent knowledge to lift those in our community who need help the most. At our best, we work together as a community, weaving western and traditional practices and medicine into treatment. Our blended approach is one of respect, stories, dance, and consistency in culture that provides a mental and spiritual backbone against anxiety in uncertain times.  

 As we move to healthcare delivery by us and for us, there are heartwarming stories that are too precious not to share.  Nations are weaving western PPE care packs with cedar, sweetgrass and sage medicines to double the protection.  Nations have developed helplines for the biggest epidemic of our time in the fight against suicide, overdoses and racism.  We have seen a huge resurgence of our practices, languages and ways of healing.  There is hope. That is what we want our next seven generations to know.   

At FNHMA, we have numerous activities underway to support First Nations health.  We continue to grow new health leaders while supporting and strengthening existing health leaders who will take over our own health systems through the FNHMA certification and training programs that we offer.  FNHMA also started a Virtual Town Hall to keep people connected and informed on Covid -19. Now, over 150 Indigenous radio stations, not to mention multiple websites and social media, brings credible, relevant and timely information from trusted sources and experts. These are encouraging first steps, but only first steps, to what is needed in developing an inclusive healthcare infrastructure for First Nations. There is much to be done, and the marathon to improve our healthcare system continues.   

We lift you all, especially those working tirelessly on the front lines, ensuring the safety and protection of our nations.  We thank you and stand united in all the work that you do.       

Enabling Indigenous Academic Success in a Pandemic

The Indigenous Student Success Cohort (ISSC) program at the University of Lethbridge (UofL), is a well-recognized, successful first-year program that provides a solid academic foundation and skill set to enable Indigenous students to succeed in their degree of choice. Key to the success of the ISSC is the bridging of Indigenous and Western cultures, the creation of community, a culturally relevant, highly interactive, learning and supportive environment, and attention to Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning (IWKL). When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, schools and universities suddenly closed in March, and we scrambled to go online in a matter of days. This had a negative impact for many students, but particularly Indigenous students, many who had to move back to community and complex situations. There was little time to plan and there were many challenges in completing courses. It was stressful for all. It soon became evident that this was going to be the “new normal” for post-secondary education for the 20/21 academic year. As the Coordinator of the ISSC, I know first-hand the struggles and challenges Indigenous students experience with the Western way of learning, particularly in transitioning into mainstream university education at the best of times, so deciding how to deliver the entire program online was a deep concern.

Most ISSC students didn’t have a reliable laptop computer or internet so the first issue to address was technology. In Spring 2020, just before Covid hit, the UofL had partnered with the philanthropic Master Card Foundation (MCF) in a 5-year renewable commitment to increase Indigenous academic achievement across all levels of education and into first year university, with a specific focus on the ISSC program. As part of the commitment, students have their tuition fees and books paid for and are provided with a computer. However reliable connectivity for many still remains an issue.

In the ISSC, students take a core set of courses (mathematics, library science, writing and Quest for Success I) in the fall semester and a smaller core (Interdisciplinary studies and Quest for Success II and 2 or more mainstream electives from our approved list) in the spring semester. This enables the students to get a strong academic foundation in the first semester and then build on that foundation in the second semester while feathering into mainstream larger class sizes with the supports of the program.

One of the courses I teach in the program is the year-long course, Quest for Success (Q4S I & II). In the “Old Normal” we met Monday and Friday at noon over a meal. Sharing a meal is in keeping with Indigenous ways of building relationships and is a great way to disrupt barriers of shyness and difference. During the course we cover a variety of topics focused on enabling Indigenous academic success by bridging cultures and ways of knowing with mainstream education. This is a critically important course to the program, as it creates a community that is foundational to developing the supportive network needed as students continue through their degree. Creating that same environment online has been challenging this term and students have commented often that they feel disconnected from their cohort, the program, and university in general. “It’s just not how we are”, said one student. I hear often, “I can’t learn this way” and others have spoken to increasing anxiety in trying to work in the unfamiliar online space. “There are too many things to get around and I never know if I’m doing it right,” said one student. “Everything takes so long online,” is a common statement. With the pandemic situation now moving into its ninth month, it is beginning to feel like it will never end. For many it is discouraging, and it is getting harder to stay positive and focused and to stay the course.

Marathon runners have a term called “hitting the wall”, the point when you have no fuel left and you feel like you just can’t go on and if it is severe enough, you can’t finish. For many of us dedicated runners, this is devastating. Many students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are beginning to experience what I call Hitting the Pandemic Wall Syndrome. How do we get over this and make it to the finish line? is a central question. In the Q4S we have shared extensively in virtual talking circles (Figure 1) and have had numerous presentations and sessions from experts and elders on physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellness; about how to stay positive and develop our own tools for overcoming The Pandemic Wall Syndrome. The following are some of the outcomes of our Q4S sharing that might benefit others.

Figure 1: ISSC 0524 Quest for Success Class – Online: The New Normal

Understanding the New Normal
It takes time to adjust to new ways of working and being and it is important to acknowledge that your work may be impacted. While that doesn’t mean one should give up, letting go of high, and maybe unrealistic, expectations at this time can help us find balance and a new normal. Without our normal routines many have struggled with finding a new rhythm and are finding it difficult to focus and be motivated. This leads to frustration, anger, and anxiety, and we often take it out in negative ways. It is important to develop some sense of a “new normal” routine – get up at the same time every day, get ready, do your work at the same time, and finish as you normally would. Having a routine will give structure to what seems to be an endless amount of empty time and space. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Try to focus on the immediate and have micro goals rather than looking too far into the future. If it seems never-ending then it is easy to get discouraged.

Stress and Resilience
We often think of stress as the enemy, but how we perceive our stress dictates how we experience that biologically. If we think stress is bad for us, then it can have negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, and even physical illness. If we think stress isn’t bad for us (i.e. that it motivates us) then we can use it to benefit us. Some call this resilience – changing how we perceive something. So, while we are in this Pandemic Crisis, think about how you might change your negative perceptions into more positive ones so you might build your own personal Resilience Toolbox.

Self-care – What does this mean?
Self-care is about taking care of our own mental and physical wellbeing. It means Cultivation of Self and is focused on nurturing our personal needs; allowing ourselves to relax, regenerate, and recharge in meaningful ways. Everyone knows what works for their own self-care but often we put that aside in our care for others, in the stress of the situation, or because we lack the energy. Often the attitude “what’s the point” prevails especially when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and are discouraged. But if we don’t care for ourselves, then we aren’t able to care well for others, or care about the things that are important to us.

I use the Medicine Wheel (MW), which is foundational and sacred to many Indigenous cultures, in much of my teaching as it can represent a multitude of concepts: the seasons, the four directions, personal well-being, the stages of life, et cetera. By its circular nature, the MW illustrates the continuity and inter-relatedness of its components. Figure 2 is a Self-care MW compiled from our talking circle conversations about the things we do for our own self-care. Beginning on the right and moving clockwise the components of self-care are physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

Figure 2: Medicine Wheel of Self-care

Physical – Eating well and staying hydrated are key components of your physical well-being. Prioritize sleep. Making sure to get some exercise and fresh air every day. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and it gets you out in nature breathing in fresh air which helps us calm down. In terms of your own workspace, think about light. Try to have your workspace in a location where there is good natural light. Natural light is easier on the eyes and makes us feel brighter and lighter.

Emotional – Recognize and accept that stress can make you emotional and everyone suffers from some level of anxiety and depression in stressful situations. The challenge becomes when anxiety and depression are prolonged and extreme, and they impact our relationships or our ability to perform our normal tasks. If that happens, then it is important to seek professional help such as your doctor for medical intervention, an elder or counsellor for someone to talk to, or a combination of both. Seeking professional help, is not a sign of weakness but rather it is being proactive about one’s self-care.

Intellectual – You might think being in school is intellectual enough, but it is important to have something outside of that. Having conversations with someone about important and Non-Covid and interesting topics or the latest book you read, or Netflix show you saw over a Zoom-coffee can be refreshing and intellectually stimulating – a breath of fresh air.

Spiritual – What is good for your soul and your inner being. What are the things unique to you that ground you but also lift your spirit? Perhaps they are smudging, praying, talking with elders, ceremony, etc. For me, it is running in the coulees. I love the beauty of nature, the animals, the river, and the fresh air. I feel grounded to Mother Earth, the Creator and my inner self where I can think and reflect. I call it running meditation. It is important to find your “thing” that fulfills you spiritually.

Building Your Resilience Toolbox
Each person’s toolbox will be different because we are each unique. Sometimes we need only one tool to handle a situation and other times we might need the whole set before we find one that works. Some key tools for your toolbox are:

Figure 3: A Resilience Tool Box

a) Respect your mental health. We each have different responses depending on where we are in our own mental health. The key is to let go of things you can’t control. Maintain an optimistic outlook. We all know the adage “every cloud has a silver lining”. Can you turn a negative into a positive? Practice the attitude of gratitude and joy through laughter. We often hear, “laughter is the best medicine”. It is true. Take breaks during the day or when you are feeling stressed and just breathe. Breathing is one way to reset our anxiety.

b) Create social connections. Develop a strong supportive network of friends, family, and cohorts. People who are experiencing the same situation or who have been through something similar are valuable resources. Knowing that we are not the only one who feels a particular way is helpful as it normalizes our feelings. A student in the ISSC said in a sharing circle, “It makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one who feels this way, not that I want anyone to feel this way. It’s just helpful to know I’m not the only one”.

c) Make every day meaningful. At the end of each day, review your accomplishments and then set your priorities for the following day. Sometimes lists are beneficial but don’t make them so long that they are daunting. Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early so that you aren’t stressed. The news and social media can be great sources of stress as they tend to sensationalize the news and report more on the negative than the positive. This can be a great source of anxiety for many people. Try to minimize the number of times you engage with the news and social media including responding to emails.

d) Set boundaries. It is important to make a distinction between school and the rest of your life. Take time away from school. Celebrate successes and acknowledge your efforts, even if they seem small. Be proactive; don’t ignore issues as they can get out of control quickly, and know that your situation can improve if you actively put energy and attention into it.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Practice self-compassion. It is a difficult time and being kind to yourself will go a long way to handling the challenges we are all facing. We will reach the finish line.