Topic: Education

Meet the First Nations team behind Futurpreneur’s Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program

When Futurpreneur launched its tailored programming to support budding Indigenous entrepreneurs, their vision was to streamline the startup process, address community-specific challenges and help break down barriers that prevent Indigenous youth from starting their own businesses. 

Nearly three years since its establishment, this vision has been realised with more than 100 entrepreneurs enrolled in the Indigenous Entrepreneur Startup Program (IESP) across Canada. The program is curated and led by a team of ambitious entrepreneurial-minded 

Indigenous professionals with lived experience and a genuine passion for 

empowering others reach their full potential.

Under the direction of a Cree Saulteaux woman, Holly Atjecoutay, and supported by a group of business development managers –  Jason McDonald, Melissa Gladue, and Noah Wilson – the team works closely with the entrepreneurs to help them navigate the startup journey. 

Jason McDonald – a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory where he also currently resides – spent most of his professional career assisting Indigenous people with disabilities, helping them secure employment or pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Today, he is a business development manager with  IESP, where he continues to employ his skills working with budding entrepreneurs.

Commenting on what entrepreneurship means to him, Jason explained the entrepreneurial spirit has always been an integral part of Indigenous community life and that he’s grateful to Futurpreneur for continuing this tradition. “Our culture will show entrepreneurship is not new to Indigenous people,” Jason said, “I am proud to say my grandmother was Mary Adams from Akwesasne. She was a world renowned basket-maker. Her baskets are sitting in the Smithsonian institute, the Vatican, in the New York State Governor’s office to name a few places.” 

Noah Wilson

Jason is also the treasurer of the Hogansburg Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department. In his free time, he enjoys camping or watching motorsports. In 2019 and 2022, he volunteered for the Montreal Formula 1 Grand Prix as a firefighter.

Melissa Gladue is nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Cree woman) and a proud member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation in

northern Alberta. Her mother is of Métis heritage and her father Plains Cree. Melissa was raised

in a small rural farming community in northern Alberta; brought up with the traditional knowledge

and lived-experience of the local Cree people.  

Outside of her volunteer activity Melissa likes to spend a lot of time travelling in Alberta by

exploring new lakes for kayaking, fishing, and finding new hiking trails. A fun fact, Melissa is also a plant mom to over 200 tropical house plants; a love she feels is inherently Indigenous.  

To Melissa, Indigenous entrepreneurship is a mutually beneficial relationship between community and the environment. “Understanding and respecting the importance of how both can affect each other and how being environmentally responsible is taking care of my community and being community orientated means taking care of the land we call home for my generation and the generations to come,” she said. 

When joining Futurpreneur, Melissa was most excited to play a first-hand role in bridging the gap of economic resiliency within the Indigenous population, specifically among the youth. Reflecting on what changes she would like to see being made to empower the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs, she said the introduction of “economic education to youth.”

“Our youth are our future we need to target them at an early age and teach them about the importance of finances so that when they are ready to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours, they are not being discouraged about how tedious the process is and how difficult it can be to rebuild credit to meet lenders’ requirements for capital,” Melissa said. 

“I believe in the importance of lived experience; especially when talking about my Indigenous

Culture. I am second generation removed from the residential school, but I was blessed to have

still been raised in the traditional cultural ways of my people. Having qualifications and

education is great; but nothing replaces lived experience. First-hand knowledge and

experience is what will equip you and give you the necessary means to be successful in a role,” Melissa said. 

She added, “It is through my lived experience I can relate and empathise with others, and it is through my career and educational experience that I can walk dual worlds working in tandem for the betterment of my people.”

Noah Wilson, a Cree man with French/Ukrainian heritage on his mother’s side of the family, is also a community member of Peguis First Nation which is the largest Treaty 1(1871) community located in the province of Manitoba.

Commenting on what continues to fuel passion for supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs, Noah explained that “two of the biggest barriers facing Indigenous entrepreneurs across Turtle Island is access to capital and the lack of access to mentorship and peer groups that help in growing their business.”

Through his role at Futurpreneur, Noah is working directly to resolve these issues and equip entrepreneurs with the skills and tools they need to succeed.

He added, “The most exciting part of my role is being able to work solely with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Entrepreneurs and Potential Entrepreneurs to smash through these barriers with our financing and mentorship program by helping them build their business plans and connecting them with the larger Indigenous business development ecosystem. It is exciting to be able to help build an Indigenous business community with every Indigenous entrepreneur who goes through our program as well as watching their business grow as they get off the ground and the countless accolades our Indigenous entrepreneurs receive as they inspire the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs.”

To learn more about IESP and register for upcoming webinars and events, visit our website:

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.

Education Part Of Healing

by Xavier Kataquapit 

Education for Indigenous people presents all kinds of great opportunities for us to move ahead and develop careers that are rewarding and satisfying. This was not always the case as historically there were few opportunities, insufficient budgets and limited access. So much has changed for the better over the past two decades. Our First Nation leadership at national, provincial, regional and local levels have been lobbying for more control over education budgets, advocating for funding increases and creating more opportunities at the secondary, college and university levels. 

    Just 20 or 30 years ago, it was a lot harder for most Indigenous people, especially those from northern remote communities to attend high school or post secondary education. In most cases it meant having to move away from their home communities to attend secondary school, college or university in cities and towns in the south. The education systems were not really geared to assisting, supporting and encouraging Indigenous students. Many students found it very difficult to be away from their families, friends and cultural roots. 

   Many of us just could not adapt and turned to alcohol and drugs to cope, which of course resulted in failed efforts. Thankfully there have been huge changes for the better when it comes to education for my people all across the country. Our education budgets have increased and there are more secondary schools in remote communities so that young students do not have to leave their families and friends at an early age. We know all too well the terrible result of the residential schools system that stole children out of our First Nations and terrorized them within the so called education system of the time. My father and mother, my uncles and aunts and just about every elder I have ever known had to deal with the aftermath of the residential school system and it was devastating. 

    In my own childhood education, I attended day school in my home community in Attawapiskat and I had a hard time to move forward. In fact our school was shut down in 2000 because of diesel fuel contamination that was decades old. I was surprised and shocked like so many people my age who attended daily lessons at the JR Nakogee Elementary school throughout the 80s that thousands of gallons of diesel stove oil had leeched under the building. After the discovery and closure, it took many years for a new school to be constructed and that was a challenge for all students.

    Shannon Koostachin, a young girl from the community who showed the country what was happening with education in Attawapiskat, led the fight for the rights of Indigenous students at the time. It was through her voice and direct pleas to government that led to the creation of the Kattawapiskak Elementary School which was opened in 2014. Sadly Shannon never got to see the new school she fought for as she tragically died at the age of 15 in a car accident in 2010. 

    Education has never been easy for Indigenous people. I had to leave my community to attend secondary school in the south and that was very difficult to deal with. I was lucky to have great experiences with the families I boarded with and I also met many good teachers but this was a lonely and challenging period of my life. Today, most remote communities have good elementary and secondary schools and there are now many Indigenous teachers. This is a positive change for everyone. There are also more opportunities online allowing people to stay in their communities and access post secondary education. Colleges and universities these days are more inclusive and supportive of Indigenous students needs with dedicated staff, traditional and cultural programs, social services and generally a more inclusive and open environment.

    Today I see many Indigenous people moving ahead in education and developing careers in education, health, legal, financial, industrial, commercial, political sectors and participants in just about every type of work you can think of. The future is looking bright and more liberal and open minded governments have moved forward with increased funding in education. However, there is still a need for more funding, access and support dedicated to righting the wrongs of the last 200 years. The path of reconciliation is a very difficult and long one but at the very least we have embarked on that journey. 

    Our young students are moving ahead in a more positive, open, sensitive and supportive world and education will be one of the ingredients to heal from the past. We owe it to every little child taken from their families during the residential school era to do our best to succeed in our lives and give them a voice that will lift us all up.

Indigenous Education For Future Healing

Simon Paul Dene shares his Life and Wisdom

by Danny Beaton Mohawk

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

Thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to talk to you. In our langue we say Be Still. Every morning we wake up we have to learn to be still. In that moment we learn to open up slowly with your mind and slowly with your heart, we learn to communicate with the one who lives up there, the Creator of Mother Earth and we learn to be still with Mother Earth from a very early age. This comes in handy later on: once we become hunters or you become a seeker, you have to learn to be still. You learn to look around using your senses, you learn to touch each of your senses. What you hear, what you see, everything is motion, everything is in motion.

What you hear from other people when they talk to you. You learn to discern  what is good and what is bad for the intake of your mind and onto your heart. That is why we say be still and then you go and see what it is that needs to be done today. It has all been done for you. The Creator means ahead of time what you’re gonna say, what you’re gonna do, where you’re gonna go. That is what is called being a Human Being, what you need to be a Human Being. To be a Human Being you need to learn to dance, to dance the day. Be Still, Be Still and then you learn how to sing, how to sing songs, to sing joyful songs for yourself and for others. So you share that. Our circle of languages is all about sharing. So what you get is what you take. It’s give and take.That is the way things roll for us all the time. We learn to share in our language, hopefully the original language that we have stored in our heart and our mind. Hopefully, we can release it and release it to the Creator, ask for forgiveness.

In this world that we are living in now it seems to be unbalanced so much so that we all begin to neglect how to be still. You learn to look around, you learn to look around, you make a mistake, you hold back, you be still and then you learn from that mistake, you learn from mistakes. Take it easy. I want to take the opportunity to thank you, for talking to you from my heart. I am seventy-four. Revolutions are on Mother Earth now and I am very thankful. I am very thankful for everything, I am very thankful that I even hurt. I am very thankful for everything, every which way. Thank you, Danny, for the opportunity, but I have a sore shoulder that prevents me from saying too much.

You know, I was born on a reservation. They call it a reservation, I guess, and our land up in northern Saskatchewan, in a place called Knee Lake. It was my grandfather’s trap line and he lived there among other relatives as well. So I lived there till around the age of seven years old. Then I was taken to the Indian residential school in Beauval in Northern Saskatchewan. I remember the first time my father led me up the hill up to that brick building, took me by the hand to go up that hill. I was only seven years old. I didn’t know what I was getting into. He let me go with a bunch of nuns from around that place. They looked like a bunch of penguins, they were pretty weird dressed in black and white. Seven years old and I’m looking at all this black and white. Later on during that day I thought what in the world did I get myself into. So I cried a little and I wanted to see my sister and my sister was only next door. She was five years older than me and she had already been there in Beauval, so they let me see my sister and it was a relief to see my relative and later on I got used to going to school. They teach you how to speak English by way of Dick and Jane, but it was funny learning English ah oh ah ah oh stuttering our way through English. Anyway, I was there for nine years in that Indian Residential School. After grade eight they put me in Saint Thomas College in Northern Saskatchewan for two years, two years in the seminary going to church five o’clock in the morning and being on my knees in the evening before bedtime, but they were focused on education with the priests. I lasted two years but I couldn’t take it any more. Then I decided to live with my brother in Ontario at a place called Pick River Indian Day School. That was the first time I was ever left in the open; man, it was really different from being in a Residential School and Boarding School, seeing all these open rivers and streams. Here we were free, not locked up or boarded up in Residential School. First time in my life I ever felt so free. I lasted one year there in grade eleven, then I went to Saskatoon. There I joined the military and spent a couple of tours in West Germany. That was my first time out of the country, to go and see something that I never have experienced, Germany. When I sit back now and think about how my life has changed by my Indigenous roots to where my mind is now, what a phase I went through! I am spiritually inclined with what I have been through. I say wow, amazing.

When I arrived back home from Germany, there was a Uranium Company  called  Amok around 1977 from France that came up to Northern Saskatchewan. They were looking at our territory, we didn’t know at that time. Finally, it became known that they would open a Uranium Mine in Cluck Lake, Saskatchewan. I was the editor of a local newspaper called Natotawin, which means “Listen To Me” in Cree. I started giving people in Norther Saskatchewan information about the Uranium mining operations and what it does to people and I did that for two years. Then all of a sudden the government shut me down: no more paper and I realized these people want me out of there. Around that time I met some people from The American Indian Movement and my life changed again for the better, because what they offered was the Sacred Teachings of The Sweatlodge and The Pipe and John Trudell. John Trudell traveled with me to meetings and we informed the people of the danger of Uranium Mining. Afterwards the whole world learned about it and I came to Toronto because I was blackballed from Saskatchewan for my activism. I took some classes in social work and began working for native organizations, Street Patrol and Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto. After that, I took up a paint brush and started my art work for our Indian people and native crafts beading to offer all these nice things to people and make a living by trading and selling them. To this day I still have some paintings that I’m working on.

We are all on this long journey, Danny, and we hope we are helping each other. One thing for sure: we need education to learn how we survived after all these years of colonization and genocide, because we are still strong and we all need to learn from the past. We need to be as gentle as we can, because we all make mistakes and we are all different. We need our Traditional Education because we need to know who we are as Indigenous People and where we come form physically, mentally, spiritually and culturally.

Something that is important about education is  to learn that our people returned from the war in Europe fighting for a country that turned around on them and mistreated our warriors once they came home. Our soldiers need to be respected for standing up for Canada and not forgotten, because we are Indians living on our own territories. Our warriors need to encourage one another to stand tall and that is what our life is about. We all need to learn how to defend ourselves, so we can defend our families and our own nations too. Don’t think of yourself first; think about our people and the nation. That’s how we need to move forward, always the people first. In the Sun Dance they always say the people first. We Sun Dance For The People; in Lakota they say: OyaTay. We need to attend traditional ceremonies to be really educated. Our ceremonies have been with us for centuries. We all need to see and be face to face with the Creator. The way to do that is To Be Still. The American Indian Movement was my first real education, Danny. Going into the Sweatlodge during the winter time in Northern Saskatchewan was really really cool out there back in the seventies. Now when I look back  at our life everything has changed.

Ocean School Introduces “Bák̓vṇx̌ (The Harvest)”!

 How do youth learn about taking care of our blue planet? Ocean School’s mission is to provide learners, the next generation of ocean citizens, with the knowledge and tools to better understand our influence on the ocean and the ocean’s influence on us.

Ocean School, a joint initiative of the Ocean Frontier Institute at Dalhousie University, and the National Film Board of Canada, is a free, innovative inquiry-based learning experience geared towards ages 11-15 and available online in English, French, and Spanish. Using videos, virtual reality, augmented reality, and corresponding activities, Ocean School strengthens students’ personal connection to the ocean and seeks to empower them to take action.

The Bák̓vṇx̌ (Harvest) module was filmed and developed on unceded Haíɫzaqv homelands and waterways. Ocean School is sincerely grateful to the Haíɫzaqv Nation for allowing Ocean School to be guests in their territory, for sharing their stories and knowledge, and for collaborating with us for this module. 

Boris Worm, Marine Ecologist and Scientific Director Ocean School, emphasizes that “In visiting the Haíɫzaqv nation we all can gain a much deeper appreciation of how connected we are to these lands and waters, and the many creatures that call it home”

There were four key pillars to Ocean School’s approach with the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation, which were largely informed by Jess Housty’s article, “You’re not the Indian I had in mind”. 

·         Openness and authenticity 

·         Community collaboration 

·         Ownership, cultural heritage and intellectual property 

·         Giving back and building capacity 

Youth host Jordan Wilson invites you to his Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) homelands to take part in the harvest. Learn how herring, salmon, and Haíɫzaqv people are interconnected in the rich ecosystem of British Columbia’s Central Coast. This module celebrates the deep relationships between the Haíɫzaqv and these keystone species—relationships that are over 14,000 years old!

Kelly Brown, Director of the Haíɫzaqv Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) states “Without the herring and salmon, we don’t have a culture. It breaks the thread of who we are as a people.”

Join the Haíɫzaqv and others to study the cycles that connect land and sea, and learn how traditional ecological language can guide us into a more sustainable future. 

 In Bák̓vṇx̌ (Harvest), the overarching module question is ‘How can we take a little and leave a lot for nature?’                                                                                                                                                  Learners are asked to reflect about what they’ve learned and how they can put their learning into action. This ‘Take Action’ activity in the module is designed to support sustained inquiry, leadership and collaboration.

Education, acknowledgement, resilience: How Downie & Wenjack Fund is encouraging Canadians to act during National Indigenous History Month [Sponsored by TD]

Title: Education, acknowledgement, resilience: How Downie & Wenjack Fund is encouraging Canadians to act during National Indigenous History Month

By Theresa Tayler


June marks National Indigenous History Month, which means a time of celebrations from coast to coast to coast, and to commemorate the history, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

Just ask Sarah Midanik. Growing up around St. Albert, AB, as a proud member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, and part of one of the founding Métis families in the province, she is no stranger to community gatherings, including jigging, music, and other cultural celebrations. 

This year, there is a sombre shadow in the midst of what is usually a positive and inspiring time. When the news broke at the end of May about the remains of 215 children at one of the largest residential schools in Canada near Kamloops B.C., Midanik, along with the rest of Canada, paused to sit with the truth of what many Indigenous People long understood.

“This has been a horrible time. The last thing we feel like doing is celebrating,” says Midanik, who is the President & CEO of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF). “But resilience and strength are at our roots and finding healing through culture and connection is at our core.”

Sarah Midanik,  President & CEO of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF). Image courtesy of DWF.

DWF was founded in 2016, with the goal of moving reconciliation forward by building awareness, education and connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. In honour of National Indigenous History Month, for the past several years they have presented a series of events to celebrate the diversity of Indigenous Peoples across the country.

“We have such incredible partnerships with artists, Knowledge Keepers, Elders and youth that help to make our Indigenous History Month events come to life,” shares Midanik. “This year, it is important that we bond together and connect through culture, community, and shared experience.”

The Fund is part of the legacy of late Canadian songwriter, Tragically Hip frontman, artist, and poet Gord Downie, to improve the lives of First Peoples. His family, in collaboration with the family of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy born in Ogoki Post on the Marten Falls Reserve in 1954, helped developed the not-for-profit.

Image courtesy of DWF.

At the age of nine, Chanie was sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario. At age 12, he tried to escape the school to reunite with his family. Nine others ran away on the same day, and all but Chanie were caught; his body was later found beside the railway tracks a week after he fled. Chanie died of starvation and exposure to the elements. 

“[Gord] was so maddened and upset when he heard Chanie’s story. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t been taught about the atrocities of the residential school system growing up,” Midanik says.

In the wake of the discovery at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, DWF launched the 215 Pledge to honour all children, families and communities affected by residential schools. The Pledge is a call to action to unite in truth and to commit to change. 

“We are all grieving for the families of the 215 children who never returned home. This news reminds us that our work building cultural understanding and creating a path toward reconciliation only becomes more relevant and crucial,” says Midanik.

When the news broke, Midanik describes how she spent the weekend in conversation with Chanie’s family and how they spoke about what this moment meant to the survivors and those who have been impacted by the harrowing legacy of residential schools. One of Chanie’s sisters, Pearl, kept saying, ‘Now they know, now the rest of world knows we weren’t lying…’.

“This is really what DWF is all about – education and action. To create positive change that will improve the lives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada,” says Midanik. Adding that one of her favourite quotes is from The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who said: “Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.”

Image courtesy of DWF.

Through the TD Ready Commitment, TD’s corporate citizenship platform, DWF has received support to help preserve and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ arts and culture, such as through TD’s sponsorship of the Indigenous History Month series.

“TD has supported us throughout this journey, which is especially impactful as a not-for-profit during a pandemic, ensuring that we are still able to move forward in sharing the hope, unity and celebration of different Indigenous communities and voices throughout the country,” Midanik says.

“Our activities this month will provide an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the history, cultures and achievements of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples. It is also a time to reflect on the resilience of Indigenous Peoples and acknowledge the struggle, both against acts of racism they face today and the past actions that sought to erase their identity.” 

TD has a long-standing commitment to Indigenous Peoples and communities. Together with organizations like DWF, they are committed to supporting programs and initiatives that help all Canadians learn about Indigenous Peoples and the work required to help advance Truth and Reconciliation calls to action.

This month, and all year-round, take time to reflect on the ongoing impact of the residential school system and the resulting trauma.  Consider donating, developing your understanding by reading a summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, or explore some of the virtual events happening this month at

Promoting Fire and Life Safety through Prevention and Public Education

Photo credits: Leon Smallboy


Fire Safety in First Nations communities is a challenge. Overcrowding and housing repair remain a concern and are just a few of the many factors that contribute to this tragic situation*1

In the early 2000’s, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that members of First Nation communities across Canada were 10.4 times more likely to die in a fire than the rest of Canadians, per capita. Since then, we have continued to experience fatalities throughout other Nations such as the Inuit and Metis Nations. 

A recent report released by Statistics Canada, commissioned by the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council Project (NIFSC) and funded by Indigenous Services Canada, examined the mortality and morbidity related to fire, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit. This study indicated that Indigenous People are over five times more likely to die in a fire. That number increases to over 10 times for First Nations people living on reserves. Inuit are over 17 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people. Rates among Métis were higher than non-Indigenous estimates (2.1), but these rates were not significantly different. The study further stated that “The mortality and morbidity rates provided by the new Statistics Canada report are grim but underscore the vision for the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council.” The NIFSC Project has launched programs that include education and training in the areas of community fire safety, community governance support, community infrastructure and engineering support, fire department management, fire investigation services, and fire department operations; all of which are offered to First Nations populations living on reserve. You can see the full report on the NIFSC website:

A sad reflection of my own thoughts as I connected the dots through my recollection of fire investigations that I have conducted in my Treaty Areas of 6, 7, and 8. I have found that there was limited fire prevention or public education available to the Nations. I would like to see nations placing more importance on fire and life safety prevention and public education so that we can stop fires from happening. Of course, communities must balance the needs of housing programs, water, sewer etc. but fire prevention must be a priority. It is much better to stop a fire from happening than to respond in the hopes of putting it out.

It is important that First Nations develop fire and life safety public education programs and try to reduce property damage, injury and fatalities, while still preserving our traditional land stewardship. 60% of First Nations across Canada live in the vastly forested areas and many may not be participating in FireSmart programs focused on reducing fire loads in their communities. FireSmart Canada has an initiative where they highlight stories of fire stewardship in Indigenous Communities. Blazing the Trail: Celebrating Indigenous Fire Stewardship is an inspirational for all Indigenous peoples. Forest dwellers, women, and local communities Joji Cariño is another recommended read on this subject:

To add more fuel to the fire, we also need to look at other fire prevention measures in fire risk. First Nation communities that evaluate fire risk in their backyard will determine the types of programs needed to reduce risks facing their specific communities. Data on everything – from testing smoke alarms to cigarette smoking to cooking safely can be compiled and measured. With this information, the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service (IFMS) can assist First Nation communities in their Community Risk Reduction Plans. Data-based decision making will support better outcomes. 

COVID-19 has made it harder to reduce the number of incidents, as more of our families are spending longer hours at home. This extra pressure on fragile infrastructure is why it is so important to focus on fire prevention and safety in the home right now. Talking with other First Nation fire departments across Canada, I have heard some great ideas like creating an app through the Band Office Facebook account where the home occupant can conduct their own fire safety assessment and setting up video calls between the fire officer and the home occupant for a virtual search of hidden hazards.  

I also see this as a great opportunity for our youth to share their ideas for how we might use technology to overcome the physical limits that the pandemic has put on us while also sharing safety messaging to everyone.

I encourage our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit to support the efforts of the IFMS.  In turn, the IFMS can support your fire departments, community champions, and our future generations in fire and life safety. It is imperative that we reduce these numbers and look to each other, and help each other, as Turtle Island and Mother Earth need us to do.

Akimaymok (Keep On Going – Cree)

*1 – More information on the 2016 census portrait can be found here:

Leon Smallboy is from the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, AB. In his role as Deputy Regional Fire Marshal with the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service he works with communities and their fire departments to conduct fire department assessments, home safety assessments, and community fire safety assessments. Leon started in the fire service over 25 years ago with Maskwacis Fire Rescue service before joining the Technical Services Advisory Group, working with all levels of governments and First Nations in Alberta. Leon serves as the Indigenous Director on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association and was the past Board President of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada.

Five questions with Chloe Crosschild (Iitapii’tsaanskiaki), RN

Chloe Crosschild (Iitapii’tsaanskiaki), RN, graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a Bachelor of Nursing (BN) in 2014 and a Master of Nursing (MN) in 2020, and won the uLethbridge School of Graduate Studies Silver Medal of Merit – Master of Nursing. A talented Blackfoot nursing scholar, Chloe is committed to research and practice that supports Indigenous health and well-being. Her thesis included a unique Indigenous methodology based on Blackfoot Ways of Knowing, providing potential roadmap for future health research with Blackfoot peoples. Since completing her MN, Chloe has been working as an Indigenous advisor to the Nursing Education in Southwestern Alberta (NESA) BN programs and has started her Nursing PhD program at the University of British Columbia. 

What is your most memorable uLethbridge experience?
“Sitting on the Graduate Students’ Association Council as the Indigenous Representative was very important in making my graduate experience because I was able to learn from students, faculty and staff in other disciplines throughout uLethbridge community.”

Did anyone at uLethbridge help shape your uLethbridge journey?
“My mentor, role model and thesis supervisor, Dr. Peter Kellett was an important influence in my uLethbridge experience. I met Peter while completing my undergraduate degree and he has been there to support and guide me in my professional journey. Through his mentorship, I gained the confidence I needed to push past my own expectations. I am forever grateful for Dr. Kellett.”

What is the most important lesson you learned?
“The most important lesson I learned was to be true to myself in everything I do, including my research and academic work. Despite being an Indigenous woman, I was primarily trained and educated in a colonial system. It was in my graduate school journey that I was able to fully embrace the importance of my background and identity and draw on my Blackfoot values to guide me in my school work. I found myself in a unique position to explore how two worlds collide in health care, especially when Western and Indigenous ways of being clashed.”

What are your plans for the future?
“My plans are to complete my PhD in nursing. I hope to find opportunities throughout my career to work alongside Indigenous Peoples and communities toward health equity.”

What advice would you give to students about to begin their post-secondary education?
“My biggest piece of advice for students is to be open-minded to different worldviews and perspectives and try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We aren’t expected to know everything when we start our academic journeys, so it’s okay to be wrong or feel challenged because that is the only way we can grow as students and scholars.”

Anishinaabemowin and Plains Cree Green Jobs guide

The Anishinaabemowin translation of Project Learning Tree Canada’s (PLT Canada) A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals has just been released, and the Plains Cree translation is coming out soon. 

“The revitalization of our cultures includes language. Offering these translations is a way of acknowledging and respecting the culture and traditions of Indigenous Peoples,” said Dean Assinewe, one of the people profiled. 

The free guide features first-person stories from 12 Indigenous leaders working in the forest, conservation and parks sectors and green career fact sheets. 

“It’s important to reach people in their first language, and we hope the guide can also be used as a learning tool for others who are trying to learn their language,” said Assinewe, a member of Sagamok Anishnawbek.

Anishinaabemowin is spoken by approximately 28,000 people, and Cree is spoken by around 96,000 people. They are two of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages in what is now Canada.

Efforts to preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages is part of reconciliation, and the United Nations declared that the International Decade of Indigenous Languages will begin in 2022.

In fact, it is already a best management practice in industries like forestry to put notices out in Indigenous languages as well. And there are many initiatives within communities to reconnect younger generations with their language. For example, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation used the cultural activity of making maple syrup to teach Anishinaabemowin vocabulary with a YouTube documentary, Ziidbaatogeng. 

Assinewe, who now works as PLT Canada’s Indigenous Opportunities Advisor, said activities like this connect us to the land. His love of nature was influenced by his father, who was a trapper in his youth.

“We spoke quite a bit about his experience and his spiritual relationship with the land. In our culture, we’re all connected,” he said.

Assinewe was working for a pharmaceutical company in Toronto, but he found himself wanting to go home and be outdoors. So he switched gears and pursued his Registered Professional Forester (RPF) designation.

One of the goals of A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals is to inspire Indigenous youth to pursue green careers. PLT Canada has placed more than 500 Indigenous youth from over 80 different Nations into high-quality green work experiences—many of whom found placements in their own communities.

“If First Nations can help take a lead in how development happens, Canada and the rest of the world will be better for it,” said Assinewe. “We have to draw careful connections between our environment, our culture and traditions, and how we develop our natural resources.”

Check out A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals in English, French, Anishinaabemowin and soon Plains Cree for free at