Topic: NEWS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To recognize and release generational Indigenous traumas

We all survived

Our Youth will gain a better understanding

Together we lighten grief’s burden

For a healthier better future

The journeys of travelling message chests

From the heartbeat of their nations in the high mountains

Through their salmon birth and death places

Alongside their Thomson and Fraser River watersheds

Pause in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Before carrying on to the Pacific Ocean

Then returning to their starting place

To complete the cycle

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

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

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

breaking every cycle every single day.  

We honour you and your children now and forever Grandmothers

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


a Cedar Planting Ceremony

With a Cedar traveling Message Chest

We honour our Grandmothers

With earth, water, fire and air

Planting new Cedar Trees

To grow Strong

To Represent Indigenous food, medicine and healing

And connect us all for generations to come.

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

To participate in future projects

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

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

If you would like to help, contact

UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY – Hope, Justice And Healing

by Xavier Kataquapit

Finally Indigenous people all across Canada can feel some hope that Canadians and our governments are taking reconciliation seriously. The history and the proof of what colonization has done to my people all across this country has come to light and there can be no more ignoring the facts of so many horrific acts aimed at getting rid of the original inhabitants of this land. The time has come to deal with it all: the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves on former residential school sites, the realities of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the 60s scoop, residential school abuse history, ongoing systematic racism, failure to honour treaties and the deliberate impoverishment economically and spiritually of Native peoples.

    The National Day For Truth and Reconciliation which has been set aside as a federal statutory holiday by the federal government is a step in the right direction. The legislation to do this was unanimously supported by government in June of 2021. This day would never have happened if not for survivors like my own mother Susan and my father Marius and many, many other survivors who attested to the many wrongs and abuses aimed at assimilating Indigenous peoples and at the worst “getting rid of the Indian problem”.

    The declaration of this special day came out of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which created 94 calls to action in their final recommendation. The 80th call to action was aimed at the Canadian government along with Indigenous leaders to create a new statutory holiday in honour of the survivors and families of the residential school reality. Happily this has been done but there is a lot more work to do. Most of the remaining 93 calls to action have yet to be met. We still have a long way to go but getting clean drinking water in Indigenous communities and settling treaties would be a good move forward as soon as possible.

    For now we have a day where we can all reflect and discover just what colonization did to Indigenous people in this country. We can thank people like my late parents and thousands of other residential school survivors for sharing their tragic stories. 

    Truth and Reconciliation Day was born from Orange Shirt day which in turn originally came from the sharing of stories by survivors. In 2013 at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project in Williams Lake British Columbia, survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad shared her residential school story. As a child she was taken from her parents and sent to residential school where she had her new orange shirt removed and never returned. Her little orange shirt had been a present from her grandmother. The memory and image of her childhood orange shirt became a symbol of the terrible history of the residential school era. The date of September 30 was selected as the original Orange Shirt Day because this was the time of year that Indigenous children across the country were forcibly taken from their families to attend residential schools. 

    Alberta, Quebec and Ontario will not recognize the holiday as statutory but the remaining provinces and territories are acknowledging the new holiday but at varying levels of acceptance. The reactions of provincial governments range from Nova Scotia giving recognition to the holiday to that of Saskatchewan which will not officially acknowledge it but instead see its major cities identify the new holiday. The mixed reactions shows that the country is still very much divided in how or if to acknowledge the darker parts of the nation’s history. 

    The fact is that there has been some progress in terms of reconciliation but indifference, racism and ignorance is till alive and well in Canada when it comes to Indigenous peoples. Let’s hope that we keep moving forward in good faith to honour the remaining 93 calls to action. 

    A wonderful start would be for all Canadians to take a little time on September 30 to discover what those calls to action are and why and how they came about. This trail is long and full of challenges but it is also one of hope, justice and healing.

First Nations take control and contribute to a step-by-step wildfire evacuation plan suited to their cultural and community needs

Determining when to evacuate when under threat from a wildfire is an extremely difficult decision for many First Nations communities, particularly for those in remote and difficult-to-reach locations. An evacuation plan that meets the needs of the community, based on their values, resources, and governance structures, is essential for a safe and successful evacuation. 

The First Nations Wildfire Evacuation Partnership was formed shortly after the devasting wildfires of 2011 when 4,216 fires swept across Canada and consumed 2.6 million hectares of forest. First Nations were severely affected with thousands of residents from thirty-five communities throughout Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta forced to evacuate their lands, some with great difficulty. From inception, the Partnership, formed by Tara McGee and Amy Cardinal Christianson, responded to two key questions: How have First Nations peoples and communities been affected by wildfire evacuations? How can the negative effects of these evacuations be reduced?

First Nations Wildfire Evacuations: A Guide for Communities and External Agencies is the result of that partnership. The authors performed over 200 interviews with evacuees and involved government and external agencies to create this essential guide for communities at risk from wildfires, the external agencies that work with those communities, and evacuee hosts.

“This work highlights the fact that Indigenous people, in learning from the environments they have lived in and cared for since time immemorial, have embraced the First Nations idea that adaptation equals resilience equals sustainability.” 

–David A. Diablo, Assembly of First Nations, Special Advisor-Emergency Services

This evacuation guide covers each stage of putting together an evacuation plan: the decision to evacuate, mobilizing the chosen plan, organizing transportation and suitable accommodations, culturally sensitive care for evacuees, and celebration of the return home. Specific topics include:

  • assessing the risk to the health and safety of community members
  • knowing when to do a partial vs a full evacuation
  • figuring out who to contact for help
  • troubleshooting transportation
  • communicating with members before and after the evacuation
  • arranging appropriate accommodation for evacuees
  • caring for Elders and other more vulnerable community members
  • organizing food and activities while away

With climate change raising the danger of wildfires around the world, the experiences of the communities featured in First Nations Wildfire Evacuations will serve as an indispensable resource for any town at risk from fire.

Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

The federal government announced Monday that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their traditional names on passports and other government ID. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Long-awaited policy change follows Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation

When survivor Peter Nakogee first went to St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., he spoke no English and had a different name.

“I got the nun really mad that I was writing in Cree. And then I only knew my name was Ministik,” he told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2010.

“From the first time I heard my name, my name was Ministik. So I was whipped again because I didn’t know my name was Peter Nakogee.”

Decades after that trauma, the roadblocks preventing him from having his original name reflected in federal identification are at last being removed.

The federal government announced Monday that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their traditional names on passports and other government ID.

The move comes in response to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 that demanded governments allow survivors and their families to restore names changed by the residential school system.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the announcement goes a step further, as it applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Metis background, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people who aim to reclaim their identity on official documents.

All fees will be waived for the name-changing process, which applies to passports, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards, said Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino.

“The traditional names given to Indigenous children carry deep cultural meaning. Yet for many First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, colonialism has robbed them of these sacred names,” Mendicino said at a news conference Monday.

“At times, efforts to use traditional names have been met with everything from polite rejection to racism.”

The move to clear those barriers follows last month’s news that ground-penetrating radar detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

New policy effective immediately

The new policy, effective immediately, was one of multiple announcements that landed the same day that Ottawa heads back to the courtroom to fight a pair of rulings involving First Nations children.

In a judicial review being heard in Federal Court on Monday, the federal government is arguing against Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decisions regarding compensation for First Nations children in foster care and the expansion of Jordan’s Principle to children who live off reserves.

Miller said Monday the ruling ordering Ottawa to pay $40,000 each to some 50,000 First Nations children separated from their families by a chronically underfunded child-welfare regime, and to each of their parents or grandparents, “doesn’t respect basic principles of proportionality.”

Every First Nations child who has suffered discrimination “at the hands of a broken child-welfare system” will be “fairly, justly and equitably compensated,” he said.

Most of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action remain unfulfilled, though cabinet ministers pointed to a pair of bills that would incorporate Indigenous rights into the oath of citizenship and align Canada’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Bill C-8 on the citizenship oath has passed the Senate and awaits royal assent, while the UNDRIP provisions of C-15 continue to work their way through the upper chamber.

1st commissioner of Indigenous languages announced

Mendicino also said his department continues to work on updating Canada’s citizenship guide to emphasize “the role and stories of Indigenous peoples, including those parts that relate to residential schools.” The revised document will be released “very shortly,” he said.

He did not say whether Indigenous individuals would have to provide proof of Indigenous identity, but Miller said officials “want to cut out the red tape.”

In a further effort to demonstrate action, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced later on Monday the first commissioner of Indigenous languages, along with directors of the new office.

Chief Ronald E. Ignace of the Secwepemc Nation has been appointed to the lead role, with Robert Watt, Georgina Liberty and Joan Greyeyes named as directors.

Miller acknowledged that for some, the newly opened door to name-changing may not be sufficient.

“The approach to the Canadian passport with many communities is different. Some reject it, as they reject Canadian identity, so this doesn’t solve that issue,” he said.

“But what it does offer is people that choose the Canadian passport can now see their Indigenous name reflected in it, which is not only a symbolic issue but a matter of profound identity.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Highlights Unique Story of Two Native American Soldiers in Honor of 76th Anniversary of Liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp

April 27, 2021  –  In commemoration of the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp by American soldiers, the Simon Wiesenthal Center Archives is highlighting the amazing story of two Native American soldiers – twin brothers – and how one brother helped liberate hundreds of prisoners.

Pictured above in 1942: Native Americans Bennett Freeny (L) and his identical twin brother Benjamin (R) were born on January 21, 1922 in Caddo, Oklahoma. The Freeny family is of Chickasaw and Choctaw descent.

The Freeny brothers entered the US Army in 1940 as combat medics with the 45th Infantry Division. Organized in 1923 as the National Guard for Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, the Division was activated for federal service in September of 1940. By 1943, when they set sail for the European Theater, the 45th, also known as the Thunderbird Division, consisted of 14,500 troops, including over 1,500 Native Americans. Between 1943 and 1944, the Thunderbirds fought battles in North Africa, Italy, and France.

In 1945, the Division entered Germany, where they captured the cities of Nuremberg and Munich. Bennett Freeney was part of one of the first units to enter Dachau Concentration Camp on April 29, 1945, where they helped liberate tens of thousands of prisoners.

Bennett Freeny stripped a German officer of this Iron Cross* (pictured right) shortly after the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp. Fellow soldier Ace Caldwell, who witnessed the incident, sent this account to Bennett’s daughter:

“… Bennett and I were both medics with the 45th and we encountered a great many prisoners who had contracted Typhoid and other ailments, and even more who had been starved … We were very disheartened by the condition of these poor souls and still enraged by the evil and carnage we had encountered liberating the camp.

A German SS officer walked through as though still in command and eyed us arrogantly and with a sort of sneer. Your dad stood, walked up to him and pulled out his knife. A couple of our boys stood by and prevented the officer from moving. Your father, one at a time, cut his medals and insignias off his uniform – Death Head, Edelweiss insignia, various patches and came to the Iron Cross hanging around his neck. Bennett grabbed it, cut the ribbon, and said ‘this is the sign of a hero – there are no heroes here’ and stuffed all the medals and patches in his pocket. A few of the prisoners who were able, clapped.

We were young men who had a lifetime of horror and violence visited upon us by age 23. None of us would ever be the same, but that day your father was bigger than life…”

* This Iron Cross and photograph are part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s archival holdings.

 For further information, please email Shawn Rodgers, Media Relations/ Communications at, join the Center on Facebook, or follow @simonwiesenthal for news updates sent directly to your Twitter feed.

 The Simon Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human rights organization numbering over 400.000 members. It holds consultative status at the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the OAS and the Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO).

Margo Kane celebrates 20 years of the Talking Stick Festival and a career full of accomplishments in 2021

Margo Kane, acclaimed cultural visionary and leader, marks a distinguished multi-decade career in 2021 with new accolades and achievements – and a month-long 20th anniversary Talking Stick Festival in June.

For over 40 years, Cree-Saulteaux performing artist, artistic director, writer and cultural worker, Margo Kane, has been a galvanizing force on the arts and culture scene in Canada and internationally. She’s been a major advocate and leader in the advancement of Indigenous arts in Canada and beyond, dedicating her life to mentoring Indigenous artists and creating opportunities to showcase their work and culture.

2021 marks a high point in this remarkable woman’s career. The event she founded and runs, the Talking Stick Festival, commemorates its 20th anniversary with four festivals, one in each season, celebrating Indigenous performance and art. This year also sees Ms. Kane receive a number of prestigious honours acknowledging her life’s work, her contributions, and her important role in the cultural life of this country. 

Earlier this year, the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) named Ms. Kane a 2021 International Citation of Merit Recipient. Presented for “unique lifetime achievement which has enriched the international performing arts”, she was recognized for her distinguished service working within the profession. The ISPA said, “Margo has been and continues to be a mentor, leader, and inspiration to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from across Canada and around the world.”

Moonlodge, Ms. Kane’s internationally acclaimed one-woman show – an Indigenous Canadian classic and a catalyst in Indigenous theatre – is currently being streamed as part of Soulpepper Theatre’s Around the World in 80 Plays audio drama series (to June 30). 

She is also nominated for a YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the Reconciliation in Action Category. Ms. Kane is being lauded for, among other accomplishments, having “created countless and diverse opportunities for Indigenous artists and community to gather, activate and galvanize around their artistic sovereignty and self-determination.” Award winners will be announced in June. 

At their October, 2021 ceremonies, Simon Fraser University will present Margo with an Honorary Degree. She will be in the good company of 13 other distinguished individuals making a positive difference in the world. 

These are all recent acknowledgements in a long career full of accomplishments. In addition to having founded and served as the artistic managing director of Full Circle: First Nations, Ms. Kane has developed an Aboriginal Ensemble Performing Arts Program and founded and continues to run the annual Talking Stick Festival. She was also the artistic director of the Canada 150+ summer festival, The Drum is Calling. Margo has also received a City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award in Theatre; a Career Achievement Jessie Award; an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of the Fraser Valley, and; the Order of Canada from the Governor General. 

And the work continues! In June, the Talking Stick Festival presents the Summer Sojourn online festival as part of its 20th Anniversary celebrations. In store is a month-long series of Indigenous performance and art featuring concerts, dance performances, exhibitions, readings, theatrical presentations, film and eclectic co-presentations – as well as some unique and unexpected experiences. A fall festival is planned for September. Full info is at 

Teaming up to tackle diabetes with positive change


Working with a diabetes educator means being in a partnership that can change your life for the better. Just ask Jennine Buffalo.

After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes five years ago, Jennine Buffalo broke down and cried during her first appointment with Joanne Siemens, a dietitian and diabetes educator. Jennine was aware of the disease because she had both an aunt and a cousin with type 1 diabetes; each had a leg amputation and died due to diabetes-related complications

Joanne offered Jennine a tissue from the box that’s always on her desk. She knows how devastating a diabetes diagnosis can be. Joanne then immediately offered Jennine some peace of mind.

“When people walk into my office after being diagnosed, they look like they’ve been hit by a train. And when a train like diabetes hits your life, you experience every emotion—from feeling like ‘I can beat this’ to ‘This is a death sentence,’ ” says Joanne, who works on the Maskwacis reserve, a First Nations community of 16,000 in Alberta. “Many people think they caused their diabetes because they gained weight, drank alcohol, or did something wrong. My job is to help them get rid of the guilt and shame, because the depression and self-blame that go with diabetes can be worse than the actual diabetes. I tell them the reason people end up with problems is because their diabetes wasn’t well managed. And I tell them they did the right thing by coming to see me.”

The two began to meet monthly—and communicate regularly by text—to help Jennine, who was then 35, improve how she monitors her blood glucose (sugar) and to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure her good health. 

As a result of their partnership, Jennine eats less red meat and more chicken and fish. Thanks to personalized cooking classes offered by Joanne, she began experimenting in the kitchen, preparing dishes such as brown rice pilaf and beef barley soup. She also stopped buying pop and chips, and prepares big bowls of salad instead. And when she was unsure about how nutritious certain foods were, she’d send Joanne a text. “For example, I would ask her advice on whether pistachios are better than sunflower seeds and if I should choose salted or roasted,” says Jennine, who lost 30 pounds.

With Joanne’s encouragement, Jennine also become more active. She sings and dances at cultural Aboriginal hand games tournaments, and she and her partner and their four children regularly get out for family walks, swims in the lake and bike rides. “Our family is a lot happier now. My hope is that this [change] will help my kids grow up to be healthy adults,” says Jennine. An added bonus: Jennine recently was able to stop taking the metformin initially prescribed to manage her diabetes. 

After a year, Jennine had a much more positive outlook on the future. “In the beginning when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want anyone to know I had diabetes. But I’m not embarrassed anymore. I’m alive and I’m healthy. And working with Joanne helped save my life.”

Fast forward to today: Jennine has reached and maintained her weight goal. She walks a lot, and has an A1C of 6.6. She has a burger once in awhile, but otherwise she avoids fast foods and red meats. She eats a lot of vegetables, and has switched from white bread to multigrain and rye bread. She loves having fruit, berries, and nuts for snacks. She drinks mostly water and makes homemade smoothies. She loves to cook, and her latest passion is the air fryer. Her next culinary adventure will be the dehydrator. 

Jennine’s increased skills and confidence means she has become more independent (though she still keeps in touch with Joanne) and maintains regular appointments with the medical staff at Maskwacis Health Services. “Joanne helped me see that there was a lot I could do to prevent the stuff I was so scared of. With her support and guidance, all my fears and worries were gone,” says Jennine.

Did you know?

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. Today, more Canadians have diabetes than ever before. Diabetes or prediabetes affects 1 in 3 Canadians. One in 2 young adults will develop diabetes in their remaining lifetime. We can’t wait another 100 years to End Diabetes.  #LetsEndDiabetes Visit 100 Years of Insulin to learn more.

(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Autumn 2016. Photos (Jennine Buffalo, Joanne Siemens) by Mustafa Eric. Reprinted with permission of Diabetes Canada ©2021.) 

Moccasin fragment reveals precolonial connection between Subarctic and Southwest

March 9, 2021 – Thunder Bay, Ont.

Photo cutline: An 800 year-old Promontory moccasin constructed in a Subarctic style. Credit: Dr. J. W. Ives.

New research by Lakehead University anthropologist Dr. Jessica Metcalfe and colleagues provides direct evidence for long-distance connections among precolonial Dene peoples from northern Canada to the southern United States.

About 800 years ago a group of highly successful hunter-gatherers spent several decades living on the north shore of Great Salt Lake, Utah. Archaeological evidence suggests that these ‘Promontory people’ were Dene ancestors whose moccasin styles indicate an origin in the Canadian Subarctic, more than 1,500 km to the north.

Dr. Metcalfe’s research shows the Promontory people also made at least one journey even farther into the south and/or east, bringing back a scrap of leather that they incorporated into one of their distinctive moccasins.

“We can take a tiny piece of leather and determine if it has chemical signatures that are typical of the place where it was found, or if it came from somewhere else,” said Dr. Metcalfe, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Lakehead University.

“Most of the Promontory materials were obtained close to the site, but this piece of leather came from far away – probably hundreds of kilometres to the south or east.”

Use of these cutting-edge techniques in archaeology is growing, but Dr. Metcalfe said this is the first time past human migrations have been reconstructed using chemical traces in footwear.

This research contributes to a longstanding archaeological puzzle: how and when did the Dene language family spread from the Canadian Subarctic into the American Southwest?

During the colonial period, these populations were seen as geographically separate and thought to have no direct connections with one another. However, Dr. Metcalfe’s research suggests that Dene groups travelled great distances to gain and utilize landscape knowledge. This likely facilitated the gradual migration of Dene ancestors from the Subarctic to the Southwest.

Recently, Dene people from northern, southern, and coastal nations have gathered at workshops and conferences held in Tsuut’ina territory (southern Alberta) to share their interconnected languages and cultures and to chart directions for the future.

The research of Dr. Metcalfe and her colleagues, along with genetic, linguistic, and oral history evidence, demonstrates that Dene connections are not a recent phenomenon – long-distance migrations and meetings of Dene peoples have been occurring for many hundreds of years.

Dr. Metcalfe’s research was published in the premier North American archaeology journal, American Antiquity, available here:

Other members of the research team include Dr. John (Jack) W. Ives and Jennifer Hallson (University of Alberta), Dr. Beth Shapiro and Sabrina Shirazi (University of California, Santa Cruz), Dr. Kevin P. Gilmore (HDR), Dr. Fiona Brock (Cranfield University), and Dr. Bonnie J. Clark (University of Denver).

The research was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grants awarded to Dr. Metcalfe and Dr. Ives.


To learn more about this research project, please contact:

Dr. Jessica Metcalfe
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
Lakehead University

Inuit midwives say they left Nunavut centre after years of mistreatment

Inuit midwives Cas Augaarjuk Connelly (left) and Rachel Qiliqti Kaludjak pose after a birth at Rankin Inlet’s birthing centre in 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rachel Qiliqti Kaludjak and Cas Augaarjuk Connelly)

IQALUIT, NUNAVUT — Cas Augaarjuk Connelly and Rachel Qiliqti Kaludjak never wanted to stop working at a Nunavut birthing centre, but they say years of mistreatment, racism and a lack of support from their government left them no choice. Both are nationally certified midwives, the first Inuit in Canada to hold such credentials, and for the last six years were the only ones to offer labour support full time in Rankin Inlet.

“It was our dream and our passion. I really had visions of retiring from the birthing centre when I’m old and grey,” Kaludjak said. In January 2020, Connelly resigned and Kaludjak left in August. Connelly had worked at the centre since 2008; Kaludjak since 2003. The Nunavut government then shuttered birthing services in Rankin Inlet, forcing expectant mothers there and in surrounding hamlets to leave home to give birth.

“It was a very emotional decision. We felt like we were failing ourselves and failing our fellow Inuit women. That made me very, very sad,” Kaludjak said. “And I felt very guilty about that. And I still do. The system doesn’t allow for us to succeed. “The women deserve an explanation. A real concrete one.”

When Connelly and Kaludjak started at the birthing centre, which opened in 1993, there were two other full-time midwives. But for the last six years, they were the only two. The remaining positions were filled by a revolving door of southern midwives who would fly up for a few weeks. Connelly and Kaludjak were essentially running the centre on their own.

“We were constantly orienting new staff. And often we had no casuals. We’d have blocks of time where we didn’t have enough staff. We’d be on call for weeks and weeks at a time,” Connelly said. Nunavut’s health-care system relies heavily on southern providers. And the most recent figures from Statistics Canada show that the territory has the highest birthrate in Canada at 22.6 live births per 1,000 people — more than double the national average of 10.1. Some 840 babies were born to Nunavut mothers in 2019. Connelly and Kaludjak provided Nunavut Inuit with something rare: health care at home in their first language.

“Women were able to speak their own language. It was so rewarding,” Kaludjak said. “We’re related to half the community, so you’re taking care of your family as well,” Connelly added. At times, she said, they were burned out, worried for their patients and felt like they had all of the community’s maternity care on their shoulders. Yet when Department of Health staff needed information or had questions about the birthing centre, they turned to the southern, non-Inuit staff, the women said. “In their eyes, there were the Aboriginal midwives and then the midwives. We’d do births together and we’d be supervised by people who don’t even do births. We were always made to feel less,” Connelly said.

“We were questioned on things like overtime and mirroring our southern colleagues, who were there at the exact same time doing a birth together. Our southern colleagues were never questioned,” Kaludjak said. One Nunavut government employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said the two women were constantly brushed aside by management.

“You would have somebody from the south come up, who’s literally been there a week, and the manager wanted to meet with that person … instead of asking Inuit that have been there for a decade,” she said. Kaludjak was acting manager at the birthing centre for three years. She said when the position was posted, she interviewed for the job and was rejected. She said she was told she would need to train her replacement, but no one was hired. Joan Margaret Laine, a midwife who worked with the two women, said the government failed them.

“There were so many instances of racism and aggression. It was really disheartening to work there.” She said she was in a group of midwives who offered to work full time in Rankin Inlet to give Connelly and Kaludjak some relief. But jobs were never posted. The Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment about the jobs or Connelly and Kaludjak.

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak, who was moved into the role after Connelly and Kaludjak left, said he’s working with his department to review the birthing centre’s operations. “Since Day 1 of my first meeting with senior staff, that was one of the top priorities that we brought forward, to ensure the centre runs again and we don’t run into the same issues that may have been highlighted by previous staff.” Kusuagak said he is “very aware” of the situation at the centre.

“We have to make sure that the work environment is one that is equal to everybody that is there. The goal here is to have women give birth in a very safe and peaceful environment.” Martha Aitkin, the birthing centre’s director from 2006 to 2009, also worked as a locum midwife in Rankin Inlet in 2017. She said Connelly and Kaludjak experienced “a long list of microaggressions” by the government. “It can only be described as anti-Inuit racism. The view from the southern people above them in the government hierarchy was that they weren’t good enough, that they weren’t as qualified,” said Aitkin, who is from Ontario.

Connelly, Kaludjak and other midwives said they brought their issues to the government over the years, but nothing was done. They said that’s partially because there is a high turnover in departmental staff. “I don’t think there’s anyone in one position long enough to make change,” Connelly said. “The whole dream that the government has of homegrown professionals, I don’t know how that’s ever going to be if they don’t support it,” Kaludjak said.

The territory’s Arctic College ran a midwifery program from 2006 to 2014, but it never continued. Fiona Buchan-Corey, director of the college’s Kitikmeot campus, said federal government funding was not renewed.

Kerstin Gafvels helped develop the program and worked with Connelly and Kaludjakt. She said she was disappointed when she heard the program was no longer running and that Connelly and Kaludjak had left the birthing centre.

“No one coming in temporarily from the south would ever understand or have the knowledge that they carry by being part of the community, of actually living there.” Connelly and Kaludjak still live in Rankin Inlet with their families.

“The government leaves people hanging with no explanation and too many empty promises and I don’t want to be a part of that,” Connelly said. “This is not just a government-bashing discussion. It’s mainly for the women to have answers and for the government to step up and make the necessary changes.”

Courtesy of The Canadian Press

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.