Topic: NEWS

Women’s Memorial March Honours Memory, Lives of Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

There is no greater power than the power of love. Love soothes our grief and emotional pain that comes with learning a loved one has been murdered. Though love cannot bring them back to life, it can motivate and inspire a collective demand for action and change.  

DTES Annual Women’s Memorial March | Facebook

Under the banner “Their Spirits Live Within Us,” thousands gathered at Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Valentine’s Day as part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness and honour the lives of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people who’ve gone missing or have been murdered.

Elders walked a route strewn with flower petals dropped onto the street by three young women leading the procession. They stopped at locations where women and girls were either murdered or last seen alive and held a commemorative ceremony.

One such stop along Vancouver’s Blood Alley was the spot where Rosie Merasty was murdered in 1991. Her sister, Sophie Merasty, expressed gratefulness to the elders. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, because it meant so much to me that she be acknowledged all these years later,” said Merasty.

Nicole Brown’s mother, Frances, went missing in October 2017 while picking mushroom with a friend north of Smithers. Brown accompanied elders along the march’s route while carrying a framed photo of her mom and a basket of red flowers.

The names of area girls and women who’ve gone missing, been murdered, or died by violence in Downtown Eastside are updated and then published for every annual event. This year’s booklet lists 75 names, and many of the marchers were either a friend or family member of a murdered or missing woman or girl. “This is a day of grieving, a day of mourning,” said Myrna Cranmer, the event organizer responsible for ensuring names are added to the list. “Our women are being hunted.”

Organizers of the 28th Women’s Memorial March say each person has a role to play in ending violence against Indigenous women. Organizer Carol Martin suggests the national attitude toward First Nations must change. “The Canadian system has spent many years smearing our image,” Martin told First Nations Drum in a post-event telephone interview. “The Canadian psyche has been ingrained with how they should treat us. Racism is very much alive, and it’s killing us.”

Martin said every person has a responsibility to look past negative stereotypes, labels, and images to see First Nations people as the human beings we are. “The history is one of not seeing us as human beings,” Martin. “We were to be used by any means and then disposed of when we had no more usefulness. This was justified in the Canadian system, and if you look at the court system, jails, and hospitals, they’re filled with our people. The Canadian system does not work for us still today.”

Organizer Evelyn Youngchief would like to see a harsher sentence levied against any person convicted of murdering an indigenous woman. “They get a slap on the wrist. It’s a joke,” Youngchief told First Nations Drum. “First Nation women are targeted, and this needs to stop.”

Some of the women doing frontline work in the Downtown Eastside and involved with the annual march have been critical of the slow pace of change. Event organizers want people to keep in mind that women and girls continue to go missing and are being murdered in alarming numbers across the country despite the national inquiry’s work.  

In 2018, Juanita Desjarlais appeared before national inquiry hearings in Vancouver to share her story of survival. “We need changes today,” said Desjarlais, an event organizer, Sixties Scoop survivor, and intergenerational survivor of the residential school system.

In Montreal, the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women were recognized by event participants taking their message before public transit riders. Called, “Love in Action,” activists using silent protest methods boarded busy Montreal subway routes during a Thursday rush hour. They wore red and carried posters to raise awareness of the indigenous women missing or murdered in Quebec.

“The Metro ride is like a silent protest,” said Dayna Danger, a program and campaign coordinator at Gender Advocacy. “It’s to bring awareness to an issue that continues to go on. We’re always thinking of strategies to get non-indigenous public to recognize their complicity on this land and what that means for indigenous people.”

With the national inquiry’s final report expected to be released in April, Danger remained pessimistic that positive change is near. She is dissatisfied that nothing substantial is happening to address systemic causes to violence against indigenous women. “There is this level of education that still needs to be done. This is something hopefully that they [Metro Riders] take the time to notice,” Danger said. “We very much want to know about this issue, to care, and that this is something that needs to be changed.”

Nicole Robertson Reflects on Her Role in the Media

Donald Trump is known for dishing it out, but not too many people who are willing to challenge him back. Especially to his face. Nicole Robertson (above) heard Trump toss off a racial slur before a press conference in Bismark North Dakota in July of 2016. Trump, then on his presidential campaign referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” to that, Robertson, who was one of the journalist at the press conference, called him out and shouted, “Offensive.” To which Trump replied, “sorry.”

Women across the globe will be honored for their accomplishments and achievements on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, with the theme, #balanceforbetter.

One such First Nations woman who’s inspired her generation and future generations is Nicole Robertson. Nicole is a Media Specialist and President of Muskwa Productions & Consulting. Muskwa Productions brings 18 years of experience in the media.

She specializes in media relations, training and video production. Her business services also include educational and commercial videos.

Nicole is the youngest of her two siblings and is from from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba.

First Nations Drum talked with Nicole and discussed her role in the media.

When did you start Muskwa Productions, and what gave you the idea to start your business?

“Muskwa Productions which is now Muskwa Media turned into an idea when I was working as a journalist in television, radio and print. In those 10 years, what happened is, I realized a lot of our First Nations people were in a place where they did not know the full story and the media was painting a picture that wasn’t basically the truth for First Nations in this country. A lot of the news coverage was based on stereotypes and based on the negativity and not based on the reality. I was trying to change the narrative. Also you have to realize this was pre smart phones, the internet, and social media. I have a passion to educate Canadians and the world about who we are as Indigenous people and essentially improve communications with our neighbours in our own country and abroad.”

What are the main challenges you face with your business?

“I know that people hire me for me, so I am a brand in itself. I realize that trying to take on too much is not a good thing, because I just do not have enough time because I am a single mom. I have a daughter and I need to have a balance. I don’t want to miss important milestones in my child’s life and at the same time I don’t want to miss on major events and news in Indian country that the Indigenous community wants me to help share in the media, so it’s a very delicate balance. Of course my daughter is my main priority, so yeah there is challenges.”

So far in your career, what are some of the achievements that stand out?

“I would say, being recognized by my peers who nominated me for Alberta Chambers of Commerce in 2018 and I won the Indigenous Entrepreneur Woman of Distinction. Also working with the youth, inspiring them and at the same time they inspire me. Having the opportunity and the honour in speaking at different events across the country. Of course another huge inspiration is my own daughter, and being told by her that I am one of her role models.”

How has the business landscape changed since you began your business?

“The Internet, smart phones, and social media. I remember owning the very first blackberry, long story short, I am so glad technology has improved because when you look at the media, a lot of what we do is based on technology. Another change is the willingness of our people to speak out is a big change. Before there was a reluctancy for many First Nations and leadership to open up to the media, now it’s reversed to consistently share our stories, so that is something that has changed massively.”

What are your thoughts on current Liberal MLA, Jody Wilson-Raybould controversy?

“I would say I am on team Jody, she is one of the woman I look up to.  Jody has been, I would say, thrown under the bus by her own party. She is a woman of integrity, I’ve known her when she was the regional chief of British Columbia and she’s paid her dues and has been working in this area for many years. She basis her integrity on her indigenous roots and speaking the truth and I think people will know a lot more about that integrity in the future.”

Your advice for Indigenous women who want to own their own business?

“You must do your research and follow what you’re passionate about, first and foremost. Because if you’re doing what you’re passionate about, then what you’re doing doesn’t really feel like work.  It is something you wake up to every morning and say, “wow, I’m humbled and I enjoy what I’m going to be doing today.” So it is important to know your gifts and how you’re going to share this with the world.”

Nicole added to end our interview that she wanted to mention that on the day of this interview, Thursday, February 21, 2019, that she  shared a picture on social media, about her longtime friend, Jennifer Podemski.

“She has been a friend of mine for the past 25 years and this is the first year that she is not going to be directing the Indspire Awards.  We have come such a long way as Indigenous women in media and television and film, and I realized we are paving the way for the younger generation, and it’s important for me to have that legacy and respect.”

Gary O’Neal: An American Warrior in the Highest Sioux Tradition ‘Guerrero Americano’ Part III

Gary O’Neal
Gary O’Neal


Part III – Part I and II can be found on firstnationsdrum.com

O’Neal became attracted to martial arts, and he trained understanding the superior power of the mind over the strength of the physical. “I always trained my subconscious,” said O’Neal. “I’m a conscious being. I’ll tell you the secret that I did. I trained my mind first, before I did the action. It’s just like watching a video. I would see it, and then I would repeat it in my head a lot. Then I could do it, and I just went out and did it.”

This talent proved invaluable for the dyslexic SF demolition expert with a background as a poorly performing student when studying in a formal, civilian educational setting who is now required to use math to do his job. “I got over on that – as to the [math] formula – I could look at the steel, I could look at whatever we just happened to need to build or destroy, I pretty much knew what the formula was going to do and how much I needed,” said O’Neal. “After memorizing the formulas I could look at something and see the formula in my head and transcribe in my head, and then plant the charges, or whatever I was building.”

O’Neal credits the ability to visualize and then perform a task with saving his life and the lives of men under his command. “I was able to solve a lot of problems like that,” said O’Neal. “In combat, the tactics, I could see what was going on so I knew where I needed to move, I knew where I needed to go, I knew where I could take my guys. I just knew it. I took my natural ability and perfected it and adapted it.”

His talents caught the eye of military brass so O’Neal was often selected to participate in research and development projects like designing parachutes. “I could see something and make it tactical,” said O’Neal. “I was in some of the toughest units in the military. I’ve served with Navy SEALS. I’ve worked with indigenous forces as a UW (unconventional warfare) expert, and learned their language.”

These days, O’Neal said he can read a lot better but relies mainly upon audio books and video instructions – a formula that helped him get through college.

A society without warriors to protect it is not a society for long. O’Neal selflessly served his nation overseas for decades. He served a nation respectful of pluralism and the Right to strident dissent, including the Right to protest against not only the war but their nation’s soldiers fighting the war. I asked O’Neal for his thoughts on those Americans opposing the nation’s involvement in Vietnam – a war he was risking his life to prosecute – including the conscientious objector, the “draft dodger,” the draft-card burner, and those who vented their rage against U.S. service personnel like himself upon their return home.

“I don’t take issue with them because there’s a place for everybody,” began O’Neal. “We’re not all warriors. We’re not all doctors. We’re not all lawyers. We’re not all plumbers, or educators, or whatever. The pacifist and stuff like that, I never had a problem with them. I believe in individuality. I believe in everybody has an opinion. I believe in Freedom. I believe in the U.S. Constitution, and that every man is created Equal. I never see skin color. Yellow or brown man. I’ve never seen that.”

O’Neal’s libertarian views stem from his upbringing. “My dad and my grandparents, they taught me that,” said O’Neal. “They read it in the scriptures. You always give everybody a chance. There are bad people in all races, and there are good people in all races. You just got to weed the bad people out and hang out with the good people.”

In January 2016, during the US presidential primary election season, O’Neal was keynote speaker and introduced then-GOP primary candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally before 10,000 people in Pensacola, Florida. “I only had four minutes, and I think I was up there 12 or 15 minutes,” said O’Neal. “I was wondering why I’m not getting a signal [to stop] but Trump wanted to hear what I had to say.”

He got the gig through a friend, but as a pre-condition O’Neal insisted he be able to spend time with Trump before agreeing to deliver the keynote and introduction. His purpose was to talk with the candidate, man to man, and learn his views instead of relying on reports in the media. “I like him,” said O’Neal of the current president. “He’s brash, but he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’s not politically correct, and he don’t give a shit. He tells it like it is. That’s why I spoke with him.”

O’Neal made clear he’s not a partisan or political party loyalist and shared his dislike for politicians in general. “To me, there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans,” said O’Neal. “They’re all hogs that eat out of the same hog trough – and that’s feeding off taxpayers’ dollars. We need to cleanse our government.”

Gary O’Neal: An American Warrior in the Highest Sioux Tradition ‘Guerrero Americano’ Part 1

Gary O’Neal

Gary O’Neal


Gary O’Neal was shot, stabbed, and riddled with shrapnel while serving his country over four decades in nations spanning the globe from Vietnam to Nicaragua. He hasn’t been awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat because he’s refused to accept it. “In my view the Purple Heart is an award in the enemy’s favor,” said O’Neal, who considers the medal signifying he “had been had by the enemy.”

Retired U.S. Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer Gary O’Neal spoke with First Nations Drum about his extraordinary life as one of his country’s most distinguished warriors. As a child growing up in the “Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota area,” O’Neal did not fit in well. He didn’t like school and desired only to be outside tracking, ranching, and horseback riding. “I was always doing things. I was a daredevil,” said O’Neal. “There wasn’t too much I wouldn’t do.”

O’Neal participated in 4H, young rodeo, loved sports, and excelled at running. “I liked the country life. I like cowboying,” said O’Neal. “I wasn’t big on cities.” His Irish-American father was a rancher and farmer who taught O’Neal mechanics at a young age. His paternal grandfather taught him Blacksmith skills and how to care for and handle horses – from shoeing to riding. “When I was 13, I was doing a man’s job on the ranch,” said O’Neal. “I was like a ranch foreman.”

O’Neal’s mother was Sioux First Nation. Growing up mixed race presented challenges for a young O’Neal. “Whites didn’t want anything to do with me because I was Indian, and Indians didn’t want nothing to do with me because I was white,” said O’Neal. “I didn’t like nobody.”

Though O’Neal didn’t grow up on Reservation, he was taught his Native culture when visiting his maternal grandparents living on Reservation.

O’Neal’s lineage has warrior ancestors on both his mother and father’s side, but culturally and spiritually he has always been driven toward his mother’s First Nation heritage. “I’ve had Chiefs from other tribes that would drag me out and show me things because they knew the mixed blood I had and the way my demeanor was on the Native side,” said O’Neal.

Spirituality is central to Native lore, explained O’Neal. “You never did anything that you didn’t give back. You didn’t pick up a stone without replacing it with something.” Prior to every hunt, there was prayer, dance, and a feast. The returning hunting party was greeted by a “thank you ceremony, prayer to the Creator thanking Him for food, and thanking animals for supplying us with food and warmth of clothes made from them. Everything was in prayer,” said O’Neal.

O’Neal successfully completed the Sundance – a four day and four night dance event purifying the mind, body, and spirit through medicines and sweat lodges. The Sioux warrior tradition is to protect children and secure their future by also protecting the elderly who pass down knowledge.

“You dance all day in the sun without food or water,” said O’Neal. “The warriors dance for the people, and it’s all in prayer. It’s so the people don’t have to suffer. They don’t have to go through pain. They don’t have to go through hunger. The warriors take that away from them.”

O’Neal’s Vision Quest took place on the same hallowed ground as done by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Fool’s Crow, and Black Elk – the historic and legendary warrior Chiefs of the Sioux Nation. O’Neal said he took the “old school” Native cultural teachings, which included the Native American warrior aspect, and put that together with the “warrior aspect of the Irish, because the Irish always fought. The English always used the Irish,” said O’Neal.

His father taught O’Neal how to handle guns and he often played with his dad’s rifles. “At 5, I had my first 410 shotgun and a .22 pump rifle. They’d give me rounds to go out and I’d get a squirrel or a rabbit.” said O’Neal. “When I brought it back, that’s what we ate.”

O’Neal’s warrior heritage on his father’s side of the family can be traced back to the home country and “Irish Rangers” in the time of William Wallace days in the late 13th century. O’Neal said his great grandfathers at the fourth and fifth generation back served in the Frontier Rangers – the oldest U.S. military unit. “My fifth great grandfather and his two sons signed the Oath of Allegiance and fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812,” said O’Neal. “So I’ve had a relation on my dad’s side all the way down to me serve in different wars that America has been in since the creation of America in 1776.”

O’Neal is a founding member of the Pentagon’s first antiterrorist team, was a member of the Golden Knights Parachuting Team, and was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia. He has authored a book – American Warrior: The True Story of a Legendary Ranger. “When I was in Central America, South America, working down there we had our enemies we was fighting,” began O’Neal. “They gave me that name, ‘Guerrero Americano,’ which means, ‘American Warrior.’ So that’s where I got that nickname. It kind of stuck with me.”

To be continued.

First Nations say Trans Mountain review is rushed

Photo | Kinder Morgan

VANCOUVER – It has been reported  that The National Energy Board will hear from 31 Indigenous groups and individuals  on the oral traditional evidence beginning November 19th as part of its new review on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the federal government’s plan to go ahead with the project in August, citing inadequate Indigenous consultation and the energy board’s failure to review the project’s impacts on the marine environment.

The Indigenous groups and individuals are scheduled to attend hearings beginning in  Calgary the week of November 19, in Victoria the week of Nov. 26 and Nanaimo, B.C., the week of December 3.

British Columbia’s Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations say this process is too rushed and they’re considering filing fresh court challenges after the board issues its report.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered The National Energy Board to review the marine impacts and submit a report no later than Feb. 22.

According to the Financial Post, the National Energy Board responded to concerns about the timeline in documents released Wednesday, November 7, saying there’s already significant evidence on the record and legislation requires it to conduct proceedings within the time limit set by the federal government.

Supreme Court Finds Government Does Not Have to Consult First Nations

First Nations ConsultationThe Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal government has no obligation to consult First Nations when drafting legislation.

Seven out of nine judges came to the conclusion on Thursday, in a long battle originally set forth by the Mikisew Cree First Nation’s lawsuit in 2013.

The Mikisew say their struggle is not over and they expect Canada to continue to consult with First Nations in all decisions.

“Mikisew and other First Nations have valuable knowledge, laws and experience to contribute,” said Mikisew Chief Archie Waquan in a statement on Thursday. “We should be at the table with the government, not reacting after the fact through litigation. The Crown has said they could and would consult and we will hold them to that promise.”

Some point to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which says the government has a duty to consult with Indigenous peoples. However, this only applies to
treaty rights, and the Mikisew want that applied to legislation.

Some of the Supreme Court judges agree that consultation is still important. Five of the judges from Thursday’s ruling said the government must still act honourably when consulting with Indigenous people, but when it comes down to enacting legislation, the waters become muddier.

Minister of Justice Jody Wilson Raybould issued a statement on Thursday echoing that sentiment, saying the government wants to work with First Nations but how that plays out is more intricate.

“While the court has been clear that the duty to consult is not triggered in the legislative process, it also makes clear that Indigenous rights must be respected, upheld and protected,” the statement read. “Our Government remains wholly committed to respecting our Constitution and respecting and upholding Indigenous rights, and will continue to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on matters that directly and significantly affect them.”

Mikisew Lawsuit

The court case began when the Mikisew challenged the Harper government’s introduction of two 2012 omnibus bills that drastically altered several environmental acts, including the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

They brought their argument in a lawsuit against the government in 2013.

“The lack on consultation on these bills led to bad laws, which resulted in failures like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project and weaker environmental protection for all Canadians,” said Robert Janes, Mikisew’s legal counsel, in a statement on Thursday.

The Mikisew say they passed these laws without consultation with affected First Nations. The bills reduced government oversight, which the Mikisew says overstepped boundaries guaranteed under Treaty 8, which guaranteed the First Nations the right to hunt, trap and fish in exchange for their land.

However, in 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned their argument that the government has a legally binding duty to consult with First Nations. The Mikisew then took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which resulted in Thursday’s decision.

First Nations Response

Marlene Poitras, Assembly of First Nations’ Regional Chief of Alberta, says she was deeply disappointed and frustrated with the decision.

“[This is] a missed opportunity for meaningful involvement of First Nations in the legislative process, a process that can have deep and lasting impacts on our peoples, our lands, our waters, and our Treaty and Inherent Rights,” she said in a statement released on Thursday.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde also expressed disappointment on the decision but says he wants to continue to lift up the Mikisew Cree First Nation for their diligence.

“FIrst Nations maintain that Canada must engage with First Nations on any initiatives that could impact our rights,” he said on social media. “The honour of the Crown must be ensured and maintained.”

 

Indigenous Soldier Database Lists Over 150,000 Names

Yann Castelnot is a former resident of Vimy, France, who immigrated to Canada 13 years ago. Over the past 20 years, he’s been researching Indigenous people who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and the US Army. He’s an amateur historian who’s done his investigation voluntarily, and collected the names of over 154,000 veterans to date.

Castelnot’s efforts earned him a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation in 2017, an award given to those who’ve contributed to the remembrance of
the contributions, sacrifices, and achievements of veterans.

I had the opportunity to interview the historian, Castelnot, who said he’s always been fascinated with North American Indigenous people.

“It started with a passion for the North American Indigenous people during my childhood, I was like a lot of French, very curious about this culture, and I started to read a lot on the subject, to attend exhibitions, to enter associations,” said Castelnot. “In 1998, I saw an article about Sioux in the trenches. At the time, the internet was not as developed as today, and the subject of Native American veterans was not addressed anywhere. There were some vague documents, but nothing more.”

He began by looking for information about Native soldiers that enlisted in both world wars, and then created a list of these soldiers.

“It had to be a temporary project since I thought it would be too difficult to find information and names. I started by creating the list of Native Canadians during the world wars – easier for me because of the proximity of the military cemeteries,” Castelnot said. “I later added the names of those from the USA, than those of Korea, and finally I decided to look for all those who served after the date of December 29, 1890, the date of the massacre of Wounded Knee and the official end of the Indian wars.”

6/07/2018 Québec, Québec, Canada Her Excellency presents the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers to Yann Castelnot. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, presented honours to 26 recipients during a ceremony on July 6, 2018 at the Citadelle of Québec. Credit: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall, OSGG-BSGG

 

In 2013, he received the Diamond Jubilee Medal, and it triggered him to search for other wars. “Would those who served in the Boer War, or the War of 1812 also have the right to be honored?” said Castelnot.

Yann uncovered a lot of interesting information beyond well-known soldiers like Francis Pegahmagabow, Tommy Prince, Thomas Longboat, Joseph Brant, and Henry Louis Norwest. He said we could add to that prominent list the names of Sgt. Jerome Frank Narcisse – a recipient of three military medals, Captain Smith Alexander – Military Cross and recipient of the Order of the Black Star of Poland, and a woman from the Six Nations named Krystal Lee Anne Giesebrecht Brant – Master Corporal, and descendant of Joseph Brant.

When it comes to Native veteran history, it’s also necessary to include the lack of information, the errors often conveyed, and the historical oversights, Castelnot pointed out.

“We forget that more than 11,000 Natives fought alongside their British friends during the War of 1812,” said Castelnot. “We forget that nearly 30,000 of them fought with the French or English during the colonial wars because they had established military, political, and economic alliances with newcomers. North American history is not only about massacres.”

Indigenous men, young and old, volunteered for the same reasons as other Canadians, and they were respected by their brothers-in-arms.

“There are some cases of racism, but it’s marginal,” said Castelnot. “They did not have an easy life when they returned from the front, for a majority of them, yet they massively reengaged during World War II.”

Restoring data is important. For example, before starting his research, Castelnot heard there were 7,000 to 12,000 enlisted during the two world wars, and 500 dead; whereas in reality, more than 14,800 Indigenous served in the Canadian army, resulting in 1,600 deaths. The database includes information and stories about the United States’ first code talkers; on Admiral Clark, who served during the two World Wars, and Korean War; Walkabout Billy, who was one of the greatest heroes of the Vietnam War; the first Native American officers during the War of 1812; and completely Native American units during the American Civil War who fought for the south. In each war there is a special case to tell.

I asked Castelnot if it was true that most Indigenous soldiers never received farmland and money that was promised to them when they returned from World Wars I and II.

“The story is a bit more complicated. It is necessary to go back to the context of the time: Reserves were administered by Indian Affairs, and those who lived there depended on the Indian agents. Money and land were controlled by these agents,” said Castelnot. “It should be noted that there were a few instances where these agents actually worked for the good of people in their reserves, and thereby did encourage young people to go out of the reserves and live ‘free’ with their own money and property.”

It must also be remembered that the First World War had an impact. Native people are no longer perceived as a savage, but as a brother in arms (within the war) who has done his duty. Most of the soldiers send money to their families still on the reserves, where they were no longer enfranchised. As a result, the money belonged to the reserve and not to the family, and that is the same for the lands, so they mostly disguised their aboriginal status in order to obtain off-reserve property.

When you look at the Indian Affairs reports of the time, you realize that more than half the Aboriginal soldiers hired did so without declaring their status, and the Indian officers actually learned by chance that these men (and women) were enrolled. The majority of Indigenous soldiers lived on reserves and did not own property – land and money to come back to without any benefits from their wartime efforts.

But in summary, this remains a minority case.

“In fact, in the Indian affairs archives (RG10 de bibliotheque and archives Canada) there are nearly 2,500 document references for land transfers for Aboriginal veterans on reserves (at least those known to date), this is small compared to the 8,300 who served,” said Castelnot.

In 2003, the federal government offered a public apology and compensation to Native veterans.

Castelnot’s database is one of the largest collection of Indigenous soldiers’ names, and provides a way to learn more about Indigenous men and women’s contributions to Canadian, and American forces.

Luc O’Bomsawin, founding president of the Aboriginal Veterans of Quebec Association, told CBC News that the database has shed much-needed light on history that’s often forgotten or “put aside.”

“His work is essential, and there’s not too many people that did the same kind of work with that dedication,” said O’Bomsawin, an Abenaki veteran from Odanak, Que.

O’Bomsawin said he was surprised by the new information Castelnot uncovered, such as the number of soldiers who received decorations, and even just the sheer number of soldiers from both sides of the border who served in various conflicts.

“We were told different numbers, but nobody really had something to base their assumptions on,” said O’Bomsawin. “With him going through the records, and newspapers, and whatever he’s searched, he managed to change these figures. The figures that he puts on are a lot more serious than what I’ve seen up to now.”

Castelnot’s database is at NativeVeterans-en.e-monsite.com.

 

Tsuu T’ina Nation Hosting National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference

Hemp plant

The Cannabis Act has created a monumental economic opportunity for Canada but it also brings unprecedented social and political concerns for Indigenous communities. These concerns and opportunities are on the agenda at the 2018 National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference. In an open letter posted on the conference website – nichc.ca – Chief Lee Crowchild of the Tsuu T’ina Nation says legalizing recreational cannabis has created debate within First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities, and that the social, economic, and health benefits will have an impact on each community for generations to come.

“This will be the first cannabis conference to feature leading experts from the medical, legal, and business communities with proven experience in cannabis and hemp,” said Crowchild. “It is important that we are all fully informed as to how the legalization of cannabis will affect our communities, from health and safety, to economic benefits, to our treaty rights and sovereignty; the opportunities for Indigenous communities are boundless.”

The conference is designed to address these questions and provide a valuable networking opportunity for Nations looking to enter into business relationships with other Nations and with industry experts. The conference will feature 24 expert speakers, a trade show, and 18 workshops that include social responsibility, the business of hemp, retail opportunities, “Cannabis & Hemp 101” and more.

Conference Chair Howard Silver reiterated concerns raised at the recent BC Assembly of First Nations cannabis meeting with Health Canada that the legislation was passed without providing Indigenous communities “the opportunity to be compliant” within the current federal framework.

“Without adequate engagement and consultation, Indigenous communities have been left unprepared,” said Silver. “The issues behind Bill C-45 and First Nations become that much more complex once sovereignty, land and treaty rights, self-government, community wellness, economic development, jobs and training, policing and enforcement, etc., come into play.”

Late last month, Health Canada issued a license under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations to Seven Leaf Med, which became the first licensed producer located in a First Nations community.

Health Canada spokesperson André Gagnon says, in New Brunswick, the Listuguj First Nation entered into a partnership with Zenabis, a federally licensed producer that has established a facility near the community that is providing access to employment, and other opportunities.

“Health Canada is currently considering 19 license applications by organizations that are either Indigenous-owned and operated, or have close Indigenous affiliations,” said Gagnon “There is growing interest on the part of some Indigenous governments, communities, and organizations in ensuring that Indigenous peoples can enter and benefit fully from the new cannabis industry.”

The Cannabis Act and its regulations have set out an open and fair federal licensing process that would allow a diverse industry for the production of cannabis to emerge. Several Indigenous-affiliated organizations already participate in Canada’s cannabis for medical purposes industry. Currently, there are seven federally licensed, Indigenous-affiliated producers of cannabis for medical purposes.

Health Canada is providing a navigator service to help guide applicants through the licensing process to better support Indigenous participation in the production and manufacturing of cannabis.

“Self-identified Indigenous applicants are referred to a licensing professional that is dedicated to working with Indigenous applicants, who will reach out and be their guide throughout the licensing process,” said Gagnon.

The 2018 National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference is hosted by the Tsuu T’ina Nation, and takes place November 18-21 at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary.

 

Siksika Teen Crowned Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess

Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation

Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation

Astokomii Smith of the Siksika First NationAstokomii Smith of the Siksika First Nation has been crowned 2019 Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess. The 19-year-old Astokomii, which means “Calling Thunder” in Blackfoot, competed against contestants representing other Treaty 7 First Nations – Blood Tribe, Peigan First Nation, Tsuu T’ina Nation, and Stony Tribe.

Astokomii began dancing at the age of four, and has always danced Fancy Shawl. She was in complete disbelief when her name was announced as the winner among six candidates.

“I thought I was hearing wrong when they announced my name, mostly because the five other girls were so friendly, positive, and such good role models, plus I was the youngest of the group.” said Astokomii. “The most challenging part of the pageant I think was initially putting my name forward, it took a lot of courage in me because at times I still doubt myself, but this is something I really wanted to do, and I’m so glad I did.”

This is the first year the role has taken on the new “First Nations” title after officials last year changed it from “Indian.” The First Nations Princess will make hundreds of appearances locally, nationally, and internationally to educate people about Indigenous culture, and their ties to the Calgary Stampede.

Many factors played in her decision to run for the Calgary Stampede First Nations title.

“My main drive was my anxiety, which is sort of ironic because for years my anxiety held me back from so many things, but I’ve learned to cope a lot better,” said Astokomii. “I wanted to show that even with dealing with internal struggles such as anxiety that I could still be a princess. I want others to know that anxiety is not a weakness, and you could still do big things. Anxiety is something we all experience in our lives, and I figure with such a big platform such as the Calgary Stampede First Nations Princess, it will allow me to talk about it in a positive way.”

Vanessa Stiff Arm, former Calgary Stampede Indian Princess and current program coordinator for the Calgary Stampede Elbow River Camp, said that Astokomii plans to bring awareness to people suffering from mental illness.

“She will also educate people on the rich culture of Treaty 7 First Nation culture throughout Calgary, Canada, and the world, and be spreading western hospitality wherever she goes this year,” said Stiff Arm.

Over a two-and-a-half week period, six candidates were judged on their public speaking, personal interviews, their traditional dancing, and how well they mixed and mingled with different groups of people. They were also judged on their knowledge of the Calgary Stampede, and Treaty 7.

Astokomii is looking forward to representing the Calgary Stampede.

“Among many other things, the Calgary Stampede has always shown that we really are ‘Greatest Together,’” said Astokomii. “Personally, I have never seen an event of such big influence work together with so many people. It’s done amazing at representing not only Western heritage but Indigenous heritage as well. To me, the Calgary Stampede truly shows how well people of many different backgrounds can work together, and learn from each other.”

Astokomii is a recent graduate from Siksika Outreach where she earned the Governor General’s Award for Highest Academics, and she is the Indigenous Liaison for the Town of Strathmore. Her family background includes the Yellow Old Woman, Red Gun, Many Guns, and Larocque families. Astokomii’s parents are Gisele Backfat and Cassius Smith, and her grandparents are Darlene Yellow Old Woman and Cody Munro.

“This year we had three ladies from Siksika, one from the Stoney Nakoda, one from Tsuu T’ina, and one from Piikani,” said Stiff Arm. “It was a big group this year, and I hope to see some of them at next year’s pageant.”

 

Appellate Court Delivers Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline Victory, Halts Expansion

Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Photo courtesy of Nic Amaya/CBC

Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Photo courtesy of Nic Amaya/CBC

 

Approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion has been overturned on two counts by an Appellate Court ruling. The court found that Ottawa failed to adequately consider aboriginal concerns, and that a National Energy Board (NEB), study’s focus on tanker traffic was considered to be too narrow. “WE are winning,” said Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “The NEB was a flawed process from the beginning, and the courts recognized that today. This is a victory for all of us.”

The Appellate Court decision said the government failed in its constitutional duty to “engage in a considered, meaningful two-way dialogue” with First Nations affected by the project. “We tell the prime minister to start listening and put an end to this type of relationship. It is time for Prime Minister Trudeau to do the right thing,” said Khelsilem, a councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), called on the federal government to shut down the expansion project rather than try to resurrect the failed consultant process. He said he was not expecting a court ruling in favour of the First Nations.

“I was really taken aback by the decision.” said Phillip. “I’m absolutely elated. I’m ecstatic. We denounced the so-called consultation process from the beginning as fundamentally flawed, and the courts upheld that. In order for a new consultation to take place, they will have to go back to square one.”

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Maureen Thomas was joined by UBCIC Vice-President Bob Chamberlin in calling the decision a new chance at reconciliation. “I’m mindful of all the times that we stood together with Canadians that made the decision to stand with First Nations. This is what reconciliation can be in Canada.”

But not all First Nations are opposed to the expansion. Along the existing pipeline – from the Alberta oil sands to the tanker terminal on the west coast of BC – are many who still hope to see the expansion move forward eventually.

Chief Mike LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation near Kamloops said he welcomed the ruling that First Nations were not properly consulted even though he supported the pipeline going ahead under Indigenous control. “Right from the beginning we wanted a piece of the pipeline, either in tax or equity. We want to protect the environment, and we want to do it on our terms.”

The cancellation is based on two findings: NEB’s failure to ctonsider the project’s impact on the marine environment to include the impact of increased tanker traffic on the endangered population of southern resident killer whales, and, secondly, a failure in the last stage of the consultation process with First Nations – Phase 111.

Phase 111 requires engagement in a considered, meaningful two-way dialogue. “Canada fell well short of the minimum requirements imposed by the case law of the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Justice Eleanor Dawson. “For the most part, Canada’s representatives limited their mandate to listening to and recording the concerns of the indigenous applicants, and transmitting those concerns to the decision makers. The law requires Canada to do more than receive and record concerns and complaints. As a result, Canada must redo its Phase 111 consultation. Only after that consultation is completed and any accommodation made can the project again be put before the Governor in Council for approval.”