Topic: NEWS

Passing On Indigenous Knowledge With The Drum

by Xavier Kataquapit

photo by Xavier Kataquapit The Traditional Drum is featured at many Indigenous events and Pow Wows across Canada. These traditional teachings surrounding the drum are being passed onto Indigenous youth. Here we see the Wabun Youth Gathering in northeastern Ontario that brings together Indigenous youth to learn about traditional teachings such as the drum.

When you take part in a traditional Pow Wow, the first thing you notice is the rhythmic beat of the drum.   It is difficult to miss the deep resounding pulse of the drumbeat.  When it is played, it fills the air with an energy that attracts people to move closer to the sound.  It quiets the noise of everyday life and takes over the environment and demands that everyone listen.  When a traditional group of performers are playing this ancient instrument, the beat is almost hypnotic.  It clears your mind instantly of any thoughts, worries and anxieties.  

    Traditional people describe the drum as representing Mother Earth and it is her heartbeat that is heard when the drum is played.  The traditional drum is also symbolic as the mother, as when we are infants inside a womb, the heartbeat of the mother is the first sound we hear.  The drum is a sacred object that is represented and respected as if it were alive.  It is described as having its own unique voice or sound and it is believed to have its own spirit.  As part of this belief, there are many types of ceremonies performed by different Native groups to ‘awaken’ the drum before it is played.  When the drum is used there are ceremonies and prayers that are given by the drum-keeper and the drummers before an event.  When the drum is not in use it is stored in a respectful manner and it is not treated as an object of admiration or status but rather as a symbol of spirituality.  

    The shape of the drum is also thought to hold great symbolism to traditional people.  The circle is believed to represent a great deal of spirituality as it is seen as a perfect shape.  The circle is represented through numerous traditional teachings such as the circle of life, the cycle of the seasons and the shape of heavenly objects such as the sun and moon.  

    The drum in human history is thought to be one of the oldest musical instruments that has ever been created by man.  This instrument is common in many traditional cultures and it is often one that is rooted in deep history when societies were once closely connected to the land and the elements.  

    In many early cultures the drum was used as a tool of war.  The drum was used a means to drive fear into the enemy and to excite and give energy to a marching army.  It was also thought to be a way of spreading communications in the midst of a noisy battle.  A drum could be heard by everyone and it was used to direct forces to move forward, retreat or conduct other maneuvers.  Through the culture of war and its use as a military weapon, the drum was turned into an instrument of competition and so it developed into newer forms where it could be represented in many different ways.  The English, Scottish, Irish and other European countries developed many types of organized music based on the sound of the marching drum.  

    In other cultures all over the world, the rhythmic sound of the drum or the beating of a percussion instrument is the basis for just about every type of music.  Whenever someone is singing or a group of people are playing several instruments, they are following a single beat in the background that is guiding their playing.  The beat may change or vary but is always there to lead the other instruments.  

    In recent years, the basic drumbeat seems to finding its way back to people from all sorts of backgrounds.  In cities and towns all over, I see groups of people coming together to hold communal drumming sessions in parks or public places.  These sessions are great stress relievers and events that allow people to come together to perform a simple task that is self-satisfying and easy to do.  Physically, the energy that is felt when drumming actually activates natural biochemicals that provide many positive effects to the body and mind of a person.  

    There is nothing like the feeling you get when you are standing near a drum played by a group of traditional First Nation drummers.  When an experienced group is playing, they can move and direct your feelings in so many ways.  At first, it captivates you, then it may surprise you or bring a simple calm to your soul but all the while it leaves you mesmerized and relaxed as the rest of the world diminishes.  

    Sometimes as I fall to sleep, I can hear the pulse of my heart in the silent dark.  It reminds me of the drum and it makes me realize how such an instrument has become so powerful in our lives.  What better way to represent music than by imitating the sound of our own hearts.  It is a sound and an idea we can all relate to.  It is a beat we can all dance to.  In that way it brings us all together.

Vancouver Canucks celebrate First Nations Night

By Kelly Many Guns

This week the Vancouver Canucks celebrated the 4th Annual First Nations Night at the Rogers Arena when the Canucks hosted the St,Louis Blues. Although it was a close 4-3 loss to the Blues the night was a special evening highlighting the Orange Shirt Society and remembering the survivors of the residential school survivors and those who did not survive. 

The evening also honored Indigenous business and services in Vancouver and recognized the traditional territories of three Local First Nations: the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh. 

Performer included headliners The Halluci Nation (previously known as A Tribe Called Red), Michelle Heyoka, Coastal Wolf Pack, DJ Kookum, Faith Sparrow-Crawford (Musqueam) and Teshawna Sihata (Spuzzum)

Look for complete coverage in the upcoming April 2022 issue of First Nations Drum

Living with third world water conditions in Canada

By Kelly Many Guns

The majority of Canadians get up every morning and turn the water tap on to make coffee, jump in the shower, brush their teeth or even to quickly splash their face before starting the day and most don’t give it a second thought.  Unfortunately, there are over 140,000 First Nations people in Canada that don’t have the basic luxury most Canadians take for granted, clean drinking water.

The First Nations Drinking Water Settlement was created to compensate First Nations who have been without safe cleaning drinking water for a year or more. Courts have approved the Settlement between Canada and certain First Nations and their members who were subject to a drinking water advisory that lasted one year between November 20, 1995 and June 2021.

Alana Robert, class counsel for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlements says this historic settlement agreement recognizes the First Nation’s right to clean water. It captures over 250 First Nations and over 140,000 members on reserve. The settlement agreement aims to ensure that long-term drinking water advisories on reserve do not become the norm ever again. 

“It provides binding legal commitments to bring clean water home to First Nations across the country and keep it there – now, and for future generations,” said Robert. This presents a critical opportunity to transform access to clean water and it signifies a new era – one that many First Nations have long been waiting for.”

Darian Baskatawang, also working as class counsel for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement says that not having access to clean, safe drinking water for over a year in almost half of the First Nations across Canada is a stain on Canada’s identity. 

“We are glad to have come to this agreement and work with Canada to begin to wash away this stain using the clean, safe drinking water this settlement provides.”

Baskatawang shared with First Nations Drum one of the worst drinking water advisories they are aware of in Canada.

“One of the representative plaintiffs, Neskantaga First Nation in what is now (briefly) known as northern Ontario, has had the longest drinking water advisory in Canada, lasting about 27 years and counting. But what makes it the worst is its impact, whether human impact, cultural impact, or otherwise. Neskantaga has been evacuated three times due to its water issues. Children and youth have committed suicide, and long-lasting diseases exacerbated by the simple fact of not having regular access to clean, safe drinking water. This settlement agreement seeks to change that.”

Robert added that Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a representative plaintiff in this case, has been under a long-term drinking water advisory since May 2017.  “In Tataskweyak, it is common for children to develop severe full-body rashes from bathing in the treated tap water. This is just one of the consequences of a lack of access to clean water. The horrific realities of long-term drinking water advisories on reserve is a situation that never should have happened in Canada. The settlement agreement aims to eliminate all existing long-term drinking water advisories on reserve, and ensure that this crisis never repeats itself in the future.”

The settlement agreement provides nearly $2 billion in compensation to individuals and First Nations for the harms of having to live under a long-term drinking water advisory. Individuals can receive compensation for every year that they lived on a reserve that was subject to a long-term drinking water advisory. Individuals who experienced certain specified injuries may also be eligible for additional compensation. Any impacted First Nation that accepts the settlement agreement will receive a minimum of $500,000 in compensation, plus an additional 50% of the amount paid to its individual members. But the most transformative aspects of the settlement agreement are the significant forward-looking measures which seek to eliminate long-term drinking water advisories and ensure that access to clean water becomes the new norm on reserve. 

This will be made possible by the requirement that Canada spend at least $6 billion by 2030 on water and wastewater infrastructure. The settlement agreement also contains a heightened standard for water on reserve, which requires Canada to take all reasonable efforts to ensure that there is regular access to clean drinking water on reserve. If Canada does not meet the standards set out in the settlement agreement, a new dispute resolution process is available to bring Canada and First Nations together to craft the plan forward. This process includes Indigenous legal traditions and protocols of the impacted First Nation. All of this makes a better future possible, where First Nations can have access to the basic necessity of clean drinking water, like all other Canadians.

Baskatawang says out of the roughly 8 billion dollar settlement, roughly 2 billion is for compensation. 

“The other 6 billion is to power the legal commitment to make sure this never happens again. First Nations and Individuals do not have to opt in or worry about not having regular access to clean, safe drinking water again. So while only roughly half of the communities get compensation for living under a drinking water advisory, everyone benefits by the commitment.”

Robert and Baskatawang invite impacted individuals and First Nations to learn more about the settlement agreement by visiting The claims period is now open. Individuals have until March 7, 2023 to submit their claim forms, and First Nations have until December 22, 2022 to accept the settlement agreement. Our team is here to assist individuals and First Nations every step of the way.

Connecting Indigenous Peoples to Informed Choices with COVID-19 Vaccines

Author, Shelley Mantei

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities across Canada are continuing their efforts in
responding to COVID-19. They are joining ancient and contemporary practices to change the
course of history by surviving and thriving during the pandemic.

As of January 25, 2022, over 86% of individuals aged 12 and older in First Nations, Inuit and
territorial communities have received a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Over 43% of youth
aged 5 to 11 have received at least one dose.

Beyond the pandemic’s effect on health, there is often a crisis within the crisis as unequal
distribution of vaccines extends the pandemic further. This is not the case in Canada, where
Indigenous Peoples are included among priority groups receiving the vaccine. This serves as a
way of addressing historical inequities making Indigenous Peoples disproportionately more
vulnerable to viruses.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis have access to vaccines through many clinics across the country.
Plus, if First Nations peoples and Inuit need to travel out of their community to get to their
vaccination or booster appointment, the applicable travel costs will be covered by non-insured
health benefits.

While access to the vaccine is not a barrier, many Indigenous people are still experiencing
vaccine hesitancy most commonly due to confusion with conflicting information. The Circle of
Eagles Lodge Society has created culturally-relevant resources to fully enable individuals to
make informed decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are not here to judge anyone’s choices. We’re here to work with our Indigenous community
to help everyone make informed choices that are right for them,” said Merv Thomas, CEO of
Circle of Eagles Lodge Society.

Circle of Eagles Lodge Society (COELS) operates Indigenous halfway homes in Vancouver, BC
on the Coast Salish territory to assist Indigenous Brothers and Sisters leaving Canadian federal
institutions and those dislocated from society. For over 50 years, COELS has provided supports
to reintegrate them into communities by providing men’s and women’s residences, pre-
employment programming, cultural healing, and life skills.

Their COVID-19 decision-making resources range from education on variants, vaccine
comparison charts, a review of side effects and likelihood, to tips on how to audit trusted
sources to avoid misinformation.

“People can make informed choices about their health and well-being by asking questions,
participating in fireside chats and expressing their feelings about COVID-19 vaccinations, and
leveraging science-driven experts.”

Thomas cautions, “Listen to scientists not social media. Do your own research with trusted
sources and make informed choices that blend education along with lifeways, customs, and
spirituality driven by the ancestral force.”

Some of the best ways to identify trusted sources are to go beyond the headlines, identify the
author, check the date, examine the supporting evidence, check your biases and turn to fact-
checkers.Health experts say Indigenous communities in Canada can be at greater risk than other groups
during a pandemic. Canada wide, Indigenous communities are taking actions such as using
masks, physically distancing, and vaccination to protect their community, Elders and family.
Circle of Eagles Lodge Society resources are available at

Advance Costs and Indigenous Rights at the Supreme Court

Last week we had the privilege of representing the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta in their intervention in the Beaver Lake advance costs appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.  

As we outlined in our earlier post, Beaver Lake will clarify when and under what circumstances courts will require federal and provincial governments to provide funding to First Nations for litigation to protect and enforce their rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Below is a summary of the points raised in our submissions at the Supreme Court. The full hearing can be viewed here. 


Submissions of the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta  

First Nations should not have to demonstrate exceptional financial hardship to qualify for advance costs for their publicly important section 35 litigation.  

  • Advance costs orders benefit the public as a whole. They ensure that in exceptional cases, an applicant’s financial status will not prevent the court from determining an issue of national importance. 
  • Advance costs are particularly important in the context of section 35 litigation, where the public has a recognized, vested interest in advancing the process of reconciliation.
  • The fact that a First Nation chooses to allocate its limited funds to address the needs of its community – including for cultural survival and to fund basic services that most other Canadians take for granted – should not be used as a basis to disqualify the First Nation from advance costs for litigation to protect its section 35 rights.  
  • If this approach was adopted, cases which raise issues of significant public importance would not proceed simply because the First Nation is unable to demonstrate an exceptional level of poverty.  
  • The result would be that issues which go to the heart of section 35 and the objective of reconciliation would not be heard.
  • This is not and should not be part of the test for advance costs.
  • Instead, the Court should reaffirm the importance of advance costs for the determination of section 35 claims, and reject an approach which would require First Nations to choose between protecting their rights and meeting the needs of their communities.

Advance costs should support the resolution of section 35 claims through both negotiation and litigation. 

  • Advance costs orders play a critical role in the resolution of section 35 claims by enabling First Nations to obtain guidance from the courts prior to and during negotiations regarding the interpretation of their section 35 rights, and to enforce their rights when and if negotiations fail.
  • Courts have been clear that negotiation is the preferred means of resolving section 35 claims. 
  • However, negotiated resolutions can only be achieved when both First Nations and the Crown have the opportunity to seek recourse to the courts to clarify and enforce their positions.
  • This is because, as this Court recently recognized in R. v. Desautel, it is the duty of the courts to provide the “authoritative interpretation” of section 35. 
  • Ultimately, reconciliation is achieved through good faith negotiations guided and reinforced by decisions of the courts. 
  • Requiring a First Nation to exhaust all available funds in order to qualify for advance costs would unnecessarily hinder First Nations from obtaining guidance from the courts.
  • It would also impair the courts’ ability to provide input on the nature and scope of Indigenous peoples’ rights and the Crown’s obligations under section 35.
  • The financial means branch of the Okanagan test should be applied in a way that preserves First Nations’ ability to seek guidance from the courts on the interpretation of their section 35 rights, and in turn, supports the process of reconciliation through negotiated agreements between First Nations and the Crown. 


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.

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 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).