Topic: NEWS

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


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 – – 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.”


2018 Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly-Election for National Chief

Perry Bellegarde and Kelly Many Guns

The 2018 AFN Annual General Assembly was held on July 24 to July 26 at the Vancouver Convention Centre amid cruise ships and the beautiful Burrard Inlet’s picturesque setting.

A total of 522 chiefs attended the Assembly, along with their proxies, to vote for a National Chief. It took a second ballot to declare incumbent, Perry Bellegarde ultimately came out as the winner of this year’s election. There were five candidates who ran for national chief, including Kathryn Whitecloud, who did not go onto the second ballot because she secured the fewest votes in the first round of voting. The national chief must secure 60% of the votes to be declared the winner:

  • Perry Bellegarde — 328
  • Sheila North — 125
  • Miles Richardson — 59
  • Russ Diabo — 10

Controversy swirled at the convention centre as the voting took place.  Candidate Russ Diabo, a policy analyst from Kahnawake in Quebec, accused Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett of “political interference” on the Wednesday after she met with a group of chiefs on voting day.

Diabo told CBC News that, “This is the first time I have seen a Minister come in to influence chiefs on voting day,” said Diabo. “I see that as political interference.”

A statement from Minister Bennett’s office read, “In no way did the Minister interfere in the electoral process for National Chief. This is a decision for First Nations to make without outside interference.”

The Ministers office also said that “the Minister was invited by Regional Chief [Marlene] Poitras to listen to the regional concerns of Alberta Chiefs this morning.  ‎At no point was the election for national chief ever discussed.”

After the results revealed that Perry Bellegarde was elected national chief, Diabo addressed his closing statements to the convention centre, “You’ll suffer the consequences” in reaction to election results. A chorus of boos erupted during Diabo’s closing speech.

Carolyn Bennett addressed the Chiefs on July 26th to a half empty convention centre, as most chiefs returned home after the June 25th elections.

Also speaking, were the families and representatives of Colten Bouchie, urging the national chief and leaders to end the injustices.

Carolyn Bennett speaking

New Name Announced to Calgary Stampede Landmark

New name announced to Calgary Stampede Landmarka

Photo by Kelly Many Guns


“I really don’t like this word ‘Indians’,” expresses Siksika elder Rosalin Many Guns. She’s referring to the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village.

“There’s one time I heard these people were going to the Indian Village, they came from India. They heard about it from seeing those booklets with the information, so they wanted to go to the Indian Village and see what they had there. They were expecting people from India, but when they got there, there was tipi’s and native people there, and they were surprised. They were like ‘what’s going on? How come they call it Indian Village?’” as Many Guns shakes her head – “I don’t like it.”

It wasn’t just Rosalin that had a distaste for the culturally outdated term ‘Indian’, many others disagreed with it, too. “We gotta’ change it,” said Siksika Nation’s Chief Joe Weaselchild at last years Stampede. And you know what, during the 2018 Calgary Stampede, tipi owners and officials decided that the pleas for a change wouldn’t go unheard.

“They officially announced that they named it Elbow River Camp,” says Chrystal Black Horse, a Siksika ladies fancy dancer. “I’m glad we’re getting recognized as niitsitapi, ‘real people’ for Blackfoot, or aboriginal. I’m glad we’re changing, and getting the ‘Indian’ out.” The Calgary Stampede changed it on their website and everything.

Gerald Sitting Eagle, Siksika member, elder, and camp advisor, said that the first meeting about changing the name came up about two years ago. Stampede officials and tipi owners sat down together and discussed the possibility for a change. “That name, the Elbow River Camp, came up at the first meeting, and everybody agreed to it. But the Stampede wanted to do it their way, so it took them a while to get it done.” Gerald has frustration in his tone when he talks about Stampede officials.

The name ‘Indian Village’ went unchanged for 106 years until now. It stuck for so long because the respect the tipi owners had towards Guy Weadick. Back in 1912, he was the man that got the Calgary Stampede officials to make a special agreement with the government that allowed First Nations people to leave their reserve, and come celebrate their traditions at the Stampede without any legal consequences. This was a huge deal to many because they had the opportunity to go back to Mohkínstsis (the Blackfoot term for ‘elbow’) and connect to the area through ceremony, dance, and intertribal gatherings. This was a triumph at the time, so Guy Weadick’s name stuck: The Indian Village. While it was understandable that this was a common term used a century ago, the term is a cause for confusion in 2018. We aren’t stuck on Christopher Columbus’ geographical screw up – this isn’t India. Here in Southern Alberta, we’re on the traditional plains, foothills, and mountains of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which include the Siksika, Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, and Piikani First Nations.

This new name doesn’t use any race depicting terms, though. Nestled beside the Elbow River’s banks, the camp’s new name focusses on its location. “We wanted to have a unique name here because the Elbow River used to be a meeting place amongst our people,” shares Sitting Eagle. “We wanted to recognize that there’s a lot of stories about the Elbow River, and a lot of history on how Calgary chose to be a town on this spot.”

There is a need for indigenous-led workshops about the history and culture of the Mohkínstsis area at the camp. Many visitors come to enlighten themselves on First Nations culture, and the Elbow River Camp has the potential to be abundant with programming to provide true understanding. “I try and get the volunteers that work here to have a workshop on understanding the five different tribes, but nobody’s taking a stand on it. I’ve mentioned it about ten times now, nobody’s listening,” Sitting Eagle insists. So if you (yes, you the reader) have anything in mind, do not hesitate to contact the Calgary Stampede and make suggestions/take action.

Other than the name change, the camp had a good year. There was a larger market, daily powwows, and campers showcased their tipi’s and invited the public to walk around inside and view traditional artifacts within. Weather wise, nice and sunny, but one day there was a big wind that caused six tipi’s to fall. But, “while the tipi’s were going down and ripping,” Gerald “noticed that the people in the village really came together and helped.” The camp became a big family during Stampede time yet again.

Outside of the Elbow River Camp, the Indian Relay Race was in its second year of exhibition. Representative of the event Ray Champ says that they’re developing a new partnership with the Stampede, and thinks the event’s a good match with the rodeo.

“The crowd loves it,” says Ray. “There is nothing out there like it where the rider has to use his body as a baton and rides three horses bareback. It takes an insane amount of balance, muscle strength, and core strength.”

I asked Ray to explain the process of the relay race.

“You’ve got 3 horses, 4 team members – one of those being a rider of course. You line up four or five teams, and they all run around the track the first time. After the start, they come in, the teams are stationed at the start post, you ride in to your team and the rider literally jumps off onto the ground while the horse is moving, and jumps on to the next horse just as fast and then runs around the track again. When they get back, they make the final exchange, and race that last lap. Last lap, the rider won’t come into his team, he’ll race across the finish line.”

The exchange is the most critical part – the smoother you can be, the faster you can be, the better your chances of winning the race. It takes a lot of teamwork, talent, and respect for horses. The relay racers adorn their horses, too. They brush colourful paintings onto their coats and leave saddles, harnesses, and tassels to the wayside. It’s cool to see.

The Calgary Stampede has definitely created more spaces for First Nation exchange of knowledge and culture. They had the Indian Relay Race, DJ Shub and The North Sound were indigenous artists that played on the Coca-Cola Stage, and the name change to Elbow River Camp – all positive steps. They’re taking their tagline to heart, and are still working hard to be ‘the greatest outdoor show on earth’.


Viu Honours First Nations Advocate With Honorary Degree

Gene Anne Joseph, the first librarian of First Nations heritage in BC, will receive Doctor of Laws at VIU’s June 5 convocation ceremony

NANAIMO, BC: Since childhood, Gene Anne Joseph was always happiest with a book in hand.

“My parents and family would joke that I wouldn’t move in an earthquake if I was reading,” Joseph says.

Joseph’s father had an elementary-level education in federal Indian day school and her mother attended residential school until age 16. Her parents raised 12 children.

Due to their support and encouragement, the majority of their children have a post-secondary level education.

“Throughout my life my parents were my primary inspiration as they taught all of my sisters and brothers that we were expected to work hard, be honest, and support and encourage others,” says Joseph.

In 1972, she began her post-secondary academic career as one of the few First Nations students at Langara College.

Her first summer job was copying a catalogue of a small collection for the UBC Indian Education Resource Centre. Every summer afterwards, Joseph found herself obtaining positions at libraries.

When she finished her bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia (UBC), a position with the BC Union Chief Resource Centre opened up, and Joseph knew this was the job for her – except they rejected her application. Unwilling to accept no for an answer, Joseph boldly wrote a letter to the President, Chief George Manuel, to explain while she didn’t have the exact qualifications they were looking for, the experience and passion she possessed made her the perfect candidate. He agreed and hired her. Joseph worked there for three years before going back to UBC to obtain her Master’s of Library Science.

During her graduate studies, Joseph collected and analyzed subject headings used by First Nations libraries in Canada to catalogue and organize information resources. This work continued in her role at the UBC Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) Resource Centre.

“I always felt I was working for First Nations people. When I saw the language used to describe First Nations, I found it ethnocentric and demeaning to us. It didn’t describe us how we describe ourselves,” she says.

Although Joseph considers herself a rather shy person, “when something is important enough, I force myself to step up.”

With no precedent to follow, Joseph carved the way by creating a new classification system that uses proper terminology used by First Nations communities. In 2005, UBC committed to protect the unique system designed by Joseph, which is now known as the First Nations House of Learning Subject Headings (FNHL-SH) and classification.

“To Indigenous librarianship, Gene Joseph is an unsung hero whose professional leadership laid a foundation for the future,” says Patricia Geddes, Student Engagement and Community Outreach Librarian at VIU. “Gene’s innovative approach to her work continues to inspire the next generation of Indigenous information professionals working towards decolonizing library services and building recognition for Indigenous knowledge systems.”

Joseph was the founding librarian of the Xwi7xwa Library at UBC, the only post-secondary Aboriginal library in Canada.

“She created an atmosphere that has continued to this day, an atmosphere that welcomed Aboriginal students and created a home-like environment for them as they adjusted to academic life in a huge institution,” says Tim Atkinson, VIU’s now-retired University Librarian.

In 1969, the federal government proposed to end the Indian Act, and First Nations communities in BC were coming together to legally stand up for Aboriginal Rights and Land Title.

“It was an exciting time politically for First Nations people,” Joseph says. “As a young woman, I decided my long-term goal was to work on Aboriginal Land Title. I wanted to do something to help First Nations – to help my people.”

In 1984, she was recruited to organize materials for the Delgamuukw v. British Columbia Supreme Court case, a landmark ruling that set a legal precedent for the court’s recognition of Aboriginal Title in Canada.

Although legally defined as Delgamuukw v. BC, Joseph intentionally refers to the trial as Delgamuukw Gisday’wa v. BC as both Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations were represented on the case – a fact too often overlooked.

“For me, it’s important terminology as I have dedicated my whole life to trying to correct terminology describing First Nations issues and subjects,” she says.

The case holds significant personal meaning to Joseph as she was born in Wet’suwet’en territory in the village of Hagwilget/Tse-kya, and has close connections to both Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan peoples.

“Through her efforts and collaboration with the chiefs and lawyers, Gene brought the Delgamuukw case to life and helped make the rights of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people real in court,” says Stuart Rush, consultant at White Raven Law. “She has left a powerful legacy in what she accomplished for her people and for the land.”

Joseph went on to assist as Senior Advisor and Director of Research and Litigation Support at White Raven Law for the Haida Nation Aboriginal Title court case.

In 1991, Joseph helped establish the BC Library Association First Nations Interest Group, a professional network that holds a scholarship endowment created in her name to support Aboriginal graduate students pursuing library sciences. The funding for the scholarship originally came from the successful volunteer-run workshops for First Nations community information workers.

At the time of the first award, Joseph was one of the few First Nations librarians in Canada. Now 16 Aboriginal Gene Joseph Scholars are working as information professionals.

“I am proud the scholarship has affected so many people obtaining their master’s degree. I am proud I am no longer the only First Nations librarian in BC. It was difficult to be the only person in my field; no assistance or colleagues to understand what you are going through,” Joseph says.

Throughout her career and advocacy work, Joseph has demonstrated that education, once used as a tool for repression, can be used to empower future generations. Much of her work has revolved around ensuring First Nations history and stories are documented and acknowledged properly.

“People have such terrible misunderstandings about First Nations legal rights and place in Canadian history. If non-First Nations had knowledge of our history and culture, they would have a better perception of us.”

Joseph has been instrumental at changing that perception through her unwavering dedication and commitment to build bridges between individuals, institutions and communities for the benefit of First Nations and all Canadians.