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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.”

Going from ‘Not Welcome’ to ‘You’re Invited’

Sisters Roberta Edzerza, left, and Judy Carlick-Pearson, right

Some people don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. Roberta Edzerza is one of them. Thankfully. As a member of the Metlakatla Trojans men’s team, Edzerza was the only female player competing in the 1992 All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT). This because there was no women’s division. Yet.

Thirty-three years of tournament play excluding female teams from competing ended the next year. “I was on the floor representing,” Edzerza said. “I knew this was going to make some changes.”

What changed? Roberta Edzerza helped shift the perception toward female players, according to ANBT Chair Peter Haugan, who said, “The [Tournament] committee could see that the ladies could play the game.” Twenty-seven years after Edzerza’s historic debut, 14 women’s teams are competing at the 60th Annual Prince Rupert ANBT, which is an important cultural event for regional indigenous peoples and attracts thousands of spectators from across the province.

The first year women competed, Edzerza’s Vancouver team lost in the 1993 finals to her younger sister’s team from Kaien Island. “My sister was actually more excited for [our] win than we were.” said Judy Carlick-Pearson, the inaugural women’s tournament MVP. Carlick-Pearson has been named finals MVP five times.

Edzerza’s inspirational lineage extends to today’s youngest ANBT women players. Adelia Paul became a two-time ANBT champion playing with the Haisla Sr. Ladies team out of Kitamaat Village, and she remembers watching the tournament as a child and wanting to play basketball at that level when she grew up. “I just remember being one of the kids on the sidelines just idolizing some of the players,” said Paul.

Paul has become the role model to today’s girls the same way as Edzerza’s generation was to hers. Today she coaches a U-17 team and at basketball camps. “There’s actually girls on my team that I’m playing against in this tournament,” she said. “It’s pretty cool to see that.”

More than two decades after breaking the gender barrier, Edzerza and her sister Judy Carlick-Pearson are members of the Prince Rubber Rain. Carlick-Pearson is grateful for her sister’s not taking “no” for an answer by competing on a men’s squad to prove ladies have game no different from the boys, and for proving that there was no good reason not to expand ANBT to invite women’s teams too. “It had a big impact on my life when Roberta actually initiated that women should play,” Carlick-Pearson said. “She was the first person to actually make that happen for all of us.”

As Prince Rubber Rain’s starring forward, Edzerza’s dedication and professionalism sets a fine example for her younger teammates to emulate. “It used to be about myself years ago, but now I’m playing for other young girls,” said Edzerza.

The Peacemaker

Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Sid Hill Onondaga Nation at Six Nations Grand River Country. Photo by Danny Beaton


Story and photos by Danny Beaton,

Turtle Clan Mohawk

In memory of Alicja Rozanska

Thousands of years ago when the Haudenosaunee people were in conflict  warring among each other, the Five Nations were in turmoil in North Eastern Ontario Canada and the USA territory we call our self’ Woodland Indians/People of The Flint. Things had gotten so bad around Lake Huron the people had become cannibals eating flesh, killing, warring, creating fear and jealousy was rampant. Lucky for the Iroquois Nation a baby was born to a neighbouring tribe of the Wyandot Nation or Huron Nation near Lake Ontario. As the baby became a man The Great Creator had a dream that this Wyndot baby had incredible abilities and gifts.

Soon this baby became a man and had a vision to travel to neighbouring villages at the same time his Grandmother had a dream that the Creator wanted him to restore peace and harmony among all people especially the Five Nations.

This baby who was now a man was to become known as The Peacemaker. As The Peacemaker grew to become a man he realized he had a gift from the Great Creator and a message in his mind, body and spirit that he had to share with other people about peace, harmony, unity and righteousness. As The Peacemaker prepared himself to leave home and journey to spread his message he asked Great Creator to help him build a special canoe something that would show a beauty and power as he traveled to neighbouring villages. So the Creator helped the Peacemaker build his first canoe it was a beautiful canoe which he built of white stone and when this canoe was finished the Peacemaker set out on Lake Ontario and his people were in awe that this Stone Canoe would float as he paddled away from his homeland. The Peacemaker knew in his heart that what his Grandmother had dreamed was the same idea in his own mind that he had a gift and message to share with the world.          

 Not far from where the Peacemaker set off on his Stone Canoe journey to bring his message of peace, power, unity and righteousness to the people there is a man who was called Tadadaho who was working with his obsession of negative values and creating fear, war and murder among tribes.                                            

Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah Onondaga Nation. Photo by Danny Beaton

   Today there is another man who thinks he has a powerful message but not one of peace and unity or harmony- it is a rant, a need to bring hatred and racism to the people of Canada who are negative and want to build an idea of White Supremacy. His name is Gabriel Sohier Chaput who lives in Montreal and is highlighted in a Montreal Gazette investigation by journalists Shannon Carranco,  Jon Milton, Christopher Curtis are featured on Google explaining activities May 16, 2018 of The White Supremacy Organization and the young neo-nazi and neo-fascist Gabriel Chaput. Once I had a look at the information on this neo-nazi it made me think of all the struggles of our people and the black people of Africa- Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and our missing women.

My Spirit brother Mac McCloud says there is no place for hate or anger in native people because it will give us a heart attack. Nelson Mandela spent about thirty years in prison from his oppressors and learned in his own mind that he had to forgive the white oppressor and carry no anger or need for revenge.  While Nelson Mandela was imprisoned his colleague Bishop Tutu continued the struggle outside the prison walls for African people. The time of Apartheid was a time freedom and genocide because people were disappearing tortured and imprisoned for protesting and speaking about their human rights. Mothers and fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers were jailed indefinitely and mass murder and torture occurred amongst the African tribes yet when public outcry began the truth was hidden until the people brought evidence to the colonial court system and the world began to see and demand justice for the people of Africa. The African people themselves let their cry be heard and seen no other way out of dictatorship but to fight for justice and their children’s freedom from suffering. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu fought for their people and never carried anger, hate or revenge towards their oppressor.  

Mahatma Gandhi might have been the most beautiful leader the world has had taking his people out of the hands of colonialism and showing his people the power of unity, ceremony and peace. Mahatma said the only way to peace is by nonviolence and love. But it took India discipline of the good mind and ceremony to bring justice, freedom, unity, and independence back to India. These stories of equality freedom and peace were created by leaders who believed in the higher purpose of Human Beings and sacrifice with the power of the Universe God or Creator, very little was ever accomplished by atheism. Mandela, Tutu, Gandi, Crazy Horse, Fools Crow, Brant and Peacemaker were leaders who stood with the people mind, body and spirit always with the natural laws and natural life around them and the respect for Mother Earth that she the giver of all life on our sacred journey.

These leaders stood up for peace, power, equality, righteousness and respect for creation. Peacemaker set out on Lake Ontario and could see not far from the shores was a great lodge built in a huge circle as he drew near a woman stood behind a huge fire burning as if to greet Peacemaker. As the Peacemaker introduced himself and his mission to bring peace and harmony to all people the woman said adamantly that there was trouble everywhere among the Mohawk people there. The woman introduced herself as Jigonsaseh of the Great Cat Nation. This woman was both strong and gentle in nature she asked the Peacemaker to sleep in her lodge but that all visitors were asked to leave there weapons outside the lodge Peacemaker assured Jigonsaseh that he carried no weapon .The next day the Peacemaker walked to the nearby swamp where he was told the most dangerous warrior Tadadaho was living, Jigonsaseh was with him and other community elders. They began singing a song of peace to the Tadadaho and slowly he emerged out of the swamp and stood in front of the Peacemaker with his hair swimming with snakes, with his incredible power and hate. As the woman kept singing slowly the snakes began to fall from his head, he, Tadadaho began to look like a human being instead of a anger monster.           

As the Peacemaker began to comb Tadadahos hair, he spoke to Tadadaho of the peace harmony and the need to reason so to bring calmness to his people, then he spoke of Mother Earth and all the natural life and gifts that Great Creator had given Human Beings to be one with. Then the Peacemaker said to Tadadaho would you like to use your mind for peace and would you like to stand for The Great Law and govern your people with a Good Mind. The Peacemaker offered Tadadaho the position to be chief of all chiefs if he could use his energy for peace instead of murder! The Peacemaker then asked the Tadadaho to lead the unity of tribes to become The Haudenosaunee Iroquois Five Nations later to become Six Nations in unity for peace through the use of reason and harmony.    

Uncle Robertjohn of the Seneca, said the White Supremacy is everywhere in the USA and they are the rich and wealthy who refuse to share and take care of Mother Earth and the people, the White Supremacy are negative but the Good Mind is positive energy The Light of our Great Creator is everywhere on Mother Earth the same light from Brother Sun the same light that beats in our hearts. After Peacemaker finished reasoning with Tadadaho, he said “you will lead our 49 chiefs now and you will stand for the Great Law, you will lead the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Five Nations Confederacy and the chiefs will be made by our leader of our woman Jigonsaseh of the Great Cat Nation.”             

There is no place for The White Supremacy in Canada or USA today there are too many native and non-native woman disappearing, the country needs peaceful loving citizens to protect our women and children from hatred and predators.

World Issues Inspire Jerilynn Webster’s songs

Jerilynn Webster, also known by her hip-hop name JB the First Lady, wanted to be an activist since she was five years old when she experienced the Oka Crisis. Now 34, she’s been working every since to better the lives of Indigenous women and girls across the country.

She’s released seven albums in seven years. Her newest album is titled Righteous Empowered Daughter (RED) for which she was nominated for best music video and best hip hop/rap album of the year from the Indigenous Music Awards.

Understanding the complexities of gender was also an important message for her.

“[This album] speaks a lot about clean water, missing and murdered Indigenous women, but also protecting and respecting our Two-Spirit people. That’s very important to me,” she says. “I feel like Two-Spirit people don’t get the honor and respect that they need. So I wanted that reflected in the album.”

She works at the grassroots level, planning rallies and holding candlelight vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She says the album explores how young Indigenous women are interacting with the world.

“It’s not just our most vulnerable, but it can also be our women who are going to school to those active as community leaders,” she says. “And that’s because we’re being targeted as Indigenous women and we need to protect each other.”

Webster also works at a federal and legislative level. She occupied the INAC office in Vancouver in 2016, along with other mothers and their children. They wanted the federal government to provide for Indigenous communities, prioritizing funds for language programs, as well as reinstating youth programming that had been cut.

She currently works a lot with youth and wants to see the world change for girls. She worked with Vancouver dance troupe Butterflies in Spirit, whose mission is to raise awareness of violence against Indigenous women and girls.  She also created a comic with young Indigenous girls that was later adapted into a theatre piece.

“It was about experiential youth who have experienced sex trade work,” she says. “It’s a preventative interactive theatre piece with stories of how people were trying to recruit young women into sex work.”

Webster says she wants the future to bring a safe space for Indigenous women.

“I want to see a world that’s a safe space with no more missing posters,” she says. “A place where we can live freely, practice our culture, celebrate, give birth, and be proud of who we are, to be loved and respected.”

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.”

Indspire Awards 2019

This years Indspire Awards was held in Calgary, Alberta at the Jubilee Auditorium on February 22nd. The event was beautifully designed all the way down to the free bannock and popcorn, and a memorable stage designed to come to life with nature inspired video graphics. Gracing this stage were the honourable recipients whose unyielding dedication to their passions, community, and culture has earned them an Indspire achievement award.

From Driftpile Cree Nation, AB, poet Billy-Ray Belcourt received the youth achievement award. At 23, his debut poetry collection This Wound Is A World has won multiple awards, most notable the Griffin Poetry Prize. His next poetry-prose hybrid NDN Coping Mechanism: Notes from the Field comes out in the Fall of 2019. Belcourt says that when he writes, he’s “always interested in how to refuse the narratives of suffering that have, for decades, demarcated how the public can understand native people. I’m always keeping my eye on how to breach that narrative, how to instead spin-one that always keeps in mind our futurity as native people, our ability to  love and care, to resist, to enact the kind of liberatory world that we want – that’s all at the core of my writing practice.”

From Sanikiluaq, NU, pop-artist Kelly Fraser received the youth achievement award. She won album of the year for her second album Sedna which was written with a mix of Inuktitut and English lyricism.

From Metis Homeland, MB, canoe and kayak athlete James Lavalee received the youth achievement award. It’s on his blood memory to paddle the waters of his homeland, and by following the pull to pursue this professionally, he’s reached extraordinary heights. In 2017, he won three medals at the Canada Summer Games, and received the highly prestigious Tom Longboat Award for indigenous male athlete of the year.

The Arts recipient this year was Barbara Todd Hager from St. Paul Des Metis Settlement, AB. She is a writer, producer, and director. Her docu-drama series 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus covers 20,000 years of history and is told from the indigenous perspective. This is the kind of powerful narrative that the film industry is in need of, thank-you Hager for putting your mind to it!

Award recipient for Business & Commerce  went to Westbank First Nations (BC) Chief Ron Derrickson. Elected as Chief of his nation in 1976, his business models have lifted his community out of poverty and they are now one of the wealthiest bands in the country. .

Jijuu Mary Snow Shoe from Gwich-in Nation, NT received the award for Culture, Heritage, and Spirituality. Her greatest lessons were those taught to her by her father. He taught her how to survive on this earth, and of the importance of land, fire, and water – these are the true powers of the world. Snow Shoe tells First Nation Drum “I really would like to leave this with the youth, to go and get their education, to go to university, become a doctor or nurse or whatever, it’s all out there but they have to work for it to get it. Another one, to try to learn more about their culture, and how to survive out on the land.”

Dr. Vianne Timmons from Mi’kmaq, NS received the education award. As the Vice Chancellor at the University of Regina, Timmons says, “Indigenous youth are Canada’s next generation of leaders, so there is nothing more important than ensuring they get the education they deserve. Education opens doors, creates opportunity, build leaders, and changes lives.”

Dr. Marlyn Cook from Misipawistik Cree Nation, MB received the award for health. In 1987, she was the first First Nations woman to graduate from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine. Though something was amiss for her with all this western medical knowledge,and now weaves traditional healing together with western healing, ensuring the body, mind, and spirit of each patient is cared for.

For Law & Justice the award went to community-oriented lawyer Dianne Corbiere from M’Chigeeng First Nation, ON. “In some ways we’re doing great because we have the Indspire awards and we see that if we work really hard and things are fortunate for us we can reach some very high goals! But there’s still a lot of our people who are struggling with the colonial realities, and you know, they’re addicted, they’re in jail, they’re in the child welfare system – so we have both, and I’d like to see where the pendulum swings more my way and that the kids are going to school, and having better lives.” She has dedicated her time at the Law Society of Ontario to many working groups and review panels, such as the working group formed by the federation of Law Societies of Canada to decide how best to respond to the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation report.

For public service the award went to Peter Dinsdale from Curve Lake First Nation. He has dedicated his life to improving the lives his indigenous brothers and sisters, and does so in his position as President and CEO of YMCA Canada.

From Mallard, Manitoba and Cote First Nation, SK, Bridgette Lacquette received the sports achievement award. She played in Canada’s National Women’s Team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. From a small community, dedication and resilience is what rose Lacquette to be among the best women hockey players in the world.

Even though she couldn’t make it to the ceremony, Atuat Akittirq was given a standing ovation and many blessings for her lifetime achievement award. From Aggu, NU, Akittirq embodies the resilience of Inuit knowledge and language. She was brought up in the traditional way, and continues to teach her traditional knowledge of culture and life as one of the Elder professors at the Piruvik Centre.

Amazing achievement, all resting on the backbone of determination, resilience, and education, definitely an inspiring evening for all who attended. Congratulations to this years Indspire recipients, your work is beautiful and makes all First Nations proud.

Osoyoos Chief to be Inducted into Business Hall of Fame

Clarence Louie, Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band will be inducted into the 2019 Canadian Business Hall of Fame on June 19, 2019. Mr. David Denison, Chancellor of the Order of the Business Hall of Fame says the 2019 Class of Companion Inductees is a very special group which recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of Canada’s most distinguished business leaders.

“The Canadian Business Hall of Fame is honoured to recognize their enduring contributions to the business community and our country,” said Denison.  “We will have the great privilege of highlighting their excellence in business leadership, outstanding professional achievements and dedication to bettering Canada’s social fabric.”

Clarence Louie, the first Indigenous person inducted into the Business Hall of Fame was born in 1960 and raised on the Osoyoos Indian Band by his mother. Due to high unemployment, many adults on his First Nation community had to work as transient labourers on fruit orchards in nearby Washington State. Louie was forced to be self-sufficient during his childhood years. At age 19, he left BC and enrolled at the First Nations University in Regina. He then completed native studies at the University of Lethbridge. After receiving his degree, he returned to home to Osoyoos.

At 24 years of age, Louie was elected as chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Louie has won every election but one since 1985. The band has 540 members, and controls 32,000 acres of land. He started the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation (OIBDC) in 1988. Through the corporation’s efforts, the previously impoverished band started or acquired nine businesses, including tourism, construction, and recreation companies. The band now employs 700 people including non-First Nations. A high-profile business started by the OIBDC during Louie’s tenure is Nk’Mip Cellars, the first aboriginal-owned winery in North America.

First Nations Drum had the chance to speak with Clarence Louie and discuss his induction into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

When did your interest in business start?

“I guess when I was first elected chief back in December of 1984 because you quickly realize in order to create self sustaining jobs on the reserve you have to be in business affairs, there aren’t enough jobs in the band office for every band member; and the biggest employer should not be the band office. The only way to create jobs is to get involved in economic development and business.”

One of your main goals was to hire band members, was this difficult, and how did you go about getting members trained and qualified for their positions?

“Well any band’s main goal is to employ band members, of course you can’t always do that, because you need experienced people and you need to hire qualified people for those jobs whether that be in finance or any position. I know many First Nations who hire white people or whoever because you need people to keep the ship running. This is why you need to set aside money for training, and the money that comes from Indian Affairs for Education is never enough, so you have to create your own revenue to cover and employment & training. Leasing revenue pays for everything around here at Osoyoos Indian Band. Not all band members want to work for their band, so you have to hire non-band members, and it’s no different here at Osoyoos. Every band has some capacity building to do, so we set aside money to send band members to go get their education and training, whether it’s in Canada or the U.S., so they have an opportunity to manage some of our businesses.”

You are the first Indigenous business person to be inducted into the Canadian business Hall of Fame, what are your thoughts?

“Well again I’m not the original entrepreneur here, as elected chief, I don’t own any of these companies here in Osoyoos. So I find it strange that I’m being singled out, because I didn’t put any of my money in these companies, they’re owned by the band, so it should be the band recognition because this was a team effort, not only one person. I played a role in Osoyoos accomplishments and success, but there’s council, and band members that have to agree in the business ventures and land leases, so it’s a recognition for the Osoyoos Indian Band.”

What are some of the achievements that stand out?

“Well all the jobs we’ve created. We now have more jobs than we do band members. Every First Nation can’t say they’re independent if they can’t create their own money, it’s a simple reality. If your money comes from Indian Affairs, then you’re a dependent First Nation, if the biggest employer on the First Nation is the band office, then that’s wrong. You can’t be independent if you don’t create your own revenue.”

You have been elected chief of the Osoyoos since you were 24 years old, how has the business landscape changed for you, since 1984?

“No, I ran for chief 17 times and  been elected 16 times since 1984. Well of course I’ve learned  a lot, I have a lot more business contacts, experience. We’ve done some stupid things, and we learn from those mistakes. When I was first elected, we only had 2 council members and now we have 5 council members and a Chief, plus our population has grown. We have more mouths to feed, more demands, therefore we have to make more money and create more jobs.”

It seems you started from scratch to your current business and investments (including a vineyard and winery, a four-star resort, and a 9-hole golf course) what were the main challenges you faced?

“Well it always boils down to money and that is the main obstacle.  We need money to seek out good advisors to create proposals and grant money. We also needed to change our mindset that we can’t always depend on Indian Affairs for money and we have to start creating our own economy and become more business minded and we need better finance people, number crunchers, better business minded individuals, and hire business advisors. We need to move forward and get on our economic horse.”

The welfare rate on First Nations in Canada is quite high, what is the rate, if any on Osoyoos Indian Band?

“In every community you have people on welfare, some have good reason, cause of their health, or maybe a disability, single mothers raising children and of course we have our group of ‘lazy ones,’ I think every community has their ‘lazy ones. 80 per cent of my people or more are employed compared to many First Nations that have 50 per cent of their people unemployed. We have a membership of 540, but like every band, not all our members live on our First Nation, we have members scattered throughout the U.S. and Canada, but the majority live on the reserve, and we’ve had members move back to Osoyoos because of the opportunity of jobs. But we have more jobs then we do have band members. Is everybody working, ‘no.’”

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders are saying they have authority over the territory and the elected band councils have authority over the band reserve, would you like to comment on this issue?

“We don’t have hereditary chiefs in the Okanagan First Nations, so we don’t have to deal with this issue here, but all people on our reserve still have a say on decisions that are important to Osoyoos. My understanding is the First Nation is owned collectively not individually.

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

“I have too many other issues to deal with on my reserve, that’s a national issue, we have a national chief, and of course you have your provincial AFN (Assembly of First Nations) chief, and Union of BC Chiefs, so we elect them them and they get paid to keep their focus and eyes and ears on national issues.”

The Remarkable Political Career of Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould has been a woman of power in Canada. In 2015, she became the first Indigenous person to become Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, later transferring to the Minister of Veteran Affairs in 2019. She currently holds the position of the Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver Granville in Vancouver, B.C.

A member of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, she not only served in federal Canadian politics, but has held her ground in many important positions within her province and the Indigenous community. She was a Crown Prosecutor for B.C. and served as B.C.’s Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.

As Justice Minister, Wilson-Raybould was adamant that one of her focuses would be in reducing violence against women. In 2017, she held a forum discussing how Canada’s criminal justice system disproportionately affects sexual assault survivors.

“This crime has a gendered impact, and unfortunately myths and stereotypes continue to surface at all stages of the criminal justice system,” she said at an event in Quebec. In her role as Justice Minister, she promised the the government would be “unwavering” in committing to giving victims the justice they deserve.

Back in 2015, she defied the Conservative government and promised to review Harper’s negative laws on sex work, whose new legislation made it illegal to purchase sex work. Testimonies from sex workers strongly urged this legislation not to pass, as it endangered those working and pushed them further into dangerous situations.

A strong contrast to the presiding government, Wilson-Raybould also promised to sit down and listen to sex workers and those impacted by the regulations.

She also fought for gender rights across the spectrum and was an open supporter of Bill C-16, which later passed in June 2017. The bill gave protections to transgender and gender diverse Canadians, making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on gender identity or expression.

“In Canada, we must celebrate inclusion and diversity, and all Canadians should feel safe to be themselves,” she said in a statement. “Trans and gender diverse person must be granted equal status in Canadian society.”

After the launch of the Canadian government’s inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016, Wilson-Raybould spoke to the importance of getting to the root causes of the national crisis. She spoke out against how colonization has negatively affected the high rates of violence perpetrated against Indigenous women.

She stressed that it was important to unpack “the colonial legacy, looking at communities on reserve and off reserve, looking at institutions … and understanding the realities, the truths, that will be expressed through the living experiences of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

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

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

(Part II, Part I can be found here)

In his book, American Warrior: The True Story of a Legendary Ranger, Gary O’Neal tells about the time when he was still too young to join the military without parental consent, at 16 he “borrowed” an older cousin’s birth certificate – unbeknownst to his cousin – to “legally” enlist in the Army.

O’Neal was eventually caught when the Army noticed two soldiers with the same identification number receiving pay. “I just wanted to be in the Army to get away from where I grew up,” said O’Neal. “I just basically ran away from home. I saw a target of opportunity.”

Growing up with dyslexia caused O’Neal difficulty in school. This was during the late ‘50s and early to mid ‘60s, long before the affliction was recognized as a possible root cause for poor performance. “I had problems reading and I had problems spelling. The math. I’d get things mixed up. Back then, they always called me ‘stupid’ because I couldn’t read,” said O’Neal.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic were O’Neal’s self-admitted “Achilles heel,” his weak points, which led to disrespectful taunting and ridicule by ignorant classmates, often followed by a school yard fight and O’Neal getting in trouble. “I got tired of people calling me stupid. And I knew I wasn’t stupid. I could drive a tractor at 8 years old, I could milk a cow when I was 5. I was riding horses in rodeos, and I’m roping, and I’m doing all kinds of stuff. Tearing engines apart, putting them back together. Planting wheat, and planting corn. At a young age I was doing a man’s job. I wasn’t stupid.”

The military method of teaching – explanation, demonstration, practical application (explain-see-do) – supported with basic written material suited O’Neal well with his talent, or “gift” for having the aptitude for seeing something done then being able to do it himself. “The handouts and books were confusing to me,” said O’Neal. “The training in the military fit my disabilities. I seen it, and I did it. Just like mimicking. It was really easy for me.”

Training to work with demolitions as an infantryman, O’Neal was required to calculate a mathematical formula to do his job. “I had to do formula. I had to do algebra and trigonometry,” said O’Neal, who credited, “good instructors” in the Army, one who in particular noticed and approached him about his dyslexia. “One of the instructors said, ‘Gary, you got dyslexia?’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘Let’s check that out,’” said O’Neal. “So I went to the doctor, and they checked it out and said, ‘Yeah, you got dyslexia.’”

Fortunately for O’Neal, the US Army, and the nation, properly training and deploying dyslexic demolition experts for battle in Vietnam was as simple as ensuring recruits had dyslexic demolition instructors. “One of my instructors had dyslexia too,” said O’Neal. “And he showed me how he did it. With one eye. Before this, I’d look at a paragraph, and most people if they saw what I saw would get sea sick.”

Being treated better by the military – “the only color that matters is O.D. Green,” said O’Neal – than by peers in civilian life made military culture one he found attractive. His first deployment to Southwest Asia was an assignment to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (infantry), where he served at Battalion Recon, then Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP – pronounced lurp), and then on to Rangers. O’Neal served with the Rangers for the duration of the Vietnam War when he came back stateside to help form Ranger battalions.

He accomplished all this before becoming a combat engineer in Special Forces (SF), sometime in the 1970s. Applying for SF was a decision he delayed for many years based upon his own erroneous assumption he didn’t possess the right qualities and experience.

“I wanted to be SF in Vietnam, but I didn’t have enough education in the woods to do what they was doing in Vietnam,” said O’Neal. “Come to find out that I did a lot more.”

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.”

To be continued in Part III, the final part of this series, to be published in the March First Nations Drum.