Topic: SLIDE

Siksika Nation Enters Cannabis Business

The sky hasn’t fallen and civil society hasn’t collapsed since Canada ended its national cannabis prohibition in October 2018. Contrary to the warnings by drug warriors, cannabis decriminalization and government regulation has resulted in economic opportunity and empowerment and is generating additional revenue needed to better finance important tribal programs.

Siksika Nation is the latest First Nation to stake a claim in the Green Rush. Via a 50/50 partnership with Kelowna BC-based Frozen Penguin Medical Industries, construction is set to begin this fall on a 25,000 sq. ft. cannabis cultivation and processing facility.  Involved with cannabis production since 2013, Frozen Penguin brings invaluable experience to the partnership. Reefer grown at the facility will exclusively help supply Health Canada and none will be diverted for recreational resale at a dispensary.

When complete, the building will be the first purpose-built cannabis production facility constructed on Indigenous land in Canada, according to Siksika Resource Development Ltd. CEO Tom Many Heads. The facility will be located in the same industrial park as SRDL headquarters. Siksika Construction, the construction arm of Siksika Resource Development Ltd. (SRDL), will be given the honour of helping build the infrastructure and erect the structure. No figures are available on the number of construction jobs that will be created, but 50 full-time positions for Siksika Nation members to staff the facilities’ day-to-day cultivation operation will be needed.

The plan is to produce five crop rotations per year that are expected to bring Siksika Nation coffers up to $15 million annually. The band intends to spend the money on social programs like housing and combating the opioid crisis – a catastrophe that is especially hard on Canadian Indigenous communities where many of our young people are succumbing to the deadly outcome of addiction.

The warehouse-type structure will contain a number of grow rooms. Frozen Penguin is working on a new system developed by RotoGro where plants are grown in a barrel-shaped planter and fertilized using a rotating motion. Barrels provide approximately 3.14 times additional grow area when compared to a bed, and this system can increase the yield by as much as twelve times the floor space of a traditional facility. For twelve months, Frozen Penguin has been testing the system at their Kelowna facility, and according to RotoGro CEO Adam Clode, they’re “getting exceptional yields.”

The RotoGro system will help Siksika Nation set the price they need to sell at to stay competitive and turn a profit. That would be good news for Siksika First Nation. According to Roland Bellerose, an advocate for Indigenous participation in the pot business, pricing for recreational sales are quite high and may not be sustainable. “What happens when a country like Columbia starts selling their product at 60 cents a gram?” asks Bellerose.

Siksika Nation’s decision to grow Mary Jane follows that of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who in 2018 retrofitted an 84,000 sq. ft. former bottling plant located on their land and began producing medical and recreational weed. Akwesasne’s pot business is 100 percent band owned and has 75 employees. Business has been good and the band plans to expand to a 100,000 sq. ft. facility in the near future.

Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), located next to The Pas in Manitoba, is another First Nation community that’s gotten into the weed business. They partnered with National Access Cannabis (NAC), in a 51/49 company ownership split. OCN and NAC focus on the recreational segment of the business and sell their products in NAC’s Meta Cannabis Supply Co. stores. They recently opened a dispensary in the OCN providing jobs for 12 Opaskwayak.

Siksika’s goal is for 100 percent ownership. Though branching out and joining the recreational-use dispensary sector in the future is a possibility, for now they want to learn, develop, and perfect the medicinal cannabis business one step at a time.

Frozen Penguin is in the process of a name change to comply with Health Canada’s strict rules against using animal names to promote products such as cannabis.

Squamish Nation first Indigenous group to Undertake large scale urban project in Canada

What’s a band to do with an oddly-shaped 11-acre parcel of land that’s dissected by the Burrard Bridge? The Squamish First Nation envision building high-density housing on it and then using the profits to reinvest in its own people.

Not all nearby residents are pleased with the prospect of having a 3000 rental unit housing development hinder their view of Vanier Park, English Bay, or whatever happens to lie on the other side of what they deem an obstruction. Kitsilano resident Larry Benge is co-chair of the West Kitsilano Residents Association. He’s conflicted over the talk of high-rise development and is quoted in the Vancouver Courier saying he “doesn’t know whether to get excited or get depressed, quite frankly. I think my reaction overall is wait and see.”

Knowing the land’s history may provide potential detractors to development with a better perspective. According to the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Foundations, an information resource on key topics relating to the histories, politics, and cultures of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, the land was an ancestral village of the Squamish Nation until 1913. In that year, the provincial government entered the Reserve and coerced the residents into selling their land. Each male head of household was paid $11,250 to evacuate and relocate to Howe Sound. Ninety-years later, the land was returned to the Squamish after the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Canadian Pacific, which had been granted the land for the railway, should return it, as-is.

Since the proposed development site sits on First Nations land, the Squamish are not legally required to follow city restrictions on blocking views, and the City of Vancouver has no say in what happens to the property. A service agreement for roads, fire, and police services will need to be negotiated. “This is the first time an Indigenous group is undertaking a large-scale urban development project in Canada. We’re very proud of this opportunity that’s before us,” said Khelsilem, a Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson.

Though the Squamish have been living in the area for thousands of years, they’ve been relegated to spectators while a city was built around them to the economic benefit of corporations, the government, and Anglo-Canadians. “Meanwhile, our own people are still in poverty. We have a lot of working poor. We have a lower average income than the average Canadian,” said Khelsilem. “We have all kinds of other challenges around health, elder care, and housing needs.”

Developing rental housing units would bring much-needed relief to the tight Vancouver rental market with its less than a 1 percent vacancy rate, according to Khelsilem. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart expressed his support for the project in a Globe and Mail article. “This is an opportunity for the city to demonstrate its commitment to reconciliation with the Indigenous communities,” said Stewart.

The Squamish Nation are known for being one of the top business-minded First Nations in B.C. They own the land beneath the Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver and collect rent from tenants. The band is in the process of selecting a developer for the Burrard Bridge site, and Squamish Nations members will decide on zoning and business terms by referendum most likely within six months. “Nothing is confirmed at this time. We have been in negotiations with a local [Vancouver-based] developer and are working with them to develop terms of a proposed deal that our members will ultimately decide on,” said Khelsilem.

Khelsilem says they’re exploring options for Squamish members to rent within the development.

“It’s too early to say, but we do envision building a comprehensive, complete community that would include a range of housing types, along with public amenities.”

There is an eagle’s nest at the proposed housing site. First Nations Drum asked Khelsilem about Squamish traditional protocols when moving an eagle’s nest. “We’re aware of a few eagles in the area, though it’s unclear at this time whether their nests are on our lands or the adjacent lands,” said Khelsilem. “An environmental assessment will be done before any work begins on the site.”

The income generated by this significant project will be used to fund much-needed social, health, housing and education programs for Squamish members, according to Khelsilem, who said his people are in a “housing crisis as a Nation.” “We’re going to ensure that a lot of this revenue goes towards affordable and social housing options for our members.”

Khelsilem says now is an incredibly exciting time for the Squamish Nation. “The Squamish Nation prides itself in not waiting for the government to do this for us. We’ll do it on our own. For our people, this is overdue,” said Khelsilem. “They’re wanting us to…create wealth and return it to our community.”

Learn more about the history of our lands at IndigenousFoundations.Arts.ubc.ca/Mapping_Tool_Kitsilano_Reserve/

Indigenous Groups Contend Over Buying 51% Majority Stake in Trans Mountain

Indigenous groups continue to battle over the contentious issue of investing in the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Last March, an Indigenous group called Project Reconciliation proposed buying a 51% stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The group, composed of Indigenous communities from B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan, said buying a majority stake will help to alleviate poverty and gain control of possible environmental risks of the pipeline.

In an op/ed for The Province, they said neither Indigenous people nor Canadian taxpayers will have to procure the money. They offer to raise the $7.6 billion required through a bond issue underwritten by shipper contracts

They also make assurances that Indigenous people will hold no liability, quoting that the Trans Mountain Pipeline will cover that with their own insurance. The group stresses that buying a majority stake will provide a voice for Indigenous communities in pipeline decisions.

“It is critical that we as Indigenous leaders and communities play a significant role in ensuring that this work is carried out responsibly and sustainably,” the group said in the article. “We are asking Indigenous communities to carefully consider how a majority ownership of, and full participation in, a major Canadian resource development project could improve their people’s current and future prospects.”

In strong opposition is the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), who critiqued the buyout in a response letter. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, alongside secretary-treasurer Chief Judy Wilson, argue several points. They write that the pipeline is not as profitable as is promised, the oil economy is unstable, and many First Nations still oppose the pipeline, which can cause more delays and more investment.

“We urge you to … carefully consider the enormous environmental, social, legal, and political ramifications before committing to this project,” they wrote.

Another group led by Chief Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band wants more First Nations to get on board. His band is one of the 43 First Nations that have signed mutual benefits agreements with Trans Mountain, totalling around $400 million.

He says First Nations have no power or oversight in the current climate.

“The old way of thinking is dependency, looking to Ottawa or somebody else for your livelihood,” he explains of his letter. “I want my own people looking after themselves. I want my children, my grandchildren looking after themselves. That’s who we’re doing this for.”

LeBourdais would like to see the proposal in front of Ottawa by the end of June.

The Squamish Nation has long been a strong and vocal opponent to the pipeline. Khelsilem, elected councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, says his nation is worried about the potential for Indigenous involvement.


“We continue to have great concerns around the pipeline and its impact to our territory, water, economy, and community, both in terms of safety and long term risk to the environment,” he says.

He says every First Nation should have the self-determining right to control what happens in their own territory.

“We respect the right of other First Nations to make their own decisions and they have to respect ours when we state our opposition,” he says. “They’re possibly entering into a very risky deal, given the future of the industry and the advancement of technology in green industries.”

‘The System Is Broken’ Say Ontario First Nations Firefighters Of Fire Protection In Indigenous Communities

By Thomas Fitzgerald

Indigenous Fire-Related Deaths ‘Frustrating and Heartbreaking’

Matthew Miller is president of the Ontario Native Firefighters Society and fire chief for the Six Nations of the Grand River. After an early morning fire at Big Trout Lake killed five people, four of them children under the age of 13, Miller said the fact that Indigenous people keep dying in house fires “angers him” and he’s calling out for fundamental change.

“First Nations fire protection in Ontario and right across Canada, the system is broken,” said Miller. “The system requires complete overall reform; that’s the biggest thing that needs to occur.” Miller’s sentiment is backed by a 2010 federal report that found that First Nations residents are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than the rest of the Canadian population.

Community Chief Donny Morris cited a lack of adequate firefighting equipment and hydrants without sufficient water pressure as factors hampering his crew’s effort to extinguish the May 2 structure fire. The Big Trout Lake fire is not an isolated incident. Numerous Northern Ontario First Nation people have lost their life in a home inferno, including two children and one baby who were among the nine dead from a 2016 house fire in Pikangikum.

Miller says though federal data confirms a higher than average death rate for Indigenous deaths from a house fire, the level of fire protection in a given community, as portrayed by federal statistics, often is not accurate and is at odds with his organization’s fire assessments.

“We would have a list of the First Nation and what they were listed as in the federal database – whether or not they have fire protection – and Big Trout Lake was typical of many of the First Nations we went to…they were listed as having fire protection but when we arrived in the community, they did not have fire protection,” said Miller. “By that I mean…they may have received a fire truck in the past, but unfortunately, an organized fire service was unable to be established.”

Miller says Indigenous communities lack fire protection regulations and legislation, unlike municipalities, which are well governed by specialized risk assessments. “When you treat every First Nation exactly the same way, with a formula, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Every First Nation is unique and they have their own issues,” explained Miller. “A municipality knows their risk because they have a community risk assessment done, they have the data to backup the service level they require for their protection of their community, but none of that exists for First Nations across Canada.”

Miller said First Nation communities located near a large population center generally have adequate protection but the more remote the community, the more likely their fire protection is substandard thus presenting significant risk for loss of life in a fire. “When you’re in a highly populated area…you pretty much have access to every vendor that you would need to do servicing on equipment or access to equipment, or even for training capabilities,” said Miller. “When you get into a remote, fly-in community, the cost alone to have someone come and service your vehicle is exponentially increased.”

Haudenosaunee Gather for a New Approach to Indigenous Education

David Jock (left) Danny Beaton (right) support Tyendinaga FNTI and Suzanne Brant (middle) for holistic approach to Indigenous Education and Haudenosaunee University

Story and photos by Danny Beaton (Mohawk)

In memory of Alicja Rozanska

www.dannybeaton.ca

This month of March was a good time for the birthplace of The Peacemaker, Tyendinaga, because elders, educators, healers and spiritual leaders gathered to show their support for the communities’ vision and dream to expand the First Nations Technical Institute. Tom Porter arrived at the FNTI to be filmed for future generations and students just before Dan Longboat arrived to participate with the message that western concept facilities could be surpassed with a traditional indigenous Haudenosaunee school of the universal embracement of unity for all indigenous nations and students to learn from Mohawk traditional educators. Mama Bear clan mother Louise McDonald from Akwesasne arrived not long after spiritual leader Tom Porter returned to his home and Iakoiane added a message of urgency that the Haudenosaunee could build up this Sacred Fire on Tyendinaga Territory because Canada was in crisis as were all of societies on Sacred Mother Earth.        

David Jock Bear Clan Mohawk Speaks Out

FNTI Suzanne Brant and all staff and all founders of FNTI Institute of higher learning and understanding are living at this time the great ancient vision of our peoples, which was to come all together in one sacred circle. Everybody represents their colours of the families of the Earth, our Mother, everyone has come together in respect and love for one another, the caring and sharing of one another and all our spiritual gifts. This school has brought us all here to the fire of the sacred teachings. In translation, it means he will always return to us. Remember we will always return to the sacred fire of peace, righteousness and empowerment for all spirits and souls of this Mother Earth. This place is the well. This is the Spiritual Fire. Here in this place we are strong with the sacred sinew of the sacred four-legged, the sacred deer.

It is here that we are all drawn to. We must come here to find it. It is a healing and it is an awakening of the great understanding of the Great Spirit Creator. We are now at a place that is complete. We have found each other and continue to come and learn from each other, continue to be at peace within ourselves. This school will be a place of mind, body and spirit. Let us get strength to live long, well and carry respect in our hearts for each other as well as human kind and all creation. In this school we will learn to create higher beauty and unconditional love for creation and all life. Let us learn to love all things in this beauty as it grows from the earth to the sky world.

Dan Longboat (left) said Suzanne Brant is creating a legacy for all students in Canada wanting to upgrade their understanding of indigenous culture here in Tyendinaga

My grandfather’s words to me were that the Sacred Woman is of this earth and all female life and water and birth. The spiritual village in the sky world is there having ceremony as I speak to you. So you see our school is an ancient vision. We are gathered here and we will continue with all things great and small. We will continue to learn from the living world of our Great Creator and our Mothers of Life and everything moving in the sky world. May we all rise to the highest part of the tree and embrace the heart and it will embrace us back. These are the teachings of importance to all Human Kind.                 

We are learning once again how to speak as spiritual circle people on this Earth, our Mother.

We come from a female blood, a blood river that connects all rivers of life. We are here in Tyendinaga area of the great birth of The Peacemaker, our greatest spirit orator. It all began here with earth, wind, water and fire. Here the fire was met with sky fire, the burning sky fire and when we looked at that, the sky opened. That beautiful spirit came here and gave fruits to the tree of life once again, so that we might visit the spiritual circle of our ancestors. A chance to come home to all the healing powers of Mother Earth, to come home to the Sacred Life of our Ancient Mother, a Celestial Circle. She came here from the priceless sky and her spirit washed all the grounds of earth, and all the clay. From her womb came the birthing of all human life, from birth came all human spirit, through her all the birthing of human life, truth and purity from Mother Earth. We are here in Tyendinaga for the spiritual raise from the Eagle Mound, the birthing place. We are here in that Peacemaker’s spirit with his promise that he would always return here and return to our hearts and minds and body.

We are to keep our life full and our walk spirit clean from the earth to the sky. When we have finished our journey here, we will travel first to the west and then to the star direction of the North Star and that sacred Milky Way with Celestial Mother. We shall receive all the love and support that is needed to live forever, spirit great with the one who has created our beautiful bodies that we are all visiting in at this time to the sacredness of the water shell and that powerful powerful being; we are the continuation of all things great and small. We are the tree, we are the earth, we are the waters, the rivers all connected to one great birthing water. We are also together in the Sacred Family of our Great Creator, sons and daughters of Mother Earth, Rainbow children of this Earth with sacred covenant of Wampum. We have been given so many teachings of that Sacred Fire from our ancestors and their ancestors.

We are learning once again to speak as a spiritual circle people with our Mother Earth and my people are from the land of the partridge, Akwesasne. I have come to the land of the Peacemaker Tyendinaga Territory, birthplace of the Great Peacemaker and here is where I am so honored to return to after many years. I have come here to be with my sister Suzanne Brant and Umar Keoni Umangay, her strong vision and add some of my work to the vision of peace and unity to FNTI. Students are coming to learn but they are also coming to heal; that is part of the work we do here. We will bring the learning full circle and healing to all four directions of our medicine circle of life. Our beautiful way of life will be shared as one family, we will fulfill the vision of our Creator. We can learn so much from plant life, insects and waters, even the stone can teach us something; we are Mohawks. We are White Stone Nation and we are here gathering at the Sacred Fire on Mother Earth once again for future generations to come and who want peace.

Mother Earth is supporting us all, loving us all. She wraps us in her love and here we are still remaining on this earth as spiritual beings having a healing experience and we all will become better Human Beings at FNTI. We will sustain this village so that our children will play in that loving circle of Grandmother, Grandfather, auntie, uncle, Mother and Father, brother and sister of Creation, sons and daughters of Mother Earth. Our Great Creator wishes us to return home when our work here is done and our ceremonies are complete so that we find that beautiful road, the road to our Great Creator. We are here to help each other learn from each other in a good way, a spiritual way. We will become stronger for our communities everywhere, loving each other in a sacred harmony to make the world a better place for all mankind and we will become a part of the Sacred Fire. Everyone in that sacred fire has healing gifts to help creation and we will share our gifts once we leave FNTI.

Living the sacred vision of our ancestors that have called us all together for this great work is such a great honor for myself and our teachers and elders, who have come here to support this new Haudenosaunee University or Universe to seek our spirituality of our people’s loving spiritual beings. To connect our blood linage, all rivers connected, so that we can walk in balance, we might walk in beauty and carry that deep truth of heart, which is unconditional love, forgiveness for all things great and small. That we can leave here when we are complete as one great peaceful spirit that I was born into. Born in the womb of a mother, born of love pure, born of blanket and cradling and love from all female life. So we will leave this world of respect for all things great and small.  Our love for Mother Earth and Grandmother Moon, the Celestial Stars will keep us close to our ancestors. Thank you all for listening.

Remembering Colten Boushie: We must run for office, get elected, and then write the law

OPINION:

February 9, 2018, is a date too many First Nation members remember far too well. It is the day a jury rendered their not-guilty verdict for Gerald Stanley on the charge of second-degree murder. Stanley shot and killed Red Pheasant Cree man Colten Boushie in August 2016.

As noted by CBC, “Indigenous people who were part of the jury pool were peremptorily challenged by the defence and none was selected to sit on the jury.” The not-guilty verdict deepened the social and political wedge that was long ago lodged between non-Indigenous Canadians and First Nations by a government whose policies were intentionally designed to destroy Indigenous cultures, languages, and ways of life. The verdict exacerbated racial tensions and fanned the flames of fear between Whites and Indigenous.

Using history as a guide, the not-guilty verdict should have come as neither a shock nor a surprise. Canadian First Nations’ only hope for a guilty verdict was in hope itself, not history. Canadian Indigenous are relegated to second-class citizenship in a nation that takes pride in its collective decency as a people when compared to other nations. We must use this sense of pride to our advantage. Our goal must be Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace and we must never become what it is we despise in our pursuit of these Rights.

The path to these ends means working within the system to change the system. If laws are needed, then we must run for office, get elected, and then write the law. As non-elected, we must lobby and engage non-Indigenous lawmakers with the aim of turning them away from their political indifference and turning them into a political partner. These things need to happen at the city, province, and national level.

As noted by CBC, the jury could identify with Gerald Stanley. They didn’t identify with the young people of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation so they feared them. Our government seems not to identify with us as a people, so let’s become more a part of the government since we already identify with ourselves and show them there is no reason to fear. It’s time for a political plan and peaceful political action that yield results.

The best way to honour the life and never forget the tragic and unnecessary death of Red Pheasant Cree Colten Boushie is to never stop working toward positive social change.

Indigenous Ingenuity wins a Major Award from the Canadian Association of Science Centres

Montreal – On Friday, May 10, in Halifax, the Canadian Association of Science Centres held their annual CASCADE Awards Gala. The Montréal Science Centre was awarded Best Exhibition or Show – Large Institution for Indigenous Ingenuity.

A success in more ways than one

The Indigenous Ingenuity exhibition is an interactive quest exploring innovations created by Indigenous Peoples across Canada. Launched in 2017, during the celebration of Montreal’s 375th anniversary and Canada’s 150th, the exhibition was a tremendous box office success – so much so that it was remounted in 2018-19 after touring to British Columbia. In total, it enabled more than 250,000 visitors to discover the ingenuity of our First Peoples. “One of our goals was to foster a sense of pride in our Indigenous visitors and to build bridges between cultures. We now can claim: mission accomplished!” said Cybèle Robichaud, Director of Programming at the Montréal Science Centre.

The fruit of a rigorous collaborative process

The success of Indigenous Ingenuity can be attributed in great part to a collaborative process with members of Indigenous Nations  who were involved in every stage of the development of the exhibition. In addition, representative Indigenous people were featured at the heart of the interactive quest: Elisabeth Kaine, Jacques Kurtness, Monique Manatch and Marie-Josée Parent, to name a few.

Indigenous Ingenuity was realized with the financial support of several organizations, including the Science Centre Foundation, Canada Lands Company, the Government of Quebec, the Society for the Celebrations of Montréal’s 375th, and Canada 150.

About the Montréal Science Centre

The Montréal Science Centre is a complex dedicated to science and technology, with more than 700,000 visitors annually. It is characterized by its accessible, interactive approach and its showcasing of local innovation and know-how. Its partners are Volvo, TELUS, La Presse+, Rhythm 105.7, 92.5 The Beat, 96.9 CKOI and 98.5.

The Art of the Weld

When you think of art forms, welding is not a medium that comes to mind. The work of Ralph Courtorielle creates a compelling argument for its inclusion. A journeyman welder, Ralph completed his welding training at Northern Lakes College and is currently teaching Pre-Employment Welding at the College.

Ralph had been working in the trades for over ten years, doing the work but not getting the wage he would as a journeyman welder, compelling him to enrol in the First Period of Welder Apprenticeship at Northern Lakes College. Welders work in diverse fields including oil, gas, or mills, and there are many opportunities to be self-employed. Though now a journeyman welder with a Red Seal designation, a national certification that allows him to weld throughout Canada, Ralph is a perpetual student and continues to learn. “Every year there is something new or more efficient in the field of welding, and I find this interesting,” he observes.

This love of learning has translated into a passion for teaching. Ralph takes great pleasure in passing on what he has learned. He considers himself a mentor, not only teaching the technical aspects of welding that lead to employment, but also the artistic aspects of the trade.

“I think the reason that I am connecting so well with the pre-employment students is that I am a product of pre-employment training myself. When I first picked up the welder, it was as though I was meant to do it. I want to show students that, though welding can be taxing on your body and physically demanding, there is a lot of room for the creative. It is not all hard work; there is fun involved.” Ralph enjoys turning a flat sheet of metal into something useful or beautiful.

For those, such as Ralph, with an artistic gift, welding can also be a creative outlet. When he and his family were unable to find a headstone they liked for his mother’s grave, Ralph donned his welding mask and gloves. He lovingly created a custom headstone, incorporating meaningful aspects of Indigenous culture and spiritual beliefs, to honour his mother’s life.

Originally from Grouard and now living in High Prairie, Ralph is married and the father of three sons. He enjoys playing baseball and spending time with family. Over the last few years, he has played in baseball tournaments all over Alberta and has gone to national championships as far away as Montréal.

Ralph reminisces about his time studying at NLC and the support he received from his instructors. “Passing the red seal journeyman exam was harder than anticipated. The College instructors provided us with excellent exam preparation and review in class. Instructor Chris Montgomery-Hewett was very thorough and drove home the details like the safety aspects and the math that is involved in welding. Jeff VanWyck and Jody Rees both helped me along with welds for my third year exams, in particular stick welding.”

With his artistic approach to welding, don’t be surprised if you see his work featured in an exhibition at some point. Until then, he will continue to pass on his passion for the trade to up-and-coming welders.

“I get the peace I didn’t have as a kid by providing it to these kids”

Eric Schweig is a Canadian actor of mixed Inuvialuk, Chippewa-Dene and German heritage. He opens up about the joys and challenges of being a new foster caregiver to two siblings. As a former foster child himself, he knows all too well the obstacles that youth can face when growing up in care.

“I was the oldest of seven children who were all adopted out,” explains Eric. “I ended up being a street kid myself for a long time. Most of my friends were foster kids who were always running from their group home and situations. We were all just out there on the streets together.”

Eric’s journey is a testament of resilience. He overcame his difficult childhood and a struggle with alcohol abuse to eventually become a successful actor starring in the Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Big Eden (2000). He is also an artist specializing in carvings and an advocate for Indigenous issues including adoption, the foster care system, addictions and suicide.

He spent a number of years working at Native Health in Vancouver with the homeless. In 2017, a friend challenged him to take his advocacy for youth a step further. “He said: ‘Eric, you’re always looking after people—why don’t you raise the bar and consider fostering?’” The conversation was a spark that eventually led Eric to partner with Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society to foster two siblings.

Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society provides holistic services to urban Indigenous children and families in the Vancouver. Their restorative service model strives to connect Indigenous children to their culture by training foster caregivers and providing opportunities to incorporate cultural practices into caregiving.

When asked about the transition to fostering, Eric laughs. “I went from 30 years of bachelorhood to Mr. Mom over here! Everything changed overnight. You have to learn to compromise pretty quickly. I went from only having to consider myself for every decision to centring everything on my foster kids. It was a real 180.”

The rewards are well worth the effort, says Eric. “Sometimes people ask me if it’s hard being a single Dad. My response is: my childhood was hard. Being on the streets was hard. This is easy.” Being able to provide a home for youth in care is a kind of full-circle catharsis for Eric. “I know what it’s like to be out there without support, and it’s an awful feeling. The peace I didn’t have when I was a kid—I get it vicariously through these kids being at peace here. It’s a good feeling.”

Learn about foster caregiving at Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS). Caregivers are needed and provided with training, support and the tools for success in joining in our “Circle of Caring”. Information sessions are held on the first Tuesday of each month at 3284 E. Broadway, Vancouver.

Saving Mother Earth, Indigenous Guardians Leading the Way

The Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program began in the summer of 2018 as a means of funding environmental initiatives for Indigenous peoples. The program was brought to fruition by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and helps organizations protect and preserve the environment and important ecosystems on Indigenous lands.

Marilyne Lavoie, spokesperson for ECCC, says funding is allocated on an individual level. Each each Indigenous group works with ECCC to co-develop a personalized plan determining the governance and priorities of their program. Lavoie says this strengthens the role Indigenous people have in conservation of their own lands and helps develop better partnerships.

“By working together with Indigenous peoples, other governments, and all Canadians, we will strengthen networks of protected and conserved areas, the cornerstone of biodiversity, and support reconciliation and the sustainability of local communities,” Lavoie says. “The insights and contributions of Indigenous peoples are essential to understanding and protecting our ecosystems.”

Twenty-eight programs received funding as part of the pilot program in all but three of Canada’s provinces and territories.

An aerial shot of Walpole Island First Nation. Photo courtesy of Walpole Island First Nation.

RESOURCE PROTECTION PROGRAM, WALPOLE ISLAND, ONTARIO

Walpole Island First Nation (Bkejwanong) in Ontario first received funding in 2019 for its Natural Heritage Program, particularly the Bkejwanong Eco-Keepers youth program. Clint Jacobs, of the Walpole Island First Nation, says they’re also submitting a proposal to extend the funding into a multi-year project.

The current funding helped to purchase, protect, and restore natural habitats on Walpole Island. Jacobs says it protects, maps, and asses various at-risk species, develops education and outreach programs, and advised university research projects, among many other initiatives.

Walpole Island has one of the country’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, Jacob says. It includes large wetlands, tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, and large forested areas.

The Bkejwanong Eco-Keepers monitor local wildlife, participate in habitat restoration projects, maintenance of trails, and environmental education.

Jacobs says youth can work in the summer, providing them with many opportunities such as CPR and canoeing certification, survival skills, and flora and fauna surveying and monitoring.

“They also roll up their sleeves to carry out fieldwork to help doncut reptile inventories, species at risk surveys and monitoring, freshwater mussel monitoring, and removal of invasive plant species,” Jacobs says. “They connect with knowledge holders to learn about our history, traditional teachings, medicine plants, and roles in Anishnaabeg culture. These activities empower the youth to be positive role models and give back to the community.”

Jonathan Bruno (Athabasca Chipewyan Community Based Monitoring) sampling water at Firebag River.
Jonathan Bruno (Athabasca Chipewyan Community Based Monitoring) sampling water at Firebag River. Photo by Bruce Maclean.

COMMUNITY BASED MONITORING PROGRAM, FORT CHIPEWYAN, ALBERTA

The Community Based Monitoring (CBM) program is an initiative run by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.

The two first nations invest in both traditional knowledge and scientific monitoring. They monitor water quality and quantity, climate changes during winter, and tracking of wild foods.

The Mikisew Cree First Nation has four guardians (environmental technicians) and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has one full-time staff member with more members assisting as needed.

Bruce Maclean, environmental consultant with the CBM program, says the guardians received funding in fall of 2018. The guardians trek out weekly to monitor the water and lands and work alongside the government, universities, and foundations.

“We are leaders in protecting the Peace Athabasca Delta, the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree (also known as Wood Buffalo National Park) which is also designated as a UNESCO site,” Maclean says.

He says the funding made it possible to hire students, engage with elders, collect more data and increase storage collection. He stresses this funding helped to eliminates barriers to their success due to the remoteness of the community.

Pimachiowin Aki. Photo by Hidehiro Otake.

PIMACHIOWIN AKI WORLD HERITAGE SITE LAND GUARDIANS, WINNIPEG, MANITOBA

The Pimachiowin Aki is Canada’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site that was chosen for the Indigenous Guardians program for both its cultural and natural attributes. The land became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wild and varied landscape including lakes, rivers, wetlands, and boreal forest.

It encompasses the traditional lands of four Anishanaabeg communities: the Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, and Poplar River First Nations. These nations work together with provincial governments to form the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, which employs Land Guardians who help to conserve, monitor, and protect the lands and waters in Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land”.

Executive Director Alison Haugh says as a World Heritage site, they are required to fulfill obligations to observe, record, and report on the state of conservation. She says it’s created stable and meaningful employment for First Nations.

“We’re working to contribute to the world’s understanding of nature, culture, and connections in protected areas,” Haugh says.

She says the funding was integral to keeping the guardians working in year round. In its previous iteration, the First Nations had to lay them off due to lack of money. It also enabled them to bring in technology for the guardians, such as cameras with built-in GPS, social media channels, and a new site.

The very important Maskwi birch tree, which provided shelter, fabric, and fibres for everything from wigwams to canoes for the Mi’kmaw people. Photo courtesy of UINR.

UNAMA’KI INSTITUTE OF NATURAL RESOURCES (UINR) AND CONFEDERACY OF MAINLAND MI’KMAQ PARKS GUARDIAN PROGRAM, TRURO, NOVA SCOTIA

The Guardian Program and Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) work to encourage Mi’kmaq participation in natural resources management and in providing employment. They are represented by the five Mi’kmaq communities of Unama’ki–Eskasoni, Wagmatcook, and We’koqma’q, Membertou, and Potlotek.

This includes their forestry division, which creates employment for Mi’kmaq people and strengthens local industry relationships. They also partner with graduate students to follow movements of aquatic species.

Moose have additionally proved to be an important resource for the Mi’kmaq peoples, including a spiritual significance. In response, UINR developed a Moose Management Plan. The Mi’kmaq Grand Council and Unama’ki Council of Elders work together to maintain a long-term plan for moose management that follows Mi’kmaq treaty rights.

Funding from the pilot program helps the parks guardian program, as well as UINR, to maintain traditional ways in combination with science in its research and natural resource management.