2017 Siksika Nation Easter Pow-Wow Honours the Chicken Dance

By Hannah Many Guns

Powwow ... chicken dancing at Blackfoot Crossing. Photo: Peter Svehla

Powwow … chicken dancing at Blackfoot Crossing. Photo: Peter Svehla

During Easter weekend, brothers and sisters of Alberta Blackfoot reservation Siksika Nation came together during a celebratory pow-wow. The celebration was held in Siksika’s northern flats at their great pow-wow arbour. In the past, the nation held pow-wow’s at many different locations, including the Blackfoot Crossing along the Bow River where the Treaty 7 was signed back in 1877.
“That’s where we had our pow-wow before for a lot of years,” says journeyman drummer Skip Wolfleg. “It kind of moved around. In the beginning, we’d have pow-wows in old halls, a person’s house, even a barn, and this was because we weren’t allowed to actually sing our songs or pow-wow.”
Back then, there was no toleration for exhibition of traditional culture. “So y’know, we kind of went behind closed doors, kinda’ went underground. Up until about the seventies, or late sixties, then we were allowed to come out. This is when we started having different areas,” said Wolfleg.
This going-behind-closed-doors way the Blackfoot people carried themselves conserved many of their traditions. Without these kinds of efforts the ways of the Blackfoot people may have been completely wiped out by residential schooling systems and westernized law and regulation.
“Back in the early 1900s because of the Blackfoot Confederacy, we are lucky enough to have all our native traditions still active as of today,” says Troy Delaney of the Blackfoot Blood Tribe.
Delaney is a seasoned Chicken Dancer, which is a dance indigenous to the Blackfoot people. “Over the years, there have been many adaptations, and a lot of things happening in the world,” says Delaney about the Chicken Dance. “The dance almost got wiped out. But because of the language, because of the songs, because of the rattles that we dance with, and all the prayers that we have, we are lucky enough to still have it a part of our ways.”
He wears light blue and yellow traditional wear adorned with beadwork of the prairie rose. The rose is also along his head roach, which is lined with strands of beads that dangle along the ridge of his brow, hanging over his eyes. Fine peasant feathers line his skull, curving down his back into at a bustle of feathers at his tailbone.
I ask him to tell me more about the Chicken Dance. “If you ever see a real Chicken Dance – his footwork – he’s actually trying to impress the woman. In other word, he’s saying he wants the woman to be his spouse. Me and my brother, we dance proud for our wives. We dance proud for our people. We’re lucky enough we still have our women. The women are most important in the Blackfoot nation. They treat us with the most respect, and also, we treat them with the most respect. So when we dance, we bring them the joy of watching their spouse dance.”
I also ask Wolfleg to speak about what he knows about the Chicken Dance. “Sometime over our history, they say that the dance and songs were given to our people. It’s kind of like a show-off dance. What’s happening is that the male prairie chicken is trying to impress female prairie chickens out on the plains by doing these different fancy steps. It’s a neat thing to watch. We’re basically just imitating the mating ritual of the prairie chickens out there. It was given to the Blackfoots long ago, and for some reason it made us powerful and made us many. In a sense, you can say the dance and song promotes fertility.”
According to Blackfoot legend, the dance, known in the Blackfoot language as Kitokipaaskaan, came about long ago when a young Blackfoot man went out hunting on the prairies. He was hungry, and hadn’t had any food to eat for a while. He’d searched and searched, and then finally he came across some birds dancing in the tall grass. In a hungry haste, he shot an arrow at one of the birds, killing it instantly. Eager to eat, the young man brought the bird back home, cooked it, and fed himself and his family. That night, the man had a peculiar dream. In this dream, the spirit of the bird that he’d killed, which was a prairie chicken, came to him. The bird asked the young man why he had killed him, to which he replied: “I needed to feed my family”.
The prairie chicken then gave the man an ultimatum. After demonstrating the dance he was doing before he was killed, the prairie chicken told the man that he must go out and teach all the people this exact dance. If he did not do this, this prairie chicken vowed that he would come back and kill the young man. The man did so, and this is how the sacred Prairie Chicken Dance came about. (Story adapted from Blackfoot Crossing website).
The Siksika Easter pow-wow had an entire round dedicated to Chicken Dancing, and even a special dance-off between Chicken Dancers and Traditional Dancers. It was amazing to see the different adaptations of the dance, traditional wear, and see men from toddler to elder take part in the ritual. Between rounds, elders would tell stories of the dance, proudly honoring the Prairie Chicken Dance that is so integral to Blackfoot tradition.

New CEO Weighs in on the Forest Industry

By Kelly Many Guns

Derek Nighbor, CEO for FPAC.

Derek Nighbor, CEO for FPAC.

Canada’s forest products industry is a $67 billion dollar a year industry that represents 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP, and recently hired CEO Derek Nighbor for The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) says he’s ready for the challenges that lay ahead.
First Nations Drum recently had the opportunity to meet-up with Nighbor at an event in Vancouver. We discussed his plans and initiatives including FPAC’s plans and partnerships with the Aboriginal community.
The industry is one of Canada’s largest employers, operating in 200 forest-independent communities from coast-to-coast, and directly employing 230,000 Canadians.
Nighbor was selected the new CEO for FPAC almost at the same time the new liberal government were elected.
“We’ve had a new government in Ottawa for the last 18 months so my main focus is what are the main issues facing the forest industry around trade, softwood lumber, and issues around labour,” Nighbor said. “I have spent a lot of time with issues facing us coast-to-coast, how do those issues interface around with what the Trudeau government priorities are; I think we have significant alignment with the government on issues like climate change, and healthy managed forests play a big part on fighting climate change. Also Truth and Reconciliation, we’ve done a lot of work internally on how we can do better in terms of supporting our companies with best practices on engaging with Indigenous communities, hiring Indigenous talent and working on Indigenous lands.”
Nighbor says that the main priority is how can FPAC work best with the government, and make sure the government knows what their issues are. For example, there currently is an urban government and as you know most of the forest products are in the rural areas so FPAC needs to bring forestry into the urban industry.
There is approximately 1400 Aboriginal businesses, contractors, and companies partnered wiry FPAC and, there are a little more than 17,000 jobs for the Aboriginal communities right now. Nighbor says that FPAC will be looking at the youth in the Aboriginal communities to fill in the aging workforce.
I asked Nighbor how FPAC is working closely with the youth in the Aboriginal community.
“There are two things, we sponsor a couple of Aboriginal Scholarships for Aboriginal students studying for a career in forestry, and partnering with CCAB (Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business) and awarding Aboriginal businesses for their work in forestry, and we engage our members with best practices when it comes to working with the Aboriginal businesses and contractors.”
FPAC shares their information as a national organization to companies on how they can do better in all parts of the country. They also take a close look at their hiring practices with the Aboriginal communities and focus on the cultural sensitivities, plus awareness building.
“So we play a big role in sharing collaborations on the overall big picture when it comes to working with the Aboriginal community.”
Since Canada forest products industry has the best environmental reputation in the world, according to a Lager Survey of international customers, does FPAC share their environmental standards with other countries?
“Yes, they’re jealous” Nighbor said with a smile. “We do have high levels of government ownerships of the lands, 90 percent of the trees in Canada are subjected to government rules and regulations. We have some of the best talent in the world and other countries are envious and there is a lot of interest in what Canada is doing in forestry, which is good as we sell our products around the world. The Canadian product is highly valued and trusted around the world, so that’s great for business.”
Nighbor says that forestry is a global business and he wants people to understand that our product is sustainable.
In regards to the clear-cutting issues, how does FPAC operate in this area.
“Number one, every tree that is harvested is done in very scientific and planned out way. Like I mentioned earlier, 90 per cent of the land is government related – the cuts are very planned, we need to take into consideration the species, the water and the local environment; for every tree that is cut, three are planted. The key is following the strict rules, the cuts are planned and based on science, we deal closely with the Aboriginal communities, even if you have legal right to cut in an area or on Aboriginal lands, we have to go in with good intentions because this is a long-term investment. So that’s important to have good engagement, and have good solid science knowledge when cutting.”
Nighbor grew grew up in the Upper Ottawa Valley, and had a lot of exposure, working in small mills and plants as a teenager, and his family also worked in the forest industry.
“I am also very passionate about rural issues and I understand how important these jobs are for the rural communities. There are limited job opportunities in the northern communities, and a lot of the young people have to move to the urban areas to find work. I want to be a voice for those communities and that’s why I took the job.”
Canada is ranked as the world’s second largest exporter of forest products and the sector is the second biggest contributor to Canada’s trade surplus at 20.9 billion.
The industry wants those numbers to grow. Increasing trade with new and existing markets will be necessary for a vibrant forest products sector, especially in the face of growing international competition.
The final questions I asked Nighbor was where does he see the forest industry in 20 years.
“Number one, selling our wood products to the rest of the world is a huge opportunity, there’s more opportunity in China, India, and number two, the types of product we’re producing, we’re increasingly making bio materials, wood components are being used in other goods like cosmetics, and we’re seeing a lot of new uses for wood materials.”
Nighbor finished the interview by saying, “For the Indigenous communities we’re gonna see a lot more job opportunities for the young people and working with CCAB is a good thing so we can better position ourselves on how we can tap into that young talent, that’s a huge opportunity for FPAC. It’s a truly sustainable industry and of course there will be challenges ahead of us.”

The Legacy of Standing Rock


The Dakota Pipeline battle is over and the smoke has cleared at Standing Rock, and once again history records another injustice, one more in a long train of abuses perpetrated upon First Nations people by a North American government.

Since First Nations Drum last report on Standing Rock was published late November of last year, winter arrived and camp population dwindled to a few hundred people. In January, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault called for camps to disband, citing harsh weather conditions and possible contamination of the Missouri River during the coming spring flood.

Authorities set the deadline for all protestors to evacuate both camps – Sacred Stone Camp, and, Oceti Sakowin Camp – for February 22. In a news release one day prior to the deadline, Minnesota Governor Doug Burgum announced people were being allowed to leave voluntarily.

“You know that our big ask for tomorrow is anyone remaining in the camp, we want to make sure that they know they have an opportunity to voluntarily leave. Take your belongings, remove anything that may be culturally significant and we’ll help you get on your way if you need to do that,” Burgum was quoted by CNN.

Most protestors, about 100, obliged, and left voluntarily. However, 33 persons were arrested the following day for refusal to comply with the government’s demand, this according to the North Dakota Joint Information Center. According to North Dakota authorities, an additional 23 people were arrested during site cleanup, bringing the total number of persons arrested to 55. On February 24, one day after the deadline to evacuate expired, via social media – Twitter – the Morton County Sheriff’s Department declared the camp cleared just after 2 p.m.

Directional drilling under Lake Oahe is complete and Dakota Access intends to place the pipeline into service on May 14 of this year. Lake Oahe is located one half mile upstream from the Sioux tribe’s Standing Rock Reservation. The Dakota Pipeline does not cross Sioux land but at it nearest point comes within about 150 meters from Standing Rock Reservation.

Sacred Stone Camp was founded by Standing Rock’s Historic Preservation Officer, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, in April 2016, and served as the center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline.

The change in season to warm summer weather brought with it an increase in the number of protestors. At its peak Sacred Stone became home to 10,000 people. This lead to the creation of an overflow camp, the Oceti Sakowin Camp (the Lakȟótiyapi name for the Great Sioux Nation or Seven Fires Council). Oceti Sakowin was the camp closest to where the pipeline runs beneath the Missouri River.

History Between the US Government and Great Sioux Nation

Land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation was taken by the US government by authority of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The Sioux were restricted to land east of the Missouri River and the State line of South Dakota to the west. The Black Hills, sacred land to the Sioux, were awarded to the tribe.

The infamous General George Custer led his 7th Calvary into the Black Hills in 1874 in direct violation of the treaty. With Custer’s discovery of gold in the Black Hills, a “Gold Rush” ensued leading the US government to seek negotiations to rent or buy the Black Hills from the rightful owners – the Lakota Sioux.

Lakota Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull led his peoples’ opposition against acceptance of further encroachment upon, and theft of, their ancestral land leading to another war between a First Nations tribe defending their land against a US federal government looking to take it.

The Great Sioux War of 1876, or, the Black Hills War, included the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho, and ended in 1877. The war was not without a significant victory for indigenous forces. It was at the Battle of Little Bighorn where Custer met his demise. Known as Custer’s Last Stand, the battle was an overwhelming victory for the Plains “Indians.”

As happened throughout U.S. history, superior resources enabled the US federal government to have its way, forcing the Sioux to surrender. The US government employed a common tactic when combating a First Nations people – attack and destroy encampments and property. The Agreement of 1877 ending the Black Hills War included a provision allowing the US government to steal the Black Hills away from the Sioux Nation.

T’Sou-ke First Nations Lead the Way in Solar Energy

Car charging station at T’Sou-ke Band Office. Source: <a href="http://www.tsoukenation.com" target="_blank">www.tsoukenation.com</a>.

Car charging station at T’Sou-ke Band Office. Source: www.tsoukenation.com.

by Frank Larue

“We made the decision, which is really easy, that it’s a light footprint approach, and we did that for our children. It’s all about future generations.” T’Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes told the CBC.

Located just outside Victoria, B.C., the T’Sou-ke First Nation may be a native Band of only 250 members but they are numero uno when it comes to solar energy. Having operated on a solar micro grid for the last ten years, their solar energy program was made possible thanks to the Comprehensive Community Planning, which is run by Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

The T’Souke Band solar energy program is based upon a list four priority pillars – energy, autonomy, food, self-sufficiency and cultural renaissance – and is built on the premise that it does not use more power than it produces. And selling power to BC Hydro brings the T’Sou-ke a financial return.

The Band offers eco-tourism tours that have attracted politicians, thousands of visitors interested in solar power, and several native leaders, including four chiefs from Manitoba making the trek to find out firsthand about solar energy and its benefits. The Band also offers workshops demonstrating how solar energy works.

Solar panels at work. Source: <a href="http://www.tsoukenation.com" target="_blank">www.tsoukenation.com</a>

Solar panels at work.
Source: www.tsoukenation.com

The benefit to solar energy over traditional energy sources was clear to Chief Planes, who, regarding the money that will be saved by adopting solar energy, said, “You’re going to look at a huge cost in the future if they’ve gotta’ start flying fuel in.”

The T’Souke also are involved in specialized agriculture. They own three greenhouses and grow Wasabi, a plant that stimulates nasal passages and is known as the Japanese horseradish. Although Wasabi is more popular in the USA and Europe than it is in Canada, the Band’s first Wasabi harvest was worth $100,000 and the Band now grows Wasabi on a yearly basis.

The T’Souke Band have one more project that is a work in progress. They want to save the Olympia oyster, which is listed as an endangered species. “There are not many left in our harbor We need to bring them back, full circle. The community will tackle anything that ensures the environment will be better for future generations and children yet to be born,” said Chief Planes. “It is important to bring everyone along and that whatever we envision, that we have the whole community behind it.”

Brenda Butterworth-Carr First Aboriginal Woman Promoted to Commanding Officer of the RCMP

by Frank Larue

Brenda Butterworth-Carr

Brenda Butterworth-Carr is the first Indigenous woman to head the RCMP’s B.C. division. (RCMP)

Born in the Yukon, a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in Han Nation, Brenda Butterworth-Carr has been a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for 30 years.

“I’ve always kept in my mind why I joined the organization in the first place and that was to influence and affect positive change. I come from a First Nation where we strive for equality,” said Butterworth-Carr.

Butterworth-Carr’s career began in the Yukon in 1987 as one member of a three person detachment.

After the Yukon she went on to serve in the National HQ in Ottawa, followed by a tour of duty in Saskatchewan where she was eventually promoted to commanding officer.

“Her career has been diverse and has provided her with a strong understanding of the provincial, municipal and First Nations service agreements,” Public Safety Minister Mike Morris told the CBC.

When Butterworth-Carr returned to British Columbia in 2016 she did so as Officer in charge of Criminal Operations Core Policing.

“My experience has lent credibility to what I bring to the organization, from the smallest detachments in the north to larger municipal detachments, and certainly on a national level,” Butterworth-Carr is quoted in the Vancouver Sun. “I don’t shy away from any challenges.”

One challenge facing Butterworth-Carr is addressing sexual harassment, a behavior she says, as does any other inappropriate behavior, that needs to be met with a policy of zero tolerance.

“Any kind of inappropriate behavior, sexual in nature, or otherwise. We are a force of inclusion and equality, and we strive for that. Anything less than that is unacceptable,” explained Butterworth-Carr.

Butterworth-Carr supports and prioritizes the building and maintaining of a strong connection between police and the people of all communities, large and small.

“One thing very critical to me is to continue the engagement in all of our communities in a very collaborative manner. Police services are not done in isolation,” said Butterworth-Carr. “I believe that together we’re stronger, and that will continue to be our focus as we move into the future.”

Butterworth-Carr currently serves as chairwoman of the RCMP’s National Women’s Advisory Committee, is a member of the Canadian and International Association of Chiefs of Police, and a member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.

Brenda Butterworth-Carr is the first Aboriginal woman promoted to Commanding Officer on the B.C. RCMP. Her promotion to this position means the door is now open for other Aboriginal women to be considered for high profile positions in police roles. She is more than deserving and will do an excellent job.

First Nations an Integral Part of Clean Energy Landscape in BC

By Paul Kariya, Executive Director Clean Energy BC (CEBC)

Culliton Creek hydro facility commissioning

BluEarth celebrates Culliton Creek hydro facility commissioning with the Squamish First Nation in May 2016. Photo Credit: BluEarth Renewables

As Executive Director of CEBC, which represents clean energy operators and developers, suppliers, contractors, service providers, and post-secondary institutions’ Yorkville University and BCIT, I know the dramatic impact that renewables can have on First Nations economic development.

There are currently 106 independent power projects in operation throughout BC. The private sector has invested over $9 billion in clean energy projects that benefit all British Columbians. We in BC are very good at doing these clean and renewable projects. We have a supply chain that is experienced and possess the know-how to do this – the contractors, legal teams, financiers, environmental consultants, etc. Projects are a significant source of revenue for local communities, and taxpayers benefit too (public debt is not used).

But this success story would not be possible without the support of First Nations. Our members work closely with First Nations, who receive training, jobs, and contracts. First Nations partners also benefit from royalties from the developer and revenue sharing from the provincial government.

First Nations have embraced economic development from clean and renewable energy projects that will provide revenue for their government and necessary public services – schools, education, recreation, cultural services and roads etc. Previously, the wealth came from fishing, hunting and trade based on natural resources. The economic underpinnings of government still come from the land and natural resources. Many First Nations embrace clean and renewable energy projects because they meet their principles – protect the environment, build legacy infrastructure, and enable sustainable economic development.

Water Flowing out of the tailrace culvert

Water Flowing out of the tailrace culvert at Alterra’s Jimmie Creek hydro project. Photo Credit: Alterra Power Corp.

Last year, I attended ceremonial openings of the Box Canyon, Culliton Creek, and Tretheway Creek hydro projects. These projects were all awarded contracts from BC Hydro under the 2008 Clean Power Call. But soon, the last of these projects will be completed. And the Standing Offer Program, which provides an opportunity for projects under 15MWs, is also at risk of being rolled-back. So when and where will the next opportunity come? Will economic reconciliation with First Nations continue to include hydro, wind, solar, biomass and other renewable projects?

BC can unlock more of these opportunities through aggressive climate policies that encourage greater use of electricity to power how we live. That involves everything from promoting electric vehicles, to getting remote communities off of diesel. CEBC is one of the few industry associations with First Nations members, and we encourage your readers to consider joining CEBC as we advocate clean energy for more opportunities going forward. Given the need to encourage young people to look for careers in clean energy, we are also launching a Clean Energy Scholarship, which will provide $1000 to a graduating student this year. For more information, please visit www.cleanenergybc.org.

Northern Waterworks

by Frank Larue

Northern Waterworks Inc. (NWI) was established in 1997 as an aboriginal owned Water Authority.

“Due to our location in Northwestern Ontario, we saw first-hand the deplorable condition of water and wastewater treatment facilities. We therefore offered services to the remote northern communities in the vicinity, that lacked access to specialized trades and expertise. We were the Operating Authority of Municipal systems, so didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We merely duplicated the municipal box we had built, and assisted interested First Nations in implementing our programs. We attempted to eliminate the two tier system that was developing in Ontario. Post Walkerton, the Provincial Government adopted legislation and accreditation to ensure the safety of residents; meanwhile, the Federal Government hadn’t kept pace.

Northern Waterworks Graphic

“Our relationship with the First Nation bands we have provided services to is excellent. As an aboriginal company, we understand and appreciate the process of community outreach. We engage both the community and leadership. It is a grass roots approach. Only through commitment from the operator, up through to Chief and Council, can any program achieve success. This has proven true time and time again. If we don’t have support of Chief and Council, we will typically not submit a tender bid. To do so would be to set the program up for failure. We have numerous First Nation programs rolled out in Ontario currently. Here is a snap shot of a couple programs currently being delivered by NWI. We provide 24/7 Technical Support and First Response Services to all Ontario First Nation Communities. Through this program of the Federal Government, we have responded to and mitigated more than 400-Emergency situations throughout the Province. We have provided this since 2011.

“We have provided Annual Performance Inspections, a mandatory risk assessment of the Federal Government for the past three years. This program has us perform on-site risk assessments, of all First Nation water and wastewater systems in Ontario. So we know first hand the true condition of First Nation systems. The main advantages are the relationships, and trust built, through 20-years of continuous service. Many organizations have a habit of attempting to enter the field, after Federal announcements of impending dollars being allocated to address the issue. We have a track record of service, and stability, backed by 20-years. Another advantage is knowledge of the systems. Through provision of services Province wide, we have first hand, on the ground experience with all systems in Ontario. When there is an emergency or critical failure, these files and experience are priceless.

“Remote, fly-in communities typically have no access to specialized trades. Further, a hardware store isn’t a block away with remote communities. Therefore access to required skilled trades, and supplies does not typically exist. We maintain a stacked warehouse full of parts, materials, and supplies for just that reason. We have the ability to be on-site within hours, complete with all required parts and supplies to mitigate and rectify. Common problems with communities throughout Ontario in general include a lack of local certified operators. Over the next three years, our goal is to assist in the development of a First Nation owned Water Authorities. We are working with a First Nation group to develop, from ground up, a Water Authority developed by First Nations, for First Nations. Over 20-years, we have dynamically developed and tuned our model, allowing us to duplicate a proven model.

“With Government policy ever changing, coupled with annual funding agreements, to take on the First Nation water crisis at its root is not sustainable. Skilled and Qualified operators are typically certified at Level 3 (Ontario: Operator-In-Training, Level I, Level II, Level III, Level IV). They have typically gained their experience through operation of municipal systems, and typically have 15+ years’ experience. This means they are some of the highest certified in the Province, have 15+ years’ experience, are near the top of their pay scale, and have significant time invested into a pension plan [almost all, if not all municipalities have pension plans and attractive benefit packages].

“Due to funding mechanisms of the Federal Government, funding agreements are typically annual, and must be renewed each year. It is near impossible to attract the qualified staff required, while offering the security of “one-year term contracts”. Rightfully so, these qualified personnel are just not willing to leave the security offered through municipal employment. NWI delivered the Circuit Rider Training Program (CRTP) for two years, throughout Ontario. This is a program of the Federal Government, standardized nationally, to provide technical assistance and ‘on-the-job-training’ or OJT, to First Nation communities throughout Canada. Annually, we had to give our trainers ‘lay-off notices’ while awaiting the Governments decision to fund CRTP another year or not. Of course, each annual cycle, we lost employees during this ‘wait and see’ period. Employees, which in many cases, took years to attract in the first place.

“While attending annual CRTP conferences, we have discussed this challenge with trainers from other provinces. It is not a challenge unique to NWI. Nationally, it appears as though almost all CRTP Service Providers are short qualified staff, with no additional capacity existing. So if capacity doesn’t exist for current programs, what will happen with the proposed implementation of new standards and regulations? We are scraping the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, as is. Something needs to change… Long story short, what I am trying to say is that the system, as currently established, is destined to fail. We have tried for 20-years to work within this box, and it just doesn’t work. We are transferring our knowledge and capacity to First Nation Authorities. We are developing, in partnership with various stake holders, First Nation Water Authorities to allow NWI to focus on stable, municipal opportunities, which typically provide the stable 5-10 year contracts, allowing us to attract and retain qualified staff. Unfortunately this is the only viable model at present, and is now the objective of our 3-5 year business plan. Significant changes may be occurring behind the scenes, but I have personally not seen a change or improvement. To the contrary, in many ways, we have seen risks increase over the past couple of years.”


On Call for Fentanyl

by Michelle Oleman

Vancouver BC, one of Canada’s largest and busiest port cities, is riddled with overdose victims – many ending up as dead bodies. At a ready to aid on the front line is Glenice Delorme, a young First Nations woman trained to administer Narcanon to overdose victims. She works with a team of first responders in the downtown eastside.

Glenice Delorme, OPS Team member

Glenice Delorme, OPS Team member

She lives at a Raincity Housing building in Vancouver. Here, she received training through the Overdose Prevention Society (OPS).  Upon being asked how she felt about helping others and working with authority figures, she responds: “I think it’s great, we are peer-to-peer – addicts helping addicts. I think they trust us a little more than they would police or ambulance because we’re there to help them… keep them safe.”

Emphasizing the idea behind the Overdose Prevention Society’s mandate to help prevent death by overdose through trust and peer mentorship, one Vancouverite states that “… it’s someone else who has been on the street, walked in their shoes… pulled up her boots. More relative than some lady living in a penthouse suite who knows basically nothing about the person.”

During the interview at the trailer on Lot 62 W Hastings, one overdose actually occurs. First Nations Drum could not get any photographs of the action, but we did get a running commentary from the ante-room in the trailer.

The victim falls, and Glenice ushers me into the ante-room away from the drug user room. She points to a chair where I can sit and take notes.

The sounds of first responder’s voices are heard:

Female: “How long ago did he use?”

2nd Female: “He signed in 20 mins ago.”

Male:  “What did he take?”

2nd Female: “Down [heroine] – in the arm.”

There are scuffling sounds as the responder team rallies around the victim, checking vital signs and assessing his situation. More voices are heard as they try to revive the victim.

Male: “Wake up buddy! Wake up or we’re going to Narc you!”

2nd Female: “Call 911!  He’s got the… He needs some breath.”

More scuffling as oxygen is administered. I still cannot take a picture, though, the image of the young male – completely motionless – surrounded by people in orange safety vests etches itself in my memory. His lips are blue. Glenice closes the door.

Male: “Please don’t fight while we’re trying to save somebody’s life.”

A fellow user has recognized the victim: “I know him! His name is –”

Male: “Please step back, we need to help him.”

Female: “Yeah, you need to wait outside.”

The trailer door bangs shut as they escort the other user outside, and the team continues their work.

2nd Male: “Did you narc him? Narc him again!”

2nd Female: “Do you want me to make him another one?”

The victim stirs audibly.

Male: “He’s ok, I just gave him another one. He’s ok.”

Female: “He’s breathing.”

2nd Female: “There’s the ambulance.”

Possibly the most intense 5-minutes anybody could ever experience is over for everyone involved.

I later learned that it took a team of four first responders to revive this victim and call the ambulance within less than 5-minutes. The victim cannot be named, but he was taken to hospital in an ambulance and has hopefully survived this ordeal.

When asked about her recent experiences reviving young people, Glenice says, “so far, I’ve had to revive only one native victim. She was so young, she was only 17 and her [male partner] didn’t want me to help her. She was so tiny, maybe 80-pounds, and I had to narc her several times.” On another note, she adds, “It is so sad that we’re losing so many aboriginal drug users to the fentanyl because they are embarrassed and ashamed to come into our program for help, in case their families find out.”

Philip Tom, OPS Team Member

Philip Tom, OPS Team Member

Speaking to Lee (who wishes not to be photographed), the acting Overdose Prevention Society program director/ supervisor for this shift, states very solemnly that: “Definitely without a place like this, many will die.” He also states that this program is ongoing, growing and learning quickly. Along with Lee and Glenice, there are two more team members willing to share their brief experiences of working at Lot 62 E Hastings St., alley entrance to the tents and trailer just behind Pigeon Park Savings.

Samantha Boss lives in the downtown eastside, and has been working with OPS since just before Christmas time. This is one of the busiest seasons for overdose occurrences. “It can get to you, plus bring harm reduction,” she says. “It’s keeping me sober.”

Philip Tom from Burns Lake BC worked at Carnegie Center, The Gathering Place, and the former Downtown Eastside Street Market before the side became the OPS location. He says that “… it’s the most satisfying work I’ve done around here.”

Joseph Boyden Now Questioned for Similarities

by Frank Larue

Joseph Boyden is one of the most successful native authors in Canada. His books, the Orenda, Three Day Road,  Born with a Tooth, Wenjack, Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, A Mixed Blood Highway, Kiskwakew, Upronts: The Orenda, Northwords, and Outside the Wire have become best sellers, and he has been the recipient of several awards including the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Canada Reads. He has also been celebrated by the media as one of the country’s best writers.

Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden, author of award winning books Three Day Road and Black Spruce, questioned about aboriginal ancestry

Lately though, not everything has been going his way. APTN recently questioned Boyden, asking him if he is truly native.

Years ago, when the future superstar Shania Twain was climbing the ladder of success, she stated she was native and was raised by an Indian father. The latter was true, but the same doesn’t go for the initial. There was no native blood running in her veins. APTN is wondering if Boyden will be another case.

Boyden has stated that his ancestry is one of mixed blood. “I’ve used the term Metis in the past when referring to myself as a mixed blood person. I do not trace my roots to Red River, and I apologize to any Red River Metis I’ve upset.”

Boyden may have critics, but he also has supporters. Manitoba NDP MLA Wab Kinew understands the problems of proving native ancestry without being able to connect with some native community.

“I myself have been curious about Joseph Boyden’s ancestry, but at the same time, I recognize that he is part of our community by virtue of the relationship he has formed with many people,” expresses Kinew. “I think, for any people who find out about their Indigenous ancestry later in life, there a lot of questions about ‘how do they belong’. I think the way he has gone about giving back to the community, particularly in the James Bay region, taking kids to hunting camps, doing some philanthropy in some other areas, and working to highlight up and coming writers – even giving them residency – these are all signs he is giving back,” Kinew told APTN.

Considering the reputation Joseph Boyden has built over the years as an author and someone who cares about native people, First Nation’s Drum wonders what has brought about the questions of ancestry?

“I’ve heard of people questioning his background,” Russ Diablo, policy analyst from Kanawake, told APTN. “It is because of his public comments on Aboriginal issues that people started to question ‘Who is this guy?”

The controversy won’t go away, only the calendar will resolve the situation. In the meantime, Boyden has another problem, which is also serious enough to derail his career.

Boyden’s short story Bearwalker has similarities to a story written by Ron Geyshick, titled Inside My Heart. Geyshick died in 1996, so he can’t discuss the matter; however, Judith Doyle, the woman who helped him compile his stories, told APTN:

“The stories formally share intimate structural details. They begin and end in exactly the same way – the turn of phrase, the cadence, the description, the characters. There’s such symmetry between the two passages.” Boyden stated he had heard the story from elder Xavier Bird in the mid-nineties in Fort Albany, and then again in Moosonee.

“I saw it as a type of modern parable, a Christian story, filtered through the distinct local experience and lens. It was a story that stuck with me.” It seems strange that a celebrated and respected writer, who has written 11 books – including award winners Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce – has been questioned about his blood and the sources for his writings. Respected literary critics in the United States and Canada have reviewed him, and most of the reviews were of a positive nature – the word plagiarist never being brought up.

One of Canada’s Finest Writers, Richard Wagamese Dies at 61

by Frank Larue

Richard Wagamese, one of Canada’s greatest writers, died in March.

“He taught us about our history. He taught us the emotional truth of our history, as great fiction writers do. And he was one of our greats,” says Shelagh Rogers, a close friend of Wagamese. “He lived story. Story was who he was. And he felt that we all connect through sharing our stories, and that reconciliation would be about sharing our stories.”

He was the author of several books, including Indian Horse – which will soon be a movie – Medicine Walk, Keeper’n Me, Ragged Company, One Native Life, One Story One Song, Dream Wheels, For Joshua, The Next Sure Thing, Him Standing, Runaway Dream, and his most recent release, Embers. 

Richard Wagamese 

His books are greatly influenced by past experience. Largely, it was the pain of being one of the Scoop of The Sixties victims, ripped away from his birth parents, forced to be brought up by adopted white parents. But along with the pain, there also came a deep understanding of native life, and of the difficulties of cultural survival within our present. Within the residential schools legacy and the racism that has existed for the last century.

“We’re becoming an undeniable voice. The strength and the vitality in the way we’re learning and choosing to tell our stories is becoming undeniable, so that when we present manuscripts to publishers, the first thing they look at is the quality of the writing and not the colour of the person.” Wagamese told the Kamloops Star. “What we’re indeed engaged in is creating a literature of our people.”

Before writing books, Wagamese was a journalist. Beginning in 1979, he wrote columns for newspapers, including the Calgary Herald. His columns attracted attention for their style and originality. He was the first Indigenous writer to receive a National Newspaper award.

Eventually, he started writing for the Globe and Mail, and he became the voice of Canadian Indigenous people. In one article, he wrote:

“To be Indian in Canada today means that one signatory to be the nation-to-nation agreement that frames your life forgets that it’s a treaty nation. It entrenched itself historically when it signed those documents. Unfortunately, the years since have been an ongoing process of denial of obligations and responsibilities under treaty.

“To be Indian today is to see youth languish in chronic unemployment and malaise, endure high rates of alcohol, drug, and solvent abuse or die by suicide at a rate five-to-seven times higher than non-aboriginal youth.

“To be Indian today is to see your children suffer. On reserve, in Metis communities, and in the cities. Aboriginal children go hungry, lack warm clothing and solid educational resources, die as infants at a rate two-to-four times the national average, and endure immunization rates 20 times lower than the general population.

“To be Indian in Canada today is to know your women are likely to be victimized, murdered, or go missing. It’s to know that you may have to share a two bedroom with as many as 16 other people. It’s the understanding that running water is a luxury, or clean drinking water a rarity. It’s the awareness that Canada has known about these grave issues for decades, but they still persist.”

Wagamese brings out several other pitfalls for being an Indian, and then concludes in a more optimistic direction:

“To be Indian today is to stand in solidarity and equality with brothers and sisters across the country. To say that we won’t live in this way no longer. To watch our youth and our women take to the forefront of this direct action, and lead. This is what awaits the new ‘Indians’, and to them, I say welcome.”

Wagamese was also critical of certain native organizations such as the AFN.

“At the risk of being politically incorrect, there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians in the Assembly of First Nations. When the AFN votes today to elect a new chief, only 633 voices will count. Those are the voices of the elected chief, they, or their proxies, are the only ones who are allowed to vote. To be a First Nation’s person in Canada is to be rendered voiceless by the very organization that purports to represent you.”

To say Wagamese will be missed is an understatement. He was an original, and has left big shoes to fill.

“I think he was very generous and kind with others,” Wab Kinew, a member of the Manitoba Legislature, told the media. “As much as it is sad to see that he left us too soon, it’s also very powerful to see the impact he had on so many people in life.”