From Homeless to Helping Others: VIU Cowichan Student April Murphy’s Story

April Murphy, an Adult Basic Education student at VIU Cowichan, has gone from being unable to read to her children to becoming a leader in her classes. Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University

April Murphy, an Adult Basic Education student at VIU Cowichan, has gone from being unable to read to her children to becoming a leader in her classes. Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University

An Adult Basic Education student, Murphy overcame multiple barriers to succeed

DUNCAN, BC: April Murphy has battled illiteracy, homelessness, and addiction and mental health challenges.

Now the 33-year-old Vancouver Island University (VIU) Cowichan Adult Basic Education (ABE) student is well on her way to getting her high school diploma, after which she plans to enter the Community Mental Health Worker certificate program so she can help others overcome similar life situations. She hopes sharing her story will inspire others to see the possibilities.

“I went from being my own worst enemy to being my own best friend,” says Murphy. “I didn’t realize how good life could be if I was good to myself. The community at VIU has been amazing throughout this process. I don’t think I would be half as successful if it weren’t for the staff here cheering me on and pushing me to do better for myself.”

Growing up in the Cowichan Valley, Murphy’s educational struggles began at an early age – she dropped out in Grade 5 without ever having learned to read.

“It felt like a burden to bring myself to school she says. “It was tough. After I dropped out, I ended up in an alternative school for six months, and then after that I was just homeless.”

Murphy lived on the streets of Victoria until she got pregnant at age 18 and returned home. After giving birth to her second son, she decided it was time she learned to read so she enrolled in literacy courses at The Reading and Writing Centre – Malaspina’s storefront literacy program in downtown Duncan.

“My oldest son was going to be in Kindergarten and I wanted to be able to read the bedtime stories the teacher sent home,” remembers the mother of four. “But I had this big block about learning because of my earlier experiences – I was so afraid of failing.”

After reaching a certain reading proficiency, Murphy was able to enrol in adult upgrading courses through what was then Malaspina University-College. She experienced a major hiccup in her educational journey after suffering from a grand mal seizure in 2013, which caused epileptic psychosis. In 2016, after struggling for years to regain her mental health, she bumped into Joanna Lord, one of her Adult Basic Education Instructors at VIU Cowichan, while out and about in the community. Lord talked her into coming back to school.

“Joanna has been awesome – she’s definitely been given a gift to inspire people to do the best they can,” says Murphy. “Summer [Crosson, another Adult Basic Education instructor] is the same, she has a way of helping you see that you can do this. All of the staff at the Cowichan Campus bring a lot of hope to people, I find it like a family network.”

Lord, who met Murphy in 2010 when she first signed up for upgrading courses, says her story is one of incredible resilience and determination.

April is the epitome of an ABE student, overcoming multiple barriers to continue her education, and acting as a role model for her children and extended family,” says Lord.

Crosson says Murphy has become a leader at VIU and she looks forward to watching her take on new leadership roles in the community.

“Her enthusiasm, kindness and sense of humour are a welcome contribution in the classroom – she contributes to a sense of teamwork and solidarity amongst her fellow students,” says Crosson.

Murphy’s next step is to take the Community Mental Health Worker program and become a shelter worker.

“We need more community support workers in the Cowichan Valley, the homeless population is only going to continue to rise,” she says. “I just want to give back to this area, which has given so much to me.”

To learn more about Adult Basic Education courses at VIU Cowichan, click here. To view this press release online, visit VIU News.


The 2018 Indspire Award Recipients


Greg Hill
Kanyen’kehaka, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Ontario

Greg HillOver nearly thirty years of work as an artist and curator, Greg Hill has been a unique voice for Indigenous issues in his art, and an advocate for other Indigenous artists as a curator. The first Indigenous curator at the National Gallery of Canada, since 2000 he has dramatically increased the representation of Indigenous artists in the permanent collection and on display in the galleries, nearly doubling the collection in the years since he became the inaugural Audain Chair and head of the Department of Indigenous Art. Greg has curated major retrospective exhibitions and written catalogues for some of the most acclaimed Indigenous artists in Canada including: Norval Morrisseau, Carl Beam, and most recently, Alex Janvier. Greg was co-curator for Sakahan: International Indigenous Art, the National Gallery’s largest ever exhibition and the only recurring global survey of contemporary Indigenous art in the world. Greg is now hard at work on the next one coming in the fall of 2019.

Business & Commerce

Nicole Bourque-Bouchier
Mikisew Cree First Nation, Alberta

Nicole Bourque BouchierNicole Bourque-Bouchier is a business leader, philanthropist, and an advocate for Indigenous women’s economic empowerment. As co-owner and Chief Executive Officer of The Bouchier Group, one of Alberta’s largest Indigenous-owned companies, she is one of the most influential women in Canada. In 2015, she was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. Not only does Nicole empower other women through her example as a woman with the top job in a male-dominated field, she is also actively engaged in elevating other Indigenous women. In 2013, Nicole spearheaded an ad series called Paving Pathways to Success, Applauding Aboriginal Women in Business, where eight local women were recognized for adding value and awareness to Indigenous women’s economic security in the region.Nicole exemplifies Indigenous reciprocity through the more than $3 million that she has contributed through both The Bouchier Group and personally to local organizations, initiatives, and Indigenous communities in the Fort McMurray region.

Culture, Heritage & Spirituality

Kye7e Cecilia Dick DeRose
Secwepemc Nation, British Columbia

Despite being discouraged from speaking her language at St. Joseph’s Residential School, Kye7e Cecilia DeRose is a champion of language revitalization. Since 1980, she has been teaching Secwepemctsin to students of all ages and has helped develop university Indigenous language programs. In the 1980s, Cecilia sat on the Katie Ross Inquiry, which recommended that interpreters be provided to Indigenous people and that public servants be provided cross-cultural training. Cecilia then undertook the interpreter course and was available to interpret and provide cross cultural training for the hospital, RCMP, and courts. Cecilia recently created a Hide Tanning Kit and Instruction Book and has assisted in developing and teaching a course on Secwepemc ethnobotany. Cecilia lives by what her father told her the first time she was taken by the missionaries to residential school: “Always be proud to be an Indian.”


Culture, Heritage & Spirituality

Theland Kicknosway
Walpole Island Bkejwanong Territory, Ontario

At just fourteen years old, Theland is a singer, dancer, activist and an educator of Indigenous culture and history. Known as the Cree Drummer who led the current Prime Minister and Cabinet into Rideau Hall in 2015, Theland has used his spotlight to elevate Indigenous issues. In 2017, he completed his third annual 130km run from Ottawa to Kitigan Zibi in partnership with Families of Sisters in Spirit to raise awareness for the children of missing and murdered Indigenous women. He is also a facilitator of the KAIROS Blanket Exercise where he lends his wisdom and compassion to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people learning about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In grade three, he wrote a letter to his school explaining why an annual pow wow would be an excellent teaching opportunity for the school and as a result, in 2017, Century Public School celebrated its fourth annual pow wow.


Dr. Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams
Lil’wat Nation, British Columbia

Dr.LornaDr. Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams is Professor Emerita of Indigenous Education, Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Victoria and Canada Research Chair in Education and Linguistics. She built her career on the principle that quality education for Indigenous children must be characterized by strong cultural teachings alongside a Euro-Western education. As a child, Wanosts’a7 lost her language as a result of her residential school experience, but relearned it with the help of her family and community. She eventually helped to develop the writing system for Lil’wat and co-authored the first curriculum and learning resources for teachers to teach the language in school. At the University of Victoria, Dr. Williams initiated and led the development of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Indigenous Language Revitalization, and a Master’s in Counseling in Indigenous Communities. She also initiated, designed, and implemented a mandatory course in Indigenous Education for all teacher education students, leading to the requirement that all teacher education programs in British Columbia include an Indigenous Education course.


Dr. Evelyn Voyageur
Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, British Columbia

Dr.EvelynDr. Evelyn Voyageur is a survivor of St. Michael’s Residential School, a fluent speaker of Kwakwala, and an active matriarch in the Kwakwaka’wakw culture. She has dedicated her life to improving the health of Indigenous peoples through her more than five decades in the nursing profession. In the early 1980s, Dr. Voyageur founded the Native and Inuit Nurses Association of British Columbia to help educate those who work with First Nations communities, and from 1999 to 2003, she supported survivors at the Indian Residential School Society. Since 1980, she has been active in the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association, and was its President from 2010-2012. In 2003, she earned her PhD in Behavioural Science in Psychology. Dr. Voyageur has been working to transform curricula to bring cultural awareness to nursing programs at the University of Victoria and North Island College, where she is the current Elder in Residence.

Law & Justice

Paul Chartrand
St. Laurent, Manitoba

Paul Chartrand Paul Chartrand is a legal practitioner and a retired Professor of Law who has lent his expertise to some of the most significant developments in law and policy for Indigenous peoples in recent history. In 1991 Paul Chartrand was appointed one of the seven commissioners to Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The resulting report included 440 recommendations for transforming the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and governments in Canada and has become a framework for reconciliation. The report has led to historic initiatives like the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For nearly three decades, Mr. Chartrand participated as a representative and an advisor to Indigenous organizations in the process leading up to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The creation and adoption of UNDRIP is a significant milestone in the protection and promotion of Indigenous rights not only in Canada, but around the world. The Declaration was officially adopted by the Government of Canada in 2016.

Public Service

Dr. Mike DeGagné
Animakee Wa Zhing #37, Ontario

Mike DeGagne Dr. Mike DeGagné is President and Vice Chancellor of Nipissing University.  He hopes to “indigenize the academy” and is especially committed to helping Indigenous students find and achieve their life’s purpose. Dr. DeGagné has over 25 years of leadership experience in public service. He was an Executive in the federal public service, serving with Health Canada, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.  His career began in the addictions field, and continued to comprehensive claims negotiation. In 1998, Dr. DeGagné became the founding Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. In that role, he worked on a national level to encourage and support community-developed, community-delivered, and culturally-based initiatives addressing the intergenerational effects of abuses suffered in the Indian Residential School System. For his dedication to this work, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2014 and Member of the Order of Ontario in 2010.


Michael Linklater
Thunderchild First Nation, Saskatchewan

Michael Linklater Michael Linklater is the top-ranked three-on-three basketball player in all of the Americas. In 2010, he led the University of Saskatchewan Huskies basketball team to their first CIS national championship. In 2017, he played with Team Saskatoon in the 3×3 World Tour Final in Beijing. Perhaps even more impressive than Michael’s athleticism is his commitment to being a positive role model for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. He is the owner and head coach of Prime Basketball Development, where he teaches young basketball players how to become champions on and off the court. He also travels to First Nations communities and hosts individual and team development clinics. As a kid, Michael was bullied relentlessly for his braids, so when his sons suffered the same racism, the proud Nehiyaw (Cree) started an international movement called Boys with Braids to teach Indigenous youth and those who work with them, about the cultural significance of long hair for Indigenous men.

Youth – First Nation

Ashley Callingbull
Enoch Cree Nation, Alberta

Ashley In 2015, Ashley Callingbull became the first Canadian and first First Nations woman to be crowned Mrs. Universe. In the ensuing media frenzy that followed her historic win, she began to use her platform to be a voice for Indigenous issues. During the federal election happening at the same time, she helped push the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to the forefront of political discussion. She shares her own story of using her Cree culture to overcome childhood physical and sexual abuse to show young people going through the same thing, that there is hope. Ashley is deeply rooted in her culture and through her visibility, has managed to break down stereotypes of Indigenous peoples. In addition to her work in the community, she is an accomplished actor, appearing on APTN’s Blackstone, was part of the first First Nations team on The Amazing Race Canada, and is a spokesperson and model for the Nike N7 organization.

Youth – Inuit

Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk
Igluligaarjuk, Nunavut

Dr.Donna Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk is the very first Inuk to become a heart surgeon.  Currently in her fourth year of a six-year residency program at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, she was accepted in 2014 as one of only ten cardiac surgery residents in all of Canada. In 2016, Dr. Kimmaliardjuk joined the National Aboriginal Council on HIV/AIDS as the Inuit representative, where she provides the council with a unique and crucial perspective combining her knowledge of medicine and Inuit culture. While earning a Bachelor of Sciences Honours at Queen’s University, she served as president of the Queen’s Native Students’ Association for two years and was a student representative on the Queen’s University Aboriginal Council. Through her hard work and dedication, she is not only bridging the gap for Inuit accessing medical services, but she is leading the way for the next generation of Inuit youth to follow in her footsteps.

Youth – Métis

Tracie Léost
St. Laurent, Manitoba

Tracie LeostAt just nineteen years old, Tracie Léost is a young Indigenous leader, activist, and track and field athlete. In 2014, Tracie won three bronze medals under the Métis flag at the North American Indigenous Games in Regina. In 2015, after learning of the disappearance of more and more Indigenous women and feeling a growing sense of frustration about the lack of political will to launch an inquiry into the issue, Tracie set out on a four-day 115km run to raise awareness. She raised over $6,000 for the Families First Foundation and garnered international attention. In September 2016, the Government of Canada launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Now in her second year in the Indigenous Social Work Program at the University of Regina, she continues to advocate for Indigenous peoples.


Lifetime Achievement

Dr. Gloria Cranmer Webster
‘Namgis First Nation, British Columbia

Gloria CranmerDr. Gloria Cranmer Webster is recognized for her work in cultural reclamation, artifact repatriation, and language revitalization. In 1921, the federal government confiscated masks, regalia, and other treasures from a Potlatch ceremony hosted by Chief Dan Cranmer, Gloria’s father. As Assistant Curator at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, Gloria helped to return the collection to her community. In 1975, Gloria returned to her home in Alert Bay to lead the design and construction of the U’mista Cultural Centre, which would house the Potlatch Collection. The Centre remains a place for cultural revitalization for the community and the many visitors who travel to the island to learn about Kwakwaka’wakw culture. Dr. Cranmer Webster is also a champion of the Kwak’wala language. At a time when it was on the verge of extinction, Gloria, along with the Old People and Dr. J. Powell, a linguist from the University of BC, developed an orthography and a series of twelve language books, which paved the way for its preservation.

The Last Prayer

Wendy and Alicja with the Beaton Family Nanaimo BC photo by Pat Beaton

Wendy and Alicja with the Beaton Family Nanaimo BC photo by Pat Beaton

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

Woke up at midnight last month after sleeping four hours and was not sure if I had a vision or if I was thinking in my sleep or what, but I was having all these thoughts about my elders and who was praying with them and if they had said their last prayer.

We all need to share, communicate, work, create and heal to survive; if we find love we are lucky and if we learn to pray, then we can give thanks like all the old cultures did in the old days. Of course we are an extension of our ancestors, we are an extension of our elders and loved ones. We are the past, present and future generations; we are the light, darkness, the sun, earth, air and water. My old uncle Robertjohn says it is the old elders who have taught us as children how to give thanksgiving, how to honor life and Mother Earth; our elders teach us everything has a spirit. Robertjohn says everything is alive; if you are sitting on the moon looking down at Mother Earth, he says “alive or dead”.

When our old elders gathered up and we all stood in a circle around the sacred fire every year, our prayers got stronger and our love got stronger, but our people were getting weak from the negativity around us and we tried to keep our way of life alive, but everything was out of balance in the world, from losing our natural diets to forgetting to maintain physical, mental, spiritual indigenous lifestyle.

Robertjohn said the highest form of prayer is song. In the song is the melody, the harmony and the thought, the prayer. All the songs in the world have given so much love, joy, peace to the peoples of the world and their very spirit. Some songs are so healing we need to hear them over and over and over again. Some songs are sung every day, they are sung by the entire community, entire families, entire nations for respect, for peace, for harmony, maybe even for healing. Some songs are so powerful they are used for birth and crossing over. Some songs can be used for purification, cleaning of the mind, body and spirit. Some songs are for making happy, in giving thanks to Creation and Life and Life-giving forces. Rabbit Dance Song, Eagle Song, Fish Dance Song, songs that honor fish, birds, insects and animals bring us closer to our relations and our relatives. The songs are old, the songs are new, but they are songs that bring harmony, peace, humility, justice and unity. The song is a form of prayer, a form of respect, a form of healing. A song is from the heart, the song is from the spirit, the song can be with tears and laughter, peace and pain. Some of the most beautiful songs come from birds, animals, fish and insects, we just cannot hear some. The universe can be a place of prayer and song at times in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Africa, Greece, Turkey, Australia, Poland, Russia, America and the world. The world can be a breeding ground for peace, harmony, prayer, song and dance.

When I woke from my dream, I thought who was praying with our elders. I thought of Leon Shenandoah,  one of our most gentle Onondaga chiefs,  who was chief of the chiefs, Tadodaho, a leader of his people and culture, someone raised in peace, power, righteousness, respect and harmony. Then I thought who was praying with Austin and Hilba Two Moons when they were dissidence of his grandfather who fought in Little Big Horn and Austin always treated me like a son, the way most of our elders treated us when we attended sacred gatherings and councils. Every year our Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth/American Indian Institute would sponsor and organize our sacred councils somewhere in Canada or US, where a native community was in need of traditional native elders to help bring back their native ways and ceremonies with our help. Then I started thinking who is praying for my mom and is her apartment getting smudged and purified. I know Marcus and Priscilla Vigel had a strong community of Pueblo Culture and that their ceremonial life was strong among the families and people of New Mexico. They had two daughters, Margret and Vicky, who were like clan mothers keeping the family and community positive with prayers and good energy. Also I knew Tom Porter, our spiritual leader of the Mohawk people, was being looked after because he was always out in the community boosting people’s spirit with his wisdom and teachings of The Good Mind, of the respect needed for any family or community to find tranquility, harmony, equality, justice and peace. When I think of the love and gentleness from Ann Jock for all Indian people and all people of the world and her own family with her husband Corn Planter, I realize there is hope in the world if such love can exist on the planet! Who taught us how to pray, who taught us how to give thanksgiving, who taught us how to purify ourselves. Priscilla used to say to me, Danny you pray for me and I will pray for you in the most beautiful way. It was like a blessing just to be talked to in that gentleness and peaceful manner.

Our circle is still going, but it is not what it used to be. Our elders are being replaced by their children and it’s a new generation and not that it’s not a strong generation, but the ones who carried their fathers’ and grandfathers’ Sacred Pipes are a different breed, because you had to see the open space, freedom and cleanness of  Mother Earth to know that power and quietness of 100 years ago, even the stories that were told two hundred years ago by their elders. I remember teachings twenty-five years ago: our elders said prepare yourself for what’s coming because everything is falling apart. Even when my partner/wife was diagnosed with cancer and I tried to save her, I learned that the trees were a nation to themselves and that the plants were a nation too a part of  Mother Earth and I prayed to them to help Alicja and I prayed to the Grandmother Moon to help Alicja, but then in the end I learned I had to give thanksgiving for all the years we had together and not ask for more.

All of this stuff happening tells me how Sacred Life is, how beautiful life is all around us. Sure we can see destruction and the rape of Mother Earth by negative people and corporations, but there is natural beauty all around us, even gardens, forests, mountains and lakes to heal in and energize ourselves. Like Janice Longboat says, our teachers are all around us ready to teach, but we as people have to want to see, hear and feel the gifts that the Universe, our Great Creator has blessed us all with. Like Mac McCloud says, what Mac says has to be said, what Mac says is the truth. The way I see things is we need to give Thanksgiving ourselves, we need to be mindful of Creation and be thanksgiving people.

Danny and Alicja in Nanaimo BC photo by Pat Beaton

Danny and Alicja in Nanaimo BC photo by Pat Beaton

When I was coming home from work the other day, I thought what if all the electricity shut down, what if all the hot water stopped getting hot, where would our energy come from, what’s going to power the cities if things collapse. What happens if the oil and gas run out. This world or society is built on security and refreshments and we are forgetting the Sacredness of it all. Even though my wife is gone and even though my mom is so far away, I love them more than anything I know or can see or feel; only the moon and my grandchildren can take their place now. We are living in a fragile time with our oceans being destroyed so fast; with machinery nothing seems to be sacred any more in this world, but it all is. I am honored to be sitting here at my computer with all these memories and thoughts and I pray that we all find time to bring back the Sacred and Respect for Mother Earth and Creation and we give thanks for all those who have forgotten to be thankful.

One of my best friends and elders crossed over not long ago: Wilmer Nadjiwon was 97 years old, a chief of his people for fourteen years. When we spent time together it was like hearing the legends of the past. Wilmer was a hunter and fisherman, he could feed his family and people and he did. Wilmer went to war for Canada like many other native people when we were at war. Our ancestors are as noble as the old days but wounded and broken from residential school like my uncle Wilmer. As long as I live I will smoke my pipe for Wilmer and my wife because we were happy all together, we did ceremony together, we worked for Mother Earth together and we ate together. We were the truest extended family. Wilmer was an Ojibway hero and leader. We cannot forget our elders! Wilmer was angry but he was gentle like many native people, he was gifted and blessed to be a Sacred Artist carving, writing and painting.

Chief Oren Lyons said our Sacred Pipes belong to the Creator. We pray for all people and give thanks to Creator and Mother Earth for all the gifts from The Great Mystery.

Gone Flying

Cheri Royal of the Siksika Nation is looking forward to her new career as a flight attendant

Cheri Royal of the Siksika Nation is looking forward to her new career as a flight attendant

It was a chance for adventure that made school counselor Cheri Royal decide to change careers and begin training to become a flight attendant.

Prior to this, the Siksika Nation member had been working in the social science field for most of her adult life.

“I was a school counselor, and also had my own class, ran social clubs, coached and tutored elementary and junior high students,” said Royal, a 42 year old single mother. “I have also worked with many children and families by assisting them with supports to better help themselves.”

Royal said the thought of a career change was always in the back of her mind and working for the airline industry was an enticing opportunity.

“I didn’t really consider it until now because my children are all grown up,” said Royal. “Therefore, it gave me the opportunity to pursue it with my kids’ full support. Plus, I needed a change in my life. I needed adventure!”

Royal moved to Vancouver in October of last year to begin her eight month training program and earn a Flight Attendant Diploma with the Canadian Tourism College.

She said the intense training is a compilation of many disciplines: First Aid Level 2, firefighting, self-defense, traveling with a disabled person, leadership skills and food handling, which includes how to serve food properly.

“The most exhilarating part is learning how to prepare for a crash or ditch landing. The thought of this scenario is an adrenaline rush!” said Royal. “You don’t realize the problems an FA (Flight Attendant) has to deal with in all sorts of situations. We are being trained in every area because at 38,000 feet FAs are all the passengers have for help.”

Royal said she is looking forward to the traveling and being an ambassador of the sky.

“I think we need more Natives in the air, whether it be pilots or flight attendants,” said Royal. “It’s a great industry to get into and comes with many benefits.”

Royal discussed her family background and what keeps her grounded. “I am of Blackfoot descent. I come from a close-knit family and I am very blessed to have such an amazing family,” said Royal. “I love my community and the area I grew up in. I enjoyed my time there and became very resilient because of how I was raised. Mom and dad were always traveling, and me being the youngest of five, I was always with them. My dad was a very intelligent, creative, loving, kind and humble man. He had many people that looked up to him and helped anyone in need.  My mother is also very kind and gentle. If not for them and their love and support all my life, I don’t know where I’ll be. I have an older brother that I look up to now, he’s my role model my best friend. He has accomplished so much in his life and sets the bar high for me. The Siksika Nation has shaped me into who I am today. They are my people, my culture, and my identity. I enjoy Vancouver with all its’ possibilities.”

Royal will complete her training this May and is looking forward to her new career travelling the world and helping people enjoy their journey.


Leading by Example Exceeding Personal Expectations

Tanis Flett receiving her Diploma

Tanis Flett receiving her Diploma


Graduating is a major accomplishment and there’s great joy in donning your cap and gown and receiving your parchment. It’s a day when you look back on the challenges you’ve overcome – the late nights studying, driving through storms to get to class, and remembering the people you met along the way and the fun memories you’ve made. For Tanis Flett, a graduate of the Social Work Diploma program in June of 2017, it is also proof that her hard work and determination has set her up for a successful future.

Tanis Flett is a 29 year-old, mother of four who lives in Sucker Creek First Nation with her husband. Flett was a stay-at-home mom for eight years, and when her youngest child started kindergarten she decided it was time to return to school full-time. Flett credits her husband and his support in her success. She chose to study with Northern Lakes College because of accessibility. The High Prairie Campus is only 20 minutes away from where she lives, and it was easy to travel back and forth.

During her studies at Northern Lakes College, Flett was involved with several committees including the Student Union, the Student Association, Academic Council, and the Community Education Committee. Flett appreciates the support, “I had incredible instructors. The people in the Student Association and staff at the College were great. I really appreciate their support. It was a really good four years.”

Flett was very excited and relieved when she made it to graduation day. Graduating alongside her sister, Kim Flett-Letendre was a proud moment. Flett recalled when she was attending a convocation ceremony a few years earlier and watched a Social Work student being called up to receive multiple awards. This was an awe-inspiring moment for her and she set a goal for herself to be that person one day. Her hard work paid off; on her graduation day Flett received three awards, including the Governor General’s Collegiate Bronze Medallion for highest academic achievement. “I hope that my children will see my hard work and effort as an example for themselves to succeed in life. I believe in leading by example. If you work hard, you can achieve anything you want,” she said.

Today, Flett works for the Social Development Department at Sucker Creek First Nation. In her work, Flett continues to aim high and says that her education has given her the skills and tools to handle challenging situations that life has in store.

FNESS Youth Engagement Initiative – Fire Prevention: Be a Firefighter

Participants at Fire Prevention: Be A Firefighter workshop, GOV 2017, Kelowna Fire Department. Kelowna, BC.

Participants at Fire Prevention: Be A Firefighter workshop, GOV 2017, Kelowna Fire Department. Kelowna, BC.


The First Nations Emergency Services Society of BC (FNESS) has the mission as a professional community-minded, highly skilled and committed team, to work with First Nations in promoting, developing and sustaining safer and healthier communities. We believe that our youth are the future of society and that if young people engage in doing something with a purpose, they will build tomorrow’s communities.

FNESS is proud to be involved with youth with the well-established FNESS Youth Engagement Initiative. Every year the FNESS Fire Services department motivates youth to learn about practical fire safety knowledge, firefighter skills and careers in the fire services. Many young people join the Regional FNESS Fire Prevention Youth Boot Camps and the Fire Prevention: Be A Firefighter workshop. The latter is delivered in partnership with Gathering Our Voices Indigenous Youth Leadership Training (GOV).

For the past 2 years FNESS has partnered with schools, school districts, local fire departments, both municipal and First Nations led, to deliver this amazing event to First Nations youth. In 2017 FNESS had the honour to partner with Kelowna Fire Department to participate as facilitators at GOV, where over 100 youth attended and demonstrated their drive and excitement. Also, FNESS partnered with Penticton Indian Band Fire Department, Penticton Fire Department, West Kelowna Fire Department, and School Districts 23 and 67 to host two regional Fire Prevention Youth Boot Camps.

During GOV 2018 FNESS will be attending as an exhibitor at the career fair and as facilitators to deliver the most coveted Fire Prevention: Be A Firefighter workshop. FNESS has partnered with Richmond Fire Rescue to offer the best experience for our First Nations youth participating at the GOV 2018. It is an honour to be able to be part of one the greatest youth initiatives in BC, where thousands of delegates from all First Nations across BC come together to get inspired and motivated through diverse career oriented workshops at the GOV.

This year’s GOV is in Richmond, BC at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel from March 20th to March 23rd. The Fire Prevention: Be A Firefighter workshop will be on March 21st and March 22nd. Make sure you register for our workshop before it’s at capacity. Registrations open in February at

For Danny Beaton, Greenbelt Celebrates Mother Earth

Harold and Ann Boker and Danny in Art Parnel Clover Field Simcoe County Photo Courtesy of J.E.Simpson, 2009

Harold and Ann Boker and Danny in Art Parnel Clover Field Simcoe County Photo Courtesy of J.E.Simpson, 2009

Now in a ponderous and tentative way the Ontario government is engaged in a consultation to expand the Greenbelt into the sacred heartland of Huronania. It is the core of the civilization that produced the prophetic figure, the Peacemaker.

Technocratic words about wetlands, cold temperature water, moraines, acquifers, base flow and the key indicator species, the Brook Trout are the language of the long overdue excercise to expand the Greenbelt. They have little resonance however, compared to those expressed by Danny Beaton’s, passion for Mother Earth.

In contrast to official jargon, Beaton explains that, “under the Nanfan Treaty the Mohawk nation has the Right to water and wood from Six Nations to Georgian Bay as long as the grass grows and the sun shines…therefore as a Mohawk man I have a right to protect our sacred waters, sacred farm land and our spiritual animals.”

Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, took his great stand in the defence of Mother Earth in the campaign to defend the world’s purest source of drinking water. It was located near Elmvale, where the greatest setttlement of the people of the Peacemaker was located.

Beaton has termed The Peacemaker’s World, “The Healing Place.” He finds its “probably one of the most beautiful places that I have been to in my entire life. The waters are everywhere. The forests are everywhere. We pick the
berries.” Here he eats the fish and gathers cedar on a regular basis.

There was a 22 year struggle that sought to protect the world’s cleanest water from becoming a garbage Dump. It was called based on an engineering report, Dump Site 41. Beaton played a major role in stopping the dump from receiving garbage.

Beaton first organized an eight day walk from where Dump Site 41 would be built to Queen’s Park. It was called The Walk for Water. He saw the treck as bringing “attention to the Sacred Waters of the Alliston Aquifer and the tributaries that run into Georgian Bay.”

Following the Walk Water Beaton organized an occupation of the site. It blockaded excavation machines from digging up the Sacred Mother Earth of the Peacemaker’s World.

What made Beaton’s passion so powerful is that he knew how to be arrested with dignity and power. It was a majestic dignity that the Peacemaker’s words of “Peace, Power and Righteousness” resounded from the ancient times from of his ancestors.

Beaton was arrested on the blockade line by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers. At the time of his arrest he was submitting his photographs of the struggle to First Nations Drum and News From Indian Country. At the time he was using an upright log for his desk and sitting on a lawn chair. After being put into handcuffs he was taken to the OPP Midland Detachment Center.

Beaton distinguished himself by refusing to sign a release form. By doing so he would have pledged never to enter the dump site again. He later explained how, “I felt some one had to show the world that this was all crazy”.

Beaton told the Justice of the Peace at his trial that “somebody had to stop the rape of Mother Earth.” At this point, he later recalled, “I felt like crying because of all the chaos that was happening but no justice for Mother Earth.”

In refusing to sign the form Beaton’s words were simple but eloquent. He told reporters, “Who Will Speak to the Water.” These were his last words to the press before spending three days in prison, before his bail hearing.

Beaton’s words of the need to speak for the water came at the right time to stop Dump Site 41. This is because when he went to prison the nonviolent struggle of peaceful resistance to save the world’s purest water had taken on the form of a great scientific experiment. It exposed the lies of the engineering professionals that had been used to deceive the voting public of Simcoe County.

When the resisters held the line against the bulldozers the water that flowed out of the Dump Site 41 site remained pure. As soon as the blockade was breached by the force of the OPP the water that flowed out became dirty.

The stain on the water became a dirty mark upon the politicians who backed Dump Site 41. If so much damage could be caused by simply digging a pit, what people reasoned, would be caused by dumping garbage into it?

During Beaton’s three days in prison, where his biggest complaint was the impurity of the water, an outraged public opinion caused everything to change. Incensed citizens mobilized and phoned their councilors, denouncing them for believing the lies of the engineers.

When Beaton arrived in the Barrie Simcoe County court house, everything had changed. He was released in the knowledge that work on Dump Site 41 had been halted.

The excavations were healed by restorative work. Eventually easements were put on the land by the Ontario Farmland Trust, to ensure that this prime Class One soil would remain in agricultural use forever.

Beaton a few years later came to the rescue to another threat to the cold pure waters that feed the cold water trout streams that flow into lower Georgian Bay. This new threat was termed the Dufferin County mega quarry.

Danny at surface springs in Tiny Township courtesy of Sharon Weatherall, May 2009

Danny at surface springs in Tiny Township courtesy of Sharon Weatherall, May 2009

Much like Dump Site 41 before Beaton’s involvement, opponents of a mega mile quarry on Canada’s best potato growing land had been getting nowhere. Farm houses and buildings were burned down. Their debris clogged local dumps. Forests were clear cut in violation of tree protection by laws. Fence rows were ripped up.

Beaton met with the organizers of opposition in a corporate law office on Bay Street. He told them, literally, to “Take a Hike.”

By suggesting they take a hike Beaton meant they should follow the example the stopped Dump Site 41. He called for a procession from Queen’s Park, the seat of political power which could kill the Mega Quarry, to the site of the proposed giant pit. The march was held and captured the publics imagination. This sparked by death of the scheme through the unusual imposition of an Environmental Assessment.

After the end of the five day trek Beaton and I were led by one of the organizers Smiling Yogi to a place where he promised we would appreciated what the hike was all about. He took us to one of the magnificent cold water streams of Huronia.

Yogi took us to a White Cedar Brook Trout stream which is an important tributary for the cold water Nottawasaga River flowing into Georgian Bay. Here Brook Trout leaped through its sparkling fast running waters, laced with riffles,
runs and pools. It was lined with verdant green watercress.

Beaton is now focused on protecting the Nottawasaga River and the Minesing Wetlands from the polluted storm water that is set to flow from urban expansion in Midhurst. His passion for Mother Earth gives substance to the call of the public consultation document for the expansion of the Greenbelt in Huronia called appropriately, “Protecting Water.” The document exposes how urban sprawl is a threat to the wetlands and trout streams that nourish Georgian Bay. But he expresses it was t through the wisdom of native people who see sacred waters as Mother Earth’s blood.

Chiefs Council Launches GoFundMe Campaign to Quash Oil Tanker Moratorium Act and Great Bear Rainforest

LAX KW’ALAAMS, BC, January 24, 2018 – The Chiefs Council represents over 30 communities engaged in the First Nations-led Eagle Spirit energy corridor proposed from Bruderheim, Alberta to tidewater in northern British Columbia. Its members have unextinguished Aboriginal rights and title from time immemorial and continuing into the present, or have treaties over the land and ocean of their traditional territories. Having protected the environment as first-stewards of their traditional territories for millennia, the Chief’s Council is vehemently opposed to American ENGOs dictating government policy in their traditional territories—particularly the illegal imposition of the Great Bear Rainforest and the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act proposed by the liberal government.

Today the Chiefs Council wishes to announce that it has set up a GoFundMe page to assist with legal and administrative costs needed to quash the Government’s unilaterally imposed Oil Tanker Moratorium Act and the Great Bear Rainforest—both of which were established largely through the lobbying of foreign-financed ENGOs and without the consultation and consent of First Nations as required by the Constitution. We have and will always, put the protection of the environment first, but this must be holistically balanced with social welfare, employment, and business opportunities. These government actions harm our communities denying our leaders the opportunity to create a brighter future for their members.

The Chiefs Council understood that liberal government was supposed to be supporting reconciliation–not perpetuating past failed colonial policies designed subjugate and marginalize indigenous peoples. It is a sad comment that this action is required to taken by Canada’s poorest people against a federal justice department with an indigenous minister. When the federal government possesses unlimited financial resources, such heavy-handed unilateral action clearly is not consistent with the Crown’s fiduciary duty to Aboriginal peoples.

The Mountain Money (Op-Ed)

Hannah’s a freelance writer who writes for First Nations Drum. The story you’re about to read is her perspective on a distribution of $3,500 she received as a member of the Siksika First Nation. On March 15, 2016, Siksika Nation members voted in favour of a $123 million deal that saw them give up claims to the Castle Mountain area in Banff National Park.

The distribution was for financial compensation for the Castle Mountain, located in the heart of the Banff Provincial National Park.The financial settlement was meant to compensate Siksika for illegal use of the 70-sq.-km land granted to them in 1892.

The Crown allowed timber sales and other transactions to continue on the land without compensation to the nation, and in 1908 the land was returned to the Canadian government without consent.

The Castle Mountain was granted to the Siksika Nation in 1892 by the federal government, then returned to the government without Siksika's consent in 1908

The Castle Mountain was granted to the Siksika Nation in 1892 by the federal government, then returned to the government without Siksika’s consent in 1908

I didn’t want the money, but the yes vote won. I voted no. I made a point to, too, because I knew most of the votes would be yes. They told us if we voted yes that we’d get 3500 bucks, and that this big, thick document would be approved. I didn’t read it. I went off of what I heard about it from my Dad, who read some of it. He didn’t like it, and he has a good mind about these kinda’ things. I mean, he grew up on the rez. So, with a blind trust in his thoughts, coupled with a suspicion as to why the government felt it necessary to make amendments to a document that gave Siksika rights to this spot of land with this super sweet mountain on it, I voted no. But, the yes vote won by a landslide – I think only 20 percent voted no. Or so I heard. So, I went to pick the money up. I biked cuz it was sunny out. When I got there, I was at the wrong building, so I hadta’ bike a dangerous route to the actual building, across Barlow trail (a busy road), up a grassy hill to 16th Avenue (another busy road), and then along its median strip. It was kinda’ elaborate, come to think of it, but I made it to the place on time,
and I got the damn cheque. It felt gross, picking it up, having it in my hands. I crumpled it up and stuffed it in my pocket, loosely. If it falls out, it falls out, I thought to myself. I got back to my bike, and, instead of going back the elaborate route, I just took the long way home. It rained most of the way – just poured. It was late in the summer, so it wasn’t cold or nothin’, but I thought it was weird, y’know, right after I picked up that damn cheque. Anyways, unfortunately the cheque didn’t fall outta’ my pocket, so I went to put the damn money in the bank. I wanted to get it done and over with. But the teller was suspicious of its authenticity, so he told me it would take a week to be approved. I ended up going in the next day to speak with the manager about it, and he said that that shouldn’t have happened and lifted the hold on the cheque. I mean, it was a government cheque in my name after all. I suspect the initial teller was being weary of my last name, but who knows. Anyways. I spent the money on a damage deposit and first months rent for an apartment that, after a year and a half of living in, I had to move out of abruptly after being unable to pay rent. I didn’t get that damage deposit back. A few months before that, I let a good friend of mine move in. We ended up not getting along all too well, and had some fights, and then a really big fight, and now we aren’t friends anymore. That place was a bad vibe place. Anyways, I also spent the money on some whiskey. The first and only time I drank it, I really made a fool of myself. I went to this party, sporting some heels I’d bought with the money, and mixing those with that whiskey, I slipped – hard – hit my head on a door, and woke up in the host of the parties bed. I was fine, but had a large goose bump, and had lost my cool. I haven’t talked to the girl that threw that party since. I kept that whiskey in my cupboard, which was a terrible idea. I should have just poured it down the sink then and there, but I didn’t. This had its consequence. One night, my sister stayed at my place so she could use my laptop to do some work. I wasn’t there, but she had the key, so it was all well and good. But, she found the whiskey, and, well, she drank some, n’ I reckon she got good and drunk, cuz she spilt a good sum of it on my laptop. It seeped into the cracks of the keyboard, frying my hard drive, instantly erasing my library of hundreds of films and thousands upon thousands of songs. It took years to compile that library, and that damn whiskey just wiped it all away. It was a major loss. The money also got me a pair of jeans, which ripped the first time I wore ‘em, and a bunch of other frivolous things. I was superstitious of having any of it, y’know, just real weary of it all. Anything I bought with that money was no good. It was blood money, I tell ya’. I remember my Dad saying that a lotta’ people on the rez died after getting that distribution, in strange ways, too. I mean, it may be superstitious to think the money had anything to do with it, but considering some of the things that happened to me, it really musta’. I can imagine that if I was in the state-of-mind to have bought more whiskey with that money, I’d have had some real bad luck. And I bet some people did have some real bad luck with that money. Be it the intentions they had when they used it, the things they bought with it, or the reason they voted the way they did, the bad luck came out of somewhere. It did for me, anyways, I just shouldn’t of spent that money on anything. I regret it. Around Christmas time of the same year, I dropped everything I bought off at a homeless shelter. It felt good – but… stale. I shoulda’ just donated the money to charity in the first place. But, that’s how it happened. The only thing I still have that I bought with the money is a record player, speakers, and some vinyl. I suspect something will happen to that stuff, but,
nothing so far.