In the wake of immense grief, Lisa Luscombe decided life was too short not to pursue her passion project — founding an Indigenous boutique.
“My hobbies have always been fashion, bath and beauty, gifts and home decor,” said Luscombe, who is Kwakwaka’wakw, Cree and Métis.
“I decided to open a boutique with all those things because that’s what I like to do as a hobby. It’s my passion.”
Fireweeds Boutique opened in kiʔlawnaʔ (Kelowna) in syilx homelands in the fall of 2022. Several months after opening, the shop has become a fixture, adding some Indigenous representation to the many downtown gift shops.
As an Indigenous woman selling Indigenous brands and merchandise, she added that it’s important for her to visibly identify her business as Indigenous-owned.
“Local non-Indigenous business owners have been really welcoming when I opened my store, coming in and giving me advice,” Luscome said. “Just getting that advice really helps me, especially coming from a background with no retail and not being a business owner.”
Entering the space, shoppers are greeted by the aroma of sage candles and body oils, as well as an array of home decor and t-shirts featuring slogans like “Big Auntie Energy” or “Decolonial Baddie.” For Luscombe, the store has been a long-held dream.
Before starting her business, Luscombe had been living in her homelands in Kwakwaka’wakw territory for 25-plus years, where she worked at the provincial level helping to deliver social programming, education, employment and workforce-industry-relations training to Indigenous communities.
But with both her husband and her dad passing away within the last two-and-a-half years, she and her daughter decided it was time for a change.
“After losing my husband, it was stressful to go back to my day job,” she said.
“You’re on the road doing this and that — I couldn’t go back to that. I couldn’t do it anymore after all that. I like helping people, but after my husband passed away, it was something that I couldn’t do anymore.”
So in March 2022, she and her daughter made the move to kiʔlawnaʔ. Instead of returning to her old line of work, she applied for a business loan and quickly began developing a business plan.
“We wanted a fresh start where we could meet new people,” Luscombe said.
Just a few months later, after painstaking planning and fulfilling the logistics of starting a business, Luscombe launched the Fireweeds Boutique storefront in the heart of downtown kiʔlawnaʔ. She credited her past experience in working to deliver Indigenous programming as a key factor in helping to bring her business to life.
“If I didn’t have any of that experience, I think trying to start a business would be way more difficult,” she said.
Merchandise by The Rez Life brand is on display for sale at Fireweeds Boutique. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Supporting Indigenous brands
The store is home to a plethora of clothing, home decor, bath and beauty, and self-care items produced by more than a dozen Indigenous-owned brands found across the continent. They include Decolonial Clothing, The Rez Life, Prados Beauty, Standing Spruce, Crowfoot Collective and more.
Working with and supporting Indigenous brands from all over, she said, is the most fun part of the job.
“When I moved into the space, I thought that the biggest issue for me was going to be, ‘How am I going to fill this space?’” she said. “But now, fast-forward five months later, now I’m like, ‘I need more space.’”
Body oils and other self-care products line the shelf at Fireweeds Boutique. Photo by Aaron Hemens
She’s also keen on supporting local non-profits, which includes a recent collaboration with Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society to help sell articles of clothing at her store that were produced by Indigenous Youth for the society’s own shop.
“It gives me the opportunity to educate people on anti-bullying day. But not just anti-bullying day, but supporting KFS Youth too,” she said.
Similarly, she’s had discussions with the HOPE Outreach program to sell bracelets made by people experiencing homelessness at her store.
“It educates local downtown Kelowna people who are privileged that unhoused people are human, they made these beautiful bracelets — support them and this initiative,” she said.
Learning through shopping
Educating shoppers — particularly non-Indigenous locals and tourists — has been a regular part of the job. But as an Indigenous woman, it’s something she’s been dealing with her whole life, no matter the setting, she said.
“Everybody still thinks that Indigenous businesses only sell artwork — like a gallery or totem poles. They’re looking for art,” she said. “Indigenous people do make candles, they do make pretty things and gifts.”
A variety of candles by Crowfoot Collective are sold at Fireweeds Boutique. Photo by Aaron Hemens
She’s fielded questions about the store’s name, her decision to open downtown rather than on a reserve, and even her own Indigeneity.
“It can be exhausting at times. But with my background and the work I used to do with helping communities, I’m more patient.”
At the same time, she’s constantly met with praise by Indigenous people walking by the store, who she said are happy to see Indigenous-owned brands sold by an Indigenous-operated shop in the downtown sphere.
“They’re really happy that I have mannequins that are dressed in Indigenous clothing and are visible,” she said.
“One UBCO student told me that it’s like a political statement just being visible downtown, being Indigenous owned and operated.”
Fireweeds Boutique sells a number of different merchandise by The Rez Life. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Luscombe is still learning the ropes of running a business on her own as she goes along. And despite the stresses that may come with it, she’s happy to find herself in this new life as a business owner — a job that she doesn’t describe as work.
“If you had told me even five years ago that I would be downtown Kelowna with a boutique, I wouldn’t believe you,” she said. “I look around and I’m like, ‘Woah, this is my life now.’”
She said that the main thing that keeps her motivated in her newfound career is her daughter, and the prospect that she can hand the business off to her in the future.
“I’m getting older. Someday I’m going to have grandkids,” she said. “So trying to set up the business so that I don’t just benefit from it — but my daughter and her kids; having something for them too.”
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Stó:lō confirms 158 children’s deaths at four institutions as investigation reveals rampant neglect, abuse
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains graphic details about residential “schools” that many will find distressing or triggering. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
After confirming the deaths of 158 Indigenous children at four government and church-run institutions in the “Fraser Valley,” researchers with Stó:lō Nation say they want to find the individuals who were responsible.
Following a two-year investigation, questions still remain about how many more children lost their lives while in forced custody — and about the adults responsible for their care — at the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, Coqualeetza Industrial Institute, All Hallows School or Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.
However, the team from Stó:lō says both Oblates of Mary Immaculate and “Canada” have blocked access to records which could help their efforts to identify what actions, or inactions, led to children’s deaths and who perpetrated the horrific abuses detailed by survivors.
“What we learned from speaking with only a handful of survivors is devastatingly traumatic and sad,” said David Schaepe, an archaeologist for Stó:lō who is leading the research project, on Thursday.
“Who perpetrated these atrocities? This is one of our core questions and remains a focus of our ongoing work.”
Research lead David Schaepe, left, and Chief David Jimmie (Lenéx wí:ót) present their findings in community on Sept. 21. Photo by Cara McKenna
Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh
On Thursday afternoon, Schaepe, along with another researcher and two Stó:lō chiefs, sat under a large tent beside the former St. Mary’s Residential School.
Located on the Stó:lō village site of Pekw’Xe:yles, where missionaries descended after the community was decimated by smallpox, the red brick building now looms over the lush greenery of the land.
The former institution, now utilized as a preschool, was the longest-running residential “school” in the province and only closed its doors in 1984 after 121 total years of operation, having moved twice during that time.
It still holds many dark memories for survivors and unknowns for families of those who didn’t make it home.
The Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council (SNCC) launched the Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children) project in 2021 to try to find answers about the children who went missing from St. Mary’s and three other institutions that operated within their unceded territories.
The announcement this week represented the results of the first phase of their investigation and was delivered to survivors, their families, media and other guests.
Chief David Jimmie (Lenéx wí:ót), president of the SNCC, began by acknowledging the strength, resilience and perseverance of the survivors in attendance before handing the floor to the researchers who detailed the various aspects of their work.
“Our sharing of this work is necessary to support the healing of our survivors and our families to overcome the multi-generational traumas resulting from the residential school experience,” Jimmie said.
“We’re also sharing our knowledge for the education of our communities and society at large, who need to understand what our survivors have understood for so long.”
Jimmie explained that the research project was launched by SNCC after hearing the news about evidence of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) and has involved various community partners.
The methodology of the work has included poring through thousands of records, utilizing ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and LiDAR scanning, genealogy research and recording oral histories from survivors.
“We know our children lost their lives, and these institutions were to blame,” Jimmie said.
“We are working to account for our people: who they are, where they died and where they were buried. But the foundation question is why did this happen, and that question we put back to the governments, the churches, and the non-Indigenous society at large to answer and to account for their actions.”
Cutouts of orange shirts are taped on the windows of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, now utilized as a preschool. Photo by Cara McKenna
Researchers share horrific details
While ground scans have been part of the research thus far, only a small fraction of the grounds — between two and four per cent — have actually been searched, and so the team is not relying on this method but rather utilizing it as a contribution to a wider scope of work.
Jimmie said the team has worked on identifying any places where children may have been put to rest, including marked burial sites and investigating potential unmarked burial sites.
“We can also confirm having identified numerous potential unmarked burials including secretive burials, at least at the St. Mary’s old school grounds,” he said.
“It is too premature in our work, and distracting to our efforts, to focus on the numbers of potential unmarked burials.”
Amber Kostuchenko, the project manager for Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh, outlined the number of children’s deaths that she said have been confirmed as part of the project.
“We’ve received about half of the 70,000 relevant documents that we need to answer our questions,” she said.
“These records came from 27 different archives that were located in 47 different physical locations across Canada. Of those 35,000 documents we’ve only reviewed a small portion to date. Even so, we’ve already received detailed information about children who died.”
Kostuchenko said Stó:lō’s research has so far concluded a total of 158 children’s deaths, with the majority from illnesses. Children were known to have gotten sick with, and died from, tuberculosis and other diseases at high rates in residential “schools” because of poor sanitary conditions, overcrowding, malnourishment and general neglect from the adults supervising them.
“We have carefully and rigorously analyzed the information we’ve gathered and we are confident in sharing numbers about the children who died while at these institutions,” Kostuchenko said.
At All Hallows School, she said, there were five deaths of girls who were reported to have died because of an illness. At the Coqualeetza residential “school,” the team has so far identified with certainty that 37 children died at, or because of their attendance — with 25 reported to have died from illness and three from injuries recorded as “accidents.” The remaining nine have unknown causes of death.
“One child died because they were jumped on by another student, another child was reported to have hit their head against the bed under unknown circumstances,” said Kostuchenko, who was visibly shaken and paused to take a sip of water. “Another was reported to have broken their spine while jumping rope.”
At St. Mary’s, the team confirmed 20 “students” who died, with the youngest child being seven years old and the oldest being 18. Most were reported to have died from illness, while the remaining three had unknown causes of death.
“Lastly, I want to talk about Coqualeetza Indian Hospital,” she said. “Through our work of historical documents, we’ve so far identified, with certainty, 96 children who died at the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.”
Of that, 79 were reported to have died from tuberculosis while seven were reported to have passed from a different illness such as pneumonia or cardiac arrest during surgeries. The remaining 10 have unknown causes of death, she said.
Schaepe said survivors shared many atrocities of their experiences at the four institutions, and as he shared some of the testimony, people in the audience were visibly rattled, and some cried, including one woman who loudly sobbed upon hearing the upsetting details.
“We heard cases of children being killed, we heard of the secretive burial of children who died and the forced burial of children by other children,” Schaepe said.
“We learned of the secretive burial of babies. We were told that the St. Mary’s old school was characterized as a place of punishment and starvation, and the new school as a place of pedophilia.”
Children were exposed to disease, exploited for child labour and starved while they were institutionalized, and Schaepe’s voice shook as he spoke of children “having to choose between eating green, spoiled bologna or not eating at all.”
He then spoke of “rampant” sexual abuse that also took place at St. Mary’s — something that partially came to light in 2004 when former boys’ dormitory supervisor Gerald Moran was convicted of 12 counts of sexual abuse for offenses that took place about 40 years earlier.
“We heard of terrible implications that need further work to further understand,” Schaepe explained, “including a story of firemen responding to a fire at the old St. Mary’s girls’ dormitory and finding the remains of fetuses in the walls and, as is being told in experiences in other institutions, that furnaces were used for cremation purposes.”
A memorial house post by Terry Horne stands outside of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School. Photo by Cara McKenna
OMI claim to have no documents: researcher
Jimmie said the team wants to know more about the operations of the institutions and has been seeking out information but has been blocked from accessing certain records.
Some of the documents so far received — which are still being analyzed — have come from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Royal BC Museum, provincial archives, the United Church and the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a Catholic order of missionary priests, operated the St. Mary’s “school” and more than 50 others across the country.
“When we’ve had direct conversations with their chief administrative officer, they claim they no longer have any documents relevant to our work,” Jimmie said.
“They also have not been willing to facilitate direct conversations with the oblate fathers who may have direct knowledge of the operations of St. Mary’s.”
Jimmie said this lack of support from OMI has been contrary to public announcements about wanting to support survivors and their communities, and called on them to reach out to establish a direct relationship.
Shaepe said continually being redirected by OMI brings up questions about which documents and other information they do have in their custody.
“And why would they make a decision about documents that they would hold in their administrative archives and their administrative files that may be of interest to us?” he asked.
“But they’re not providing us access to even review. I think one of the things OMI needs to do is sit down with us and give us access to what records they actually have so we can determine for ourselves.”
A written statement from Ken Thorson from OMI Lacombe Canada to IndigiNews said the order was “deeply saddened” by the news from Stó:lō and expressed regret for the oblates’ role.
He said “any relevant records” from St. Mary’s “would be housed at the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Archives Deschâtelets in Richelieu.”
“We have an ongoing working relationship with both facilities and have provided them with funding to support their responses to requests from Indigenous researchers,” he said.
“It is my understanding that RBCM has been in contact with Stó:lō Nation directly to initiate the process of sharing digital records with them.”
Further, Thorson said, there is only one living oblate remaining who worked at St. Mary’s.
“We have not received any meeting requests on his behalf and he would not likely be capable of accepting such a request due to his advanced health situation,” he said.
However, Schaepe insisted that there must be knowledge that was transferred within the OMI order that is relevant to their work.
“There’s no living connection to the operation of the St. Mary’s grounds, whether it was the old grounds or the new grounds?” he asked.
“I think that’s another thing that they need to come forward and talk to us about. … At this point, they’ve not provided any connection to anybody, that history that knowledge basis should be, you know, a foundation for us gaining some additional information.”
A woman raises her hands to drummers who opened and closed the announcement on Sept. 21. Photo by Cara McKenna
Federal records also inaccessible
Meanwhile, Kostuchenko said she previously worked for the federal government doing residential “school” research, supporting settlement claims, but now cannot access these same archives.
“In my 14 years there I was one of hundreds of dedicated researchers who created a database that ultimately contained more than one million individual documents about these types of institutions all across Canada,” she said.
“These documents came from the Department of Indian Affairs files, from other federal departments, but also all of the religious organizations that were involved in running these institutions.”
Kostuchenko said this research involved noting “students” and staff members by name and recording information about child illnesses, deaths and sometimes abuse. She said having direct access to this archive would “vastly expedite” the team’s research, however they haven’t been able to.
IndigiNews reached out to the federal government for comment but did not receive a response before publication time.
Stó:lō Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the work is only the beginning, as researchers expect to continue the project for years to come. Photo by Cara McKenna
‘There was no accountability. None. There was no justice.’
Stó:lō Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the research, which is just at the very beginning, represents “a journey to confirming the truth that we carry in our DNA.”
“Our people are carrying incredible pain that was inflicted upon them by removal from their home, from their parents, their grandparents, their families, and being placed in residential schools,” he said.
“Where there was no oversight to keep those children safe. Where there was no oversight to ensure they were provided adequate food, warmth, shelter.”
He added that “there was no accountability. None. There was no justice.”
Cyril Pierre of Katzie First Nation, a survivor of St. Mary’s, said he feels that the preliminary results validate the experience he and others went through in residential “schools.”
“The hurt and pain the generations have faced is now coming to the surface, and this is a part of the truth that Canada must face,” he said in a statement.
“This is our truth. There is now justice for the Elders that have passed and the little baby ancestors that have been found. We are now able to properly give the babies that were found a send off in our sacred ways.
“This is just the beginning of our process; we are far from a full pledge to healing as so many have been hurt. But this is the first step. A step into strengthening our relationships and building a better world for our future generations.”
Support for survivors and their families is available. Call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, 1-866-925-4419 for the 24-7 crisis line. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society also offers 24-7 support at 250-723-4050 for adults, 250-723-2040 for youth, or toll free at 1-800-588-8717.
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In photos: Dozens rally at B.C. Legislature to demand ‘Winnipeg’ landfill search
Content warning: This story contains details about “Canada’s” genocidal epidemic of MMIWG2S+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
Dozens of people gathered at the B.C. Legislature on Monday as part of a country-wide day of action calling for a search of a “Winnipeg” landfill and other facilities across the country where MMIWG2S+ could be located.
The event in “Victoria” was one of numerous rallies held across “Canada” on Sept. 18 as part of a newly-declared Day of Action to Search the Landfills.
Though the current push is to have the “Manitoba” government support a search of the Prairie Green landfill — where the bodies of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be located — there are also calls to search the Brady Road landfill and any others that may contain the remains of missing Indigenous people given the extent of the MMIWG2S+ crisis.
At the events, people gathered in support of the families of Harris and Myran, who are believed to have been slain by a serial killer and left at the Prairie Green landfill north of “Winnipeg.”
“Indigenous women make up an alarming amount of homicides that are committed across Turtle Island,” said Wuskwi Sipihk woman Brandy Quill at the rally at the B.C. Legislature. “This lack of response from the government is continuing the cycle.”
Last month, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said her government would not search the Prairie Green landfill, citing safety reasons because of toxic chemicals that could harm workers.
“They said it is unsafe [to search the landfill] due to toxic waste,” said Tsartlip woman Priscilla Omulo, who organized the rally at the B.C. Legislature. “Well, I would like to say that the harmful and fatal toxic waste is anti-Indigenous racism, and that’s the foundation of the injustice of the MMIWG2S and their families.”
Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murders of Harris, 39, and Myran, 26, and two other Indigenous women — Rebecca Contois, a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and an unidentified woman who Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe “Buffalo Woman.” Skibicki’s trial is scheduled for next year.
MMIWG2S+ advocate Monique May, who is an organizer with the annual Stolen Sisters Memorial March, said landfills have been searched for bodies in the past.
“I can list the landfills in Canada that have been searched,” she said. “The only difference between those searches and what’s happening in Winnipeg is the colour of skin.”
Dealing with political leaders and the bureaucratic process of recovering the Indigenous women has been tiring for the families who are mourning their relatives. “Give us those hazmat suits, and we will train ourselves if you will not retrieve our women, because I am sick of words,” said Morgan Harris’s daughter, Cambria Harris, last month.
Harris met with federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree yesterday but walked out of the meeting, saying she felt disrespected and retraumatized when officials questioned the feasibility of the search. She expressed her view that political leaders aren’t taking the crisis seriously.
Dakota, a Cree, Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Youth, and their stepfather Alex McCallum-Taylor, a Kwakwa̲ka̲’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth artist, performer, and cook, joined the rally at the B.C. Legislature on Sept. 18.
“It is time for action,” said May. “We need to come together. Genocide is happening on our land. We are losing people every day. No family should have to go to a landfill to pay respects to their loved ones. That is cruel and inhumane. Let’s bring our sisters home.”
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Ahead of Orange Shirt Day, WLFN powwow dancers don orange regalia as ‘symbol of resilience’
Ahead of Orange Shirt Day, dancers at a Williams Lake powwow donned orange regalia to honour all the Indigenous children and families who have been impacted by residential “schools.”
The Orange Regalia Special took place as part of the second annual Speaking Our Truth Competition Pow Wow, which was hosted by Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) in T’exelc from Sept. 8 to 10.
The special was introduced in the powwow’s inaugural year in 2022 alongside various other dance categories for all ages.
Addressing the crowd on the powwow’s second day, emcee Stan Isadore praised the group of dancers and their regalia.
“This colour that you see on the floor is a colour that is being honoured and represented as a symbol of resilience and a symbol of strength,” said Isadore.
“There are so many beautiful things that they will never take away from us, they can never take away from us.”
Dancers of all ages participated in the Orange Regalia special. Photo by Dionne Phillips
Orange Shirt Day — also recognized as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — takes place each year on Sept. 30.
It began after Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her story of her new orange shirt being taken from her on her first day of residential “school” in the early 1970s. The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization that started in Williams Lake in Secwépemc Territory.
It’s through Webstad’s story that Orange Shirt Day came to be, taking place in September because it was around the time of year when children would historically be taken from their families and forced to attend residential “school.”
Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars dances before the contest portion of the Orange Regalia special. Photo by Dionne Phillips
The Orange Regalia Special began with a solo dance from WLFN Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars, as a drum beat pounded through the arbour, before the floor was opened to the rest of the dancers.
The group of about 30 dancers represented all ages — from young children in the Tiny Tot categories to Elders in the Golden Age categories. Various styles of dance were represented through this special as they all moved through the arbour during two songs.
From the larger group, the judges then picked the top six to continue dancing for the second song with one winner being chosen at the end of the two songs.
“And it’s evident here today, brothers and sisters, it’s evident here on the floor, you see all orange, you see the First Nations people with their language, their culture and every colour and design that they’re wearing is a story that stays with them for time immemorial,” Isadore said as applause filled the arbour for the dancers.
Isadore praised the dancers and their regalia as he told the crowd to witness, “the powerful colour of orange being honoured by powerful First Nations people.”
“We’re still here and we’re going to be here for many, many years to come,” Isadore said.
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