CONTENT WARNING: This story includes content regarding “Canada’s” ongoing genocidal epidemic of MMIWG+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
The families of Chelsea Poorman, Noelle O’Soup and Tatyanna Harrison are speaking out against the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) — saying officers have repeatedly failed them during investigations into their loved ones’ cases.
Speaking at a rally outside of the VPD building on Graveley Street during a snowy day in “Vancouver” on Monday, each relative took turns speaking to supporters about their experiences with the department while police staff stayed in the building.
The rally was held in partnership with the advocacy group Butterflies in Spirit as a call to justice for the loved ones lost in the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG+) in “Canada.”
The families of Chelsea, Noelle and Tatyanna said there has been inaction in each of their relatives’ investigations — saying they haven’t received regular updates and some were not reached out to at all after reporting their loved one missing.
Paige Kiernan, Chelsea Poorman’s younger sister, said even though she was one of the last people who saw Chelsea, she had to call the police herself to provide a statement.
“They failed my sister completely,” she said.
“They haven’t given us any closure, any answers. Anything we ask, it’s just redirected and not answered. They said that they continue to investigate but I don’t see it. So, how can I believe it? They’ve given us nothing.”
Sheila Poorman, Chelsea’s mother, spoke about how “Vancouver” is an unfamiliar city to her and she didn’t know where to go for help. Holding back tears, Sheila spoke about the search for her missing daughter.
Sheila Poorman, Chelsea Poorman’s mother, speaks at a rally on Monday alongside her daughters Paige Kiernan and Diamond Poorman. Photo by Amei-lee Laboucan
“It’s hard for families to go through something like this, especially in a city that they don’t know. We felt alone, it was frustrating. We didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to turn to,” said Sheila.
“The first few nights, I was out there by myself with her picture, asking people if they had seen her or if they know her.”
Natasha Harrison, the mother of Tatyanna Harrison, said she also had to take the initiative to investigate her own daughter’s disappearance while the VPD, Surrey RCMP and Richmond police all played jurisdictional hot potato.
She said despite proof that Tatyanna was living in a shelter in “Vancouver,” the VPD sent the missing person file to Surrey RCMP and the VPD failed to identify her body for three months because she was found in “Richmond”.
Harrison and Noelle O’Soup’s uncle Cody Munch both stated they only received toxicology reports from the VPD after announcing Monday’s rally would take place.
“We got an update of a toxicology report last year, and they just did one not too long ago, within the last week, and it feels like they’re just doing it to save face. To say ‘Oh, we’re doing something,’ when really they’re not doing anything to help,” said Cody.
Josie August, another relative of Noelle, also spoke at the rally about how bureaucratic red tape and jurisdiction contributed to the disappearance and murder of Noelle — saying that Noelle could have been helped if institutions worked together.
“There should be no jurisdiction, [the police departments] should be working hand in hand. Had they all worked with the Coquitlam RCMP and VPD maybe she would have been found sooner,” said Josie.
“I think it’s time the VPD stop hiding in their offices and be on the streets looking for our women.”
Cody went on to say how the legacy of child apprehension and the systemic oppression of colonialism has affected his family. Noelle was a youth “in care” when they went missing.
“I remember growing up as a kid, you get told you live in a free country. As a kid, you believe these things, as you get older, you start to realize, this isn’t a free country, it’s stolen,” said Cody.
“Experiencing everything firsthand — the ripple effect of residential schools, day schools, the 60s Scoop, and now the foster system. It’s still happening today,” he said.
A continuing crisis
There has been a national inquiry and provincial inquiry into the crisis of MMIWG+, however, families say there has been little accountability from the VPD. The family of Kwemcxenalqs Manuel-Gottfriedson has also spoken out about their negative experiences with the VPD after their loved one went missing — saying there is a lack of cultural safety, among other critiques, that led them to release a list of their own recommendations for the department.
In 2012, Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was released to the public which contextualized the crisis of missing women from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of “Vancouver.” The report was ordered by the “B.C.” government in response to the institutional mishandling of the Robert Pickton case.
In 2019, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released.
Both reports acknowledge that Indigenous women are more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women and that they are hypersexualized and failed by “Canada’s” criminal justice system. Both reports also recognize the specific vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls because of systemic oppression and ongoing colonialism.
“The over-representation of Aboriginal women … who disappeared from the DTES must be understood within the larger context of the legacy of colonialism in Canada,” wrote commissioner Wally Oppal in the “Forsaken” report.
“I use the term colonialism as a global descriptor for the historically unjust relationship between Aboriginal peoples and successive governments in Canada. Under the policy of assimilation, government policies purposely targeted Aboriginal women.”
The National Inquiry’s report goes further, saying: “Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, has become embedded in everyday life.”
“The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issues. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls finds that this amounts to genocide.”
Both reports give recommendations on police accountability including around training, meaningful consultation and effective ways of communicating when someone goes missing. Among the host of recommendations the National Inquiry released towards police, it specifically recommended improving communication between officers and families of MMIWG+ and for police to build better relationships with Indigenous people in general.
The “Forsaken” report made recommendations around privacy and jurisdiction regarding a missing person’s case so it doesn’t get caught up in bureaucratic red tape.
Similarly, the National Inquiry recommended “improv[ing] coordination across government departments and between jurisdictions and Indigenous communities and police services” as well as standardizing response times with regular audits.
Natasha Harrison, mother of Tatyanna Harrison, held back tears at the rally while speaking about her only child. Natasha shared that she was a young mother and her and Tatyanna grew up together, failed together, and matured together. Photo by Amei-lee Laboucan
‘I will stand here until my last breath’
Noelle O’Soup went missing in May 2021, according to a press release from the Coquitlam RCMP, and was found dead May 2022 in an apartment in “Vancouver.”
Chelsea Poorman was reported missing by her mother Sheila on September 8, 2020, and was last seen by her younger sister Paige the day before. A missing persons notice went out on September 18, 2020. Chelsea’s body was found in April 2022 by a construction worker outside a vacant house in Shaughnessy, an affluent neighbourhood in “Vancouver,” according to a VPD press release. The police said Chelsea Poorman’s death is not considered suspicious, which her family disputes.
Meanwhile, Tatyanna Harrison was reported missing by her mother Natasha on May 3, 2022. On May 2, Tatyanna’s body was found on a “Richmond” yacht, said her mother at the rally, but the body wasn’t confirmed to be hers until August 5.
At the rally on Monday, all of the relatives spoke about the systemic crisis of MMIWG+ who have gone missing and later found to be dead in “Canada” and notoriously on the DTES.
In an emotional plea to the VPD, while holding back tears, Natasha Harrison said she can’t carry on knowing that other families of MMIWG+ might not get the help they need.
“None of us want to be here, but we have to be here because I can’t carry on my life knowing how you [the VPD] treat people. I can’t go on with my life knowing there’s another mother screaming at the top of her lungs to get you to help her baby,” she said.
“I will stand here until my last breath because I know another mother who’s going to need my voice to be heard.”
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In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023
The future looked bright for the next generation at this year’s Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW), as children and Youth showcased their talents in modelling and design.
The event took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre over four nights last week — each with a different theme. VIFW is an annual event that began in 2017 as a way to promote and celebrate Indigenous fashion, arts and culture.
The third night on Nov. 22 had a theme of Indigenous Futures. After a territorial welcome, the lights dimmed and music vibrated the walls of the venue as Indigenous Youth from the Girls Who LEAP (Lead to Empower and Act with Purpose) program walked in their power on the runway.
As part of a mentorship program with VIFW, each girl designed and created their own shawl to showcase — embodying their hopes, dreams, and respective cultures. Their work was paired with the work of Nisg̱a’a designer Kevin Gosnell Designs.
Girls Who LEAP is a non-profit in “Vancouver” that provides leadership opportunities for Youth in the Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodlands communities – both of which have a high population of urban Indigenous People. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Partnering with Indigenous models from Supernaturals Modelling, the Youth smiled, held back tears, and waved to their friends in the audience. Family members cheered for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
For Kailani, a Youth who participated in the LEAP program, being mentored to create a shawl for VIFW was a dream come true, and a way to honour her family and culture.
Kailani says she wanted to honour her name, which means sea and sky in Hawaiian, as the inspiration for her design. “I created a blue sun with red, yellow, orange and purple arrows mimicking the course of the sunset. The blue sun represents the meeting point of the sea and the sky,” says Kailani. Photo by Aaron Hemens
“I grew up seeing my aunt dance in her beautiful regalia,” said Kailani.
“My aunt Rebecca influences me especially because many designs are based around powwow culture.”
Kailani’s aunt is Kwakiutł, Dzawada’enuxw and Skwxwú7mesh designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier, who also showcased her clothing designs during VIFW. Another aunt of Kailani’s, Himalkas Pam Baker, also showcased her fashions.
Girls Who LEAP models show off their shawls on the runway. Photo by Aaron Hemens
The founder and artistic director of VIFW, Joleen Mitton, was in the audience, dancing and cheering for the Youth and their creations.
Her work in creating VIFW was recently featured in the short film Ancestral Threads, which premiered at HotDocs in 2023.
The behind the scenes look at how VIFW began, and all of the work that goes into curating a show, and the people Mitton has brought along with her.
The former international model, who is Cree, has deep roots in “Vancouver” mentoring Indigenous Youth. For Mitton, she credits her kokum for inspiring her to serve the community.
Joleen Mitton (front), the founder of VIFW, poses on the runway during the Girls Who LEAP finale. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Opening the show, Mitton wore a jumpsuit with the slogan “the future is Indigenous” on the back before changing looks later in the night.
“You’ve got to appreciate the outfit,” she said. “This was made by the Youth. They are our future.”
Angela Howe-Parrish of Choke Cherry Creek, who is Apsaalooke (Crow) and Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet), shared her new Apsáalooke Collection, which featured vibrant colours, geometric patterns and Elk tooth prints. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Owen Unruh, a Two-Spirit Cree model, dancer and content creator, in Choke Cherry Creek Designs. Photo by Aaron Hemens
During a showcase for the Heiltsuk-owned streetwear brand HSTRYMKRS, models wearing jerseys, cargos and statement-making jewelry by Copper Canoe Woman danced to hip hop music and hyped up the crowd as they walked the runway, prompting loud cheers.
Fashion Brand HSTRYMKRS shared spray paint designs that read “Young Matriarch” and “The Youth are the Future.” Photo by Aaron Hemens
The cheers became louder as a model wearing a graffiti-painted gown emblazoned with the words “The Youth are Sacred” and “The Youth are the Future” walked out with three children who wore shirts with the slogans “Youth Matriarch.”
A model with HSTRYMKRS poses on the runway in front of cheerful audience members. Photo by Aaron Hemens
“How many more times am I going to cry tonight?” said the event’s host Kiefer Collison, after the showcase was over. “That was absolutely beautiful.”
A spectator raises their fist in the air in solidarity with HSTRYMKRS models. Photo by Aaron Hemens
The themes for the other nights of VIFW were the opening Red Dress Event, All My Relations and Spirit of the West Coast.
“My people, you are so beautiful and so strong,” said Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who gave a territorial welcome with his children Cedar and Kayah.
“This is a celebration, because how we look is to the future.”
The show was opened by Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) and his children Cedar and Kayah. “We’re taking it back,” says George. “This is a presentation of our future, of who we are.” Photo by Aaron Hemens
With files from Aaron Hemens and Cara McKenna
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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors
During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.
The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.
The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more.
Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).
Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.
Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.
“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.
“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”
Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau
As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience.
“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.
Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.
Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.
“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.
“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”
Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.
“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.
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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect
Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.
The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves.
So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops.
“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”
Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.
In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.
“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.
But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed.
At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.
“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.
Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.
He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.
In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.
“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.
A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached.
“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.
This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”
Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.
“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.
He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process.
“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.
Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.
Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.
“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.
“Honestly, it could save someone.”
The post For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect appeared first on IndigiNews.
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