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Guided by her culture, Gitxsan scientist looks to old ways for climate resilience



Janna Wale, who is Gitxsan and Cree-Métis, now resides in Snuneymuxw territories where her research focuses on climate change solutions. Photo by Philip McLachlan

Whether harvesting salmon or simply spending quality time with her grandfather and uncles, Janna Wale has no shortage of stories about being on the water with her family.

She moved around a bit growing up, but can vividly recall different memories from her early years fishing in her Gitxsan homelands — there were “tons of fish everywhere” at the unceded confluence of the Skeena, Nass and Bulkley rivers near the village of “Hazelton, B.C.”

“Our culture is totally built around salmon. We have different roles for salmon in the feast hall. It’s a large food supply for a lot of people, especially in the winter,” said Wale, who is from the Gitanmaax First Nation and is Cree-Métis on her mother’s side.

“They’re so important — they’re featured a lot in our traditional stories.”

Growing up, harvesting salmon and berry-picking were activities that allowed her to stay connected to her culture and to the land. She spoke with pride when noting that the Gitxsan people have occupied their homelands for more than 14,000 years, highlighting that Gitanmaax actually translates to: “People who harvest salmon using torches.” 

“The fact that we’ve been able to maintain that relationship to those territories this whole time, and we’re still here, is part of who I am as well,” she said.

Janna Wale, who is Gitxsan and Cree-Métis, now resides in Snuneymuxw territories where her research focuses on climate change solutions. Photo by Philip McLachlan

One memorable fishing moment that comes to mind for her is when she was learning how to fish with a pole at the age of six. She recalled with a chuckle how she ended up yanking a hooked fish so far back that it landed right at the feet of her grandfather.

“My grandfather, he’s pretty serious and he started laughing really hard. That’s a good memory that I have of him,” she said.

“Just learning how to fish and knowing that’s a part of who we are, even if you have to learn those things. Just part of the practice, I guess.”

But there’s one fishing memory in particular from her early years that sticks out to her, a harrowing experience that opened her eyes to the disturbing reality of climate change and its effects on the salmon population.

It happened one summer when she was still a teenager — her dad and her uncles were out fishing for salmon, but there weren’t enough fish for them to harvest and feed their families. 

“They ended up having to sleep at the rocks. There are grizzlies out there, and they were there overnight trying to get enough for us,” she said.

“I just remember getting taken back into town by one of my uncles, and my dad and my other uncle were staying out to try and get enough fish. I remember thinking, ‘This is serious. There is not enough fish.’”

Now in her mid-20s, the decline of the salmon population every year in her homelands is something Wale said she’s been observing her entire life.

In university, Janna Wale’s research was guided by the question: “Where have the salmon gone?” after noticing changes in the population within her lifetime. Photo by Philip McLachlan

“For me to see those changes on the land that fast is pretty frightening, especially being a salmon people,” she said. 

“It’s not just us noticing that. If you hang around town, you’ll hear different people talking … It’s a very common thread that people are worried.”

It was her deep connection to home, and her observations of climate change’s impact on the salmon and the land, that defined the academic direction she later took in life — one that is grounded in learning how Indigenous people can be resilient in the face of climate change.

“We have these aspects of our culture that uphold that relationship [to the land] as well, bringing that into my education and knowing that no matter where I go, it’s still rooting to that place,” she said.

Guided by the question, “Where have the salmon gone?,” Wale earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resources science from Thompson Rivers University in Tk’emlúps (Kamloops) in Secwepemcúl’ecw. 

There are a number of reasons why salmon populations in her homelands are depleting, she said. She listed decreasing river levels, high water temperatures, changes to acidity and sediment as some of the major reasons.

“That’s a huge source of protein for a lot of people. It’s just hard to replace that. You have moose, but if there’s no salmon, there’s no bears,” she said. 

“And if there’s no bears, you’re gonna have totally different impacts on all of the different animals living in the area.”

Janna Wale, who is Gitxsan and Cree-Métis, cradles her cedar headband. Photo by Philip McLachlan

Wale pursued further education at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) in syilx homelands, and graduated in 2022 with a master’s degree in sustainability. 

In her master’s thesis, Climate Rez-ilience: Building Transformative Climate Resilience in Indigenous Communities, she explored Indigenous Peoples’ understanding and relationship with the land, specifically assessing the Gitxsan Nation and the Secwépemc Nation’s community resilience to climate change by using their traditional seasonal round of activities, which are land-based activities carried out within specific seasonal cycles.

“The way that we live seasonally is so important, and I think that’s such a big staple in a lot of our cultures. Everybody had a different way of doing things on the land, but the common thread is that we all have different seasonal use of place, seasonal practices,” she said.

“I think going back to that would be healthier for people, because it gives people a chance to rest in the winter and undertake different things in the spring, so there’s that. Those changes are reflected on the land.”

Climate resilience and climate adaptation, she said, can be learned from Indigenous teachings and systems from the past.

“Those aspects — respect of the land, respect of the water, being in a relationship and having a caretakership role, having that sense of responsibility — is what I see as climate adaptation, which is not anywhere in the Western definition,” she said.

Her research found that there are four pillars that inform Indigenous community resilience: integrity/adaptation of the seasonal round; relationship to land; strength of the people; and interconnectedness.

Janna Wale, who is Gitxsan and Cree-Métis, now resides in Snuneymuxw territories where her research focuses on climate change solutions. Photo by Philip McLachlan

“The Indigenous worldview is more about connectedness, balance, wellness. It’s just totally different ways of seeing the world, and I think you really see that in climate outcomes,” she said.

On the other hand, the colonial, Western approach to climate resilience and adaptation, she said, is fixated more on productivity and output over caretakership and having a relationship with the land.

“I think the differences are in that sense of responsibility and having that root to place. I think it’s really easy for governments to only look at the value of resources as dollars and cents,” she said. 

She noted that from her observations, Western governments’ approach to climate adaptation is focused on boosting infrastructure, roads and power supplies. While these things are all important, she highlighted that adaptation needs to be looked at more holistically. 

“It’s talking about those more tangible pieces, but it’s not talking about what it’s doing to us as people, and how we relate and take those back to our communities,” she said. 

In a recent publication with the Yellowhead Institute, Wale further asserts that the more Indigenous peoples are included in climate planning and adaptation, the stronger those climate plans will be. 

As a research associate with the Canadian Climate Institute, she’s building on her university research and education, where she’s helping to find and develop both actions and policies that will allow “Canada” to adapt to the changing climate.

“Figuring out how to be in good relationship with the land. Like any relationship, you need to work at it and you need to figure out what your place is, and how you can contribute to being in a good relationship,” she said. 

“Any relationship takes work. I think that’s what it’s going to take.”

In university, Janna Wale’s research was guided by the question: “Where have the salmon gone?” after noticing changes in the population within her lifetime. Photo by Philip McLachlan

Reporting for this story was made possible in part through a grant from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors




From left: Whitney Cardenas, Chris Ingle and Jaden Sampson were at the career fair with PIB’s fire department. Photo by Athena Bonneau

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




sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr., an 18-year-old syilx Youth from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, pictured at Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court on Nov. 3. Photo by Aaron Hemens

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.”

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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’




The Sweláps Market features Secwépemc language and culturally-influenced architecture. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) is celebrating a new community-owned grocery store that’s bringing food options and employment opportunities to the reserve. 

The grand opening for the new Sweláps Market is set to take place on Thursday at 11 a.m., and will include speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting. It will also feature week-long deals and prize draws, giveaways and food samples. 

The Sweláps Market is located in the Chief Louis Centre, and had its soft opening on Oct. 19.

The market is owned by TteS but is open to everyone. The store displays signs in Secwepemctsín (Secwépemc language) including a welcoming of Weyt-kp above the front door. 

The language also labels each department of the store such as q̓wlem (bakery) and ts̓i7 ell swewll (meat and fish). 

On the market’s website, each department is listed with audio files to hear the proper pronunciation.

Sweláps translates to “bighorn sheep” and the logo represents the sheep’s horn among the mountains and North and South Thompson rivers.

The 22,000-square-foot grocery store incorporates culture into the architecture, including a Secwépemc weaving design on the ceiling and a wooden ladder outside which resembles the entrance of a pithouse. 

After the ladder was carved on-site by Charles Dumont, the owner of Coyote Contracting and a TteS band member, and his son Ryder — a ceremony was held to bless the log as it was put into place. 

General manager Kara Stokes spoke about the importance of having a market in the community, given that, before now, the closest grocery store was off-reserve and across the river.

The vision for a band-owned grocery store goes back ten years, Stokes recalled, with multiple locations explored before settling on the Chief Louis Centre.

Before the store’s opening, Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir expressed high hopes for the store’s impact.

“This project will bring food closer to home, create employment, and further strengthen our economy,” she said in a community statement. “It will be a source of pride as leadership is fully implementing a community driven opportunity.” 

Before opening, the public was kept up to date through updates and upcoming events listed on the market’s website.

A members-only job fair was held in September to give band members a chance to explore the job opportunities before opening it up to the public.

Between full-time and part-time job openings, the market employs a total of 65 people in management and frontline positions.

Stokes explained that the job openings are a helpful addition for TteS. 

“That opens up the opportunity for a lot of people who live in the area to be able to work in the area,” she said.

Since the store opened to the public last month, Stokes said she has served customers of all ages and varying family sizes. The market is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

“Everybody’s been coming in and shopping and it’s really amazing to see the support from the community to be able to provide this service,” she said.

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