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Healing is first priority after WLFN purchases former residential ‘school’ site 

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Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars addresses the crowd at an announcement regarding the return of sacred lands back to WLFN on Sept. 5. Photo by Dionne Phillips

Content Warning: This article includes graphic content involving residential “schools” including accounts of abuse which may be triggering. Please look after your spirit and read with care.

The Kúkwpi7 of Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) says he has “peace of mind” now that his community officially owns a plot of land where many of his kin attended residential “school.”

Willie Sellars said Tuesday his community can undergo ceremony and healing now that it has agency over the former St. Joseph’s Mission site near T’exelc (Sugar Cane), where the nation has led an investigation into unmarked burials and found evidence of graves.

Now, with the help of provincial funding, WLFN has purchased the 13.7-acre plot and can move ahead with its work to find closure for survivors of the institution as well as honouring those who never made it home.

“We eventually want to get to a position where we are exhuming, we are excavating,” Sellars said, “but there is a process that we have to follow by holding up not only the Williams Lake First Nation, but every single other nation that is impacted and holding up their ceremony and their culture and their students that also went to that school.”

Sellars made the announcement with the provincial Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin outside the WLFN office on Sept. 5, where community members gathered as well as media.

Before the announcement was made, drummers opened the event with the Mitchell Honour song. Elder Jean William said a prayer in Secwepemctsín and welcomed visitors.

“This is a beautiful day where we can get together here, and remember the ones that never came home,” William said.

Two governments coming together

Rankin started by acknowledging “that the culture is alive and thriving” while also recognizing “the work that’s being done to bring it back when it has suffered in the past.”

The province reportedly contributed $849,000 while WLFN paid the rest for a total of $1.2 million to complete the sale. 

“That means, thanks to this purchase that the property will be returned to the rightful stewardship of Indigenous people and protected in perpetuity as the Williams Lake First Nation, the caretaker nation for the area, sees fit,” Rankin said.

“This announcement ensures that former students, their families and their communities can visit the site for cultural, spiritual, personal, and other commemorative purposes. Now and in the future.”

WLFN launched an investigation into potential graves on the site in 2021. The nation has long sought the return of the land where the “school” operated, Sellars said, and former leadership was recognized for their commitment over the years to make this vision a reality. 

Rick Gilbert, a previous Kúkwpi7 and current counsellor for WLFN was acknowledged by current Kúkwpi7 Sellars as having played a pivotal role in the return of the land. “That fight that you fought for so long and so hard is finally here.”

The past and future of the site

The St Joseph’s Mission operated from 1891-1981 and was predominantly run by the Catholic Church. While the “school” was in operation, thousands of children from more than 40 communities including Secwépemc, Tŝilhqot’in and Dakelh were forced to attend.

The institution has become notorious for the horrific abuse inflicted on children by the adults who worked there. In the 1980s and ‘90s, there were three high-profile criminal convictions of staff for physical and sexual assaults at the “school.”

Along with accounts of deaths and missing “students,” survivors have also spoken about the use of an incinerator and being made to consume rotten food. WLFN’s investigation involving ground-penetrating radar found 159 reflections that indicate the presence of burials, according to the province.

When Sellars announced findings of the investigation in January 2022, he said the investigation led the team into the “darkest recesses of human behaviour,” hearing survivor accounts that were “disturbing beyond words.”

Now that the land where St. Joseph’s Mission operated on is being transferred to WLFN, Sellars said the nation will continue to go through archives, ground-penetrating radar findings and look at the next steps. 

When asked about a monument for the site, he noted that, at this time, the site will be preserved and made safe for any future ceremonies and healing that needs to be done there. 

He said he has “peace of mind that we’ll be able to do that work uncontested moving forward into the future.” 

“We continue to see online and in our personal circles, that denialism of residential schools and the legacy of what happened at those schools in this country,” he added.

“We have the stories and we have the evidence that says otherwise, and by moving forward and preserving that site — and looking at how we can honour that legacy of those schools and those children — we’ll be putting those denialists to bed.”

Drummers play Arthur Dick’s Peace song. David Archie stated they would be singing Arthur Dick’s Peace song to end the announcement, “for this moment and all the ones that will come.” Photo by Dionne Phillips

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.

The post Healing is first priority after WLFN purchases former residential ‘school’ site  appeared first on IndigiNews.

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In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023

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Indigenous children modelled the fashion brand HSTRYMKRS, which shared spray paint designs that read “Young Matriarch” and “The Youth are Sacred.” Photo by Aaron Hemens

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

Along with Girls Who LEAP, the Indigenous Futures night featured the works of Choke Cherry Creek, Alicia’s Designs, Two Smudge, Section 35, 4 Kinship, Jamie Gentry Designs and Himikalas Pamela Baker.

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

The post In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023 appeared first on IndigiNews.

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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors

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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

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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.”

The post For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect appeared first on IndigiNews.

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