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Hot Cree In The City: My time representing IndigiNews in NYC



This past August, I found out I was accepted into the Executive Program in News Leadership and Innovation at The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York (CUNY). I also received a full tuition scholarship, without which I likely would not have been able to attend. The year-long program mostly takes place online, but there are three mandatory in-person weeklong intensives in New York City. 

So, I packed way too many outfits and shoes and headed to Manhattan in early September. It was the first time I was going to spend any time there — apart from a show my band Vancougar played at The Cake Shop back in 2008 — so I was apprehensive. Mostly, I wanted to know if I would get to spend time with any other Indigenous people while I was there.

After all, what’s been briefly known as NYC is the homelands of the Lenape people (Lenapehoking), and the city has one of the largest urban Indigenous populations in the “United States.”  

As luck would have it, I received two different invitations to openings by Indigenous artists that just happened to be taking place in Manhattan the very week I would be there. I RSVP’d to both, hoping that the busy schedule of our in-person intensive program would allow me the time to attend. 


I arrived on a hot, muggy, Monday night after sprinting through the airport in “Toronto” to make it to customs before it closed. I’ve never been rushed through a border that quickly before, but the employees clearly wanted to go home. The New Jersey air was sweltering outside the airport (interestingly enough, the airport in Newark, New Jersey, is closer to Manhattan than either of the two airports in Queens). 

My heart briefly stopped when I saw the price of an Uber into the city, but after wheeling around with my two suitcases looking for the train, I called my husband for emotional support. He gently suggested I be kind to myself and give in and take the Uber. I sometimes forget I’m no longer in my 20s, or able to withstand almost anything physically. I arrived at my lodgings after a 20-minute ride, only to discover that I was staying on the fifth floor of a five-story walkup. Those flights of stairs, combined with the heatwave the city was experiencing, would prove challenging for all six days of my stay.


My first day of the program! 

I woke up in Chelsea, but so close to midtown that within two blocks, I was passing Madison Square Garden (which is round, by the way). As soon as I got to the most touristy area of town, the sidewalks were so choked with people that it became a challenge to get from one end of the block to the other. I passed all the trinket shops and vowed to stop in for souvenirs for my kids before I left, although I never did. 

There are a lot of people in NYC, about eight million of them. The school was located 11 blocks from where I was staying, a choice I had made so that I would get a chance to walk a bit and see more of New York — or so I thought. The cacophony of midtown — the tourist destination of New York and home to Times Square and Madison Square Garden — combined with the heat made it a bit more of a hellscape than I had anticipated. But it was also amusing. As I approached each street, I came upon a sea of cars that seemed to have no beginning or end and did not seem to correspond at all with whether the light was green or red. The pedestrians, too, were a nonstop river, walking between cars like water through rocks in a shallow stream. The cars seemed not to move at all. The honking was endless. I was in New York!

I had chosen to wear my expensive, slip-on running shoes that day, and I was very glad that I did. Almost nobody wears heels in New York. Over the week I was there, I saw thousands of people and almost no high heels. 

The first day of the program was exciting and scary. The people in my cohort came from all over the world, including Romania, South Africa, Germany, China (by way of Brussels), Finland, Canada and all over the United States. Some of my classmates were from smaller outlets like I was, like the nonprofits Prison Journalism Project and Wisconsin Watch. Others were from huge, household-name publications, like Reuters and TIME. I felt a little out of my league but also proud that I was able to represent IndigiNews in such a prestigious space. We all had to give short presentations about our organizations. I got through mine OK, even though it was a bit scary.

Before leaving for New York, I had looked up Manhattan in Google Maps and did a search for “urban Indigenous.” Lo and behold, I found the Urban Indigenous Collective! It looked like I had found an Indigenous community centre, which I imagined would be like the friendship centres that we have back in “Canada.” Not only that, but they were only two blocks away from my school. So, at lunch, I headed out on my own to find them. As soon as I left our air-conditioned building, the heat was so intense that I realized I would only be able to walk for a limited amount of time. I followed the directions on my phone, sweating profusely and trying to avoid the direct sunlight, which felt like a blowtorch on my face. I soon found myself on the block where they were located. 

I expected to see something like a friendship centre or a community centre — a low building that took up half a block. This was midtown Manhattan, and those types of buildings did not exist here. So I looked at the address on my phone again — and realized they were located on the 12th floor of a highrise! I jaywalked in between two cars that were not moving to minimize the amount of walking I would have to do in the heat and entered the building. I pushed the elevator button uncertainly. This did not seem like a place I would find an Indigenous organization. I was nervous.

The elevator doors opened on the 12th floor, and I found their door. It was solid wood and painted yellow, with a little sign indicating that it was, indeed, the office of the Urban Indigenous Collective. But it didn’t seem like the type of place one drops into. I put my ear to the door and heard nothing. I gently turned the door handle. It was locked. Feeling anxious and self-conscious, I walked back to the elevator. I felt uncomfortable being in this building. I felt confused and lost. But I stopped myself from getting on the elevator. I knew I had to push myself. I had walked all the way to this building in the oppressive heat. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to make this attempt a second time, so I willed myself back to that yellow door and knocked. 

Like a fairy tale, it was opened by a friendly face, belonging to a lovely woman named Delilah, who welcomed me warmly and invited me into the centre. It was a large space, beautifully decorated with Indigenous art on every surface. I felt immediately at ease and was so glad I had pushed myself to be brave and knock on this door. Delilah offered me a Malta India, a sweet pop that was popular where she was from. She explained to me that she was Taino, the Indigenous people of what is now known as “Puerto Rico.”

I sat in a soft chair, grateful to be off my feet and grateful for the drink. “Let me get you some medicines,” Delilah said, and she opened a cupboard and brought out a paper bag. “Here you go, this is for you.” The small brown gift bag she held out to me contained two bundles of sage. I felt so taken care of at that moment. This stranger from a totally different land understood me. She spoke the same healing language of plant medicines as my people did, even in this large city.

I thanked her. What a gift to receive sacred medicines on one of my first trips to New York.

We chatted for a bit and, before long, were sharing personal anecdotes about our families. There are some issues that are common in every Indigenous community, and we soon found that ours suffered from many of the same afflictions that colonization had caused on both sides of the imaginary line. It was a beautiful chat, and I told Delilah I would be back again.


As I chose my outfit for the day, I kept in mind the heat that would almost destroy me on my walk to the school and the air conditioning in the classroom that would later turn me into a block of ice. I slipped on my running shoes again, glancing briefly at the five other pairs of shoes I had brought, all of which had heels of varying heights and were, therefore, unlikely to see the pavement here. 

I made it to a Starbucks next to the New York Times building, which was on the same block as my school. “I’ll go in and grab a coffee,” I thought to myself naively, not realizing what I was about to walk into. Inside was pandemonium. The store appeared to be a dystopian nightmare — a conglomeration between Starbucks and Amazon. There were three separate lines, all of them long. An employee walked the length of the room shouting, “IF YOU’RE ORDERING, STAND IN THIS LINE. FOR PICK-UPS, GO TO THIS LINE.” I never did figure out what the third line was for. After a loud, confusing few minutes, I secured my cup of coffee and made my way to the exit. I vowed never to return.


It was the third day of the cohort, and my classmates and I were starting to get to know each other. We had many engaging conversations in which I had been comfortable enough to speak my mind. So far, no one had shunned me for it. Being leaders in their careers, they were all a bit older, like me. Between lectures on strategy and brainstorming sessions on how to save journalism, we showed each other pictures of our families and pets.

Spoiler alert: a cure for what ails journalism was not found.

This was also the evening that Caroline Monnet’s exhibit, WORKSITE, was opening in Tribeca! Before the trip, I had been contacted by a publicist for the artist and gallery and invited to Caroline’s exhibit opening and a sit-down dinner afterward.

Caroline Monnet is a francophone Anishinaabeg with ties to Kitigan Zibi. Her career as an artist is multifaceted and expansive, with a practice that combines art, film, architecture and furniture design. I got on the subway and then I made my way to the back alley that housed the door to Arsenal Contemporary Art and made my way up the concrete steps to the modern gallery on the second floor. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the gallery — it can be hard to comprehend size and scope through pictures. Caroline’s works are beautiful and thought-provoking. They are large and colourful and were displayed so that I could walk around them and see them from many different angles. I read the curation statement and took pictures. 

I loved the way they wove together materials that would not necessarily come to mind when thinking of Indigenous artistic practice, such as construction materials or FedEx packaging. With WORKSITE, Caroline was able to turn these into something entirely new and unanticipated. 

Most of Caroline’s pieces in the exhibit seemed to be asking the viewer to interrogate the idea of ‘home.’ There were works created out of pink insulation, roofing tiles and house wrap, arranged in patterns that invoked Indigeneity. I’m not Anishinaabeg and wouldn’t know if they were a continuation of patterns found in materials from Caroline’s ancestors, but it felt like that’s what her pieces were pointing to. 

Her art had me thinking of land use. Who gets to “own” land and who gets to build their lives, literally or metaphorically on lands where Indigenous people have been displaced. It had me reflecting on the many cultures that we now share our homelands with and the new home-building practices they have introduced here.  

After the opening, I met up with the publicist who had invited me, and we made our way over to Au Cheval in Tribeca for the sit-down dinner with the artist. At the restaurant, we were served an upscale three-course meal, and I found myself sitting across from a reporter from Native News Online and an Indigenous Studies professor at nearby NYU.

There were many other Indigenous creatives at this little private party, and I marvelled at the community I had just happened to stumble upon. Within four days in New York, I had found two engaging, stimulating rooms of Indigenous folks, which in my twenty years of being back in “Canada” had happened to me maybe three times (aside from my amazing family, of course). We’re a small population spread out over a large land mass. With its huge population and relatively small area, I believe New York makes finding community for almost any person exponentially easier. 


We were treated to a thunderstorm, which I’ve always loved. It was time for our field trip to meet with folks from The Marshall Project, an organization that practices accountability journalism regarding the criminal “justice” system. We walked in the rain through Times Square to their offices, where they fed us lunch and spoke with us about what they do. It was inspiring, much like the Prison Journalism Project, co-founded by my CUNY cohort classmate Yuko Kane, which publishes stories by incarcerated people.

A bunch of us went out to a Korean BBQ restaurant that evening and then to two different karaoke bars, where we sang into the wee hours. I was bonding with my classmates.


I missed my husband and children. I missed my dogs. But I don’t have a lot of close in-person relationships where I live. I have a handful of friends that I see sporadically. Most of my closest relationships are with the incredible people I work with – and we all work remotely. So, I was feeling a little bit sad to be leaving New York that Saturday. But that’s what I did after my week at CUNY concluded with a mini day-long journalism conference with current and former participants and faculty members of CUNY’s Craig Newmark School of Journalism and the Executive Program for News Innovation and Leadership. 

I’m looking forward to returning in February for the program’s mid-year residency. I’ve met the most fascinating and inspiring journalists from around the globe. I’ve found a new home away from home where I feel comfortable and safe. This nehiyaw iskwew is looking forward to spending more time in what some have called the greatest city on earth. 

The post Hot Cree In The City: My time representing IndigiNews in NYC appeared first on IndigiNews.

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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.

The post SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors appeared first on IndigiNews.

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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.”

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

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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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