This past August, as catastrophic wildfires were impacting communities throughout syilx and Secwépemc territories, syilx storyteller Kelsie Kilawna felt called to do something.
As she watched the blazes burn through her homelands, Kilawna was concerned that the media was adding to the trauma being experienced by her kin.
When the White Rock Lake fire impacted her community of Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) in 2021, she remembers journalists knocking on people’s doors at the time, ignoring protocol and their requests for privacy.
Kilawna is an IndigiNews contributor and cultural collaborator at the philanthropic foundation MakeWay. Drawing from her own lived experiences and through consulting with communities who were impacted by fires this year, Kilawna acted quickly to put together a media resource tool kit for both reporters and Indigenous communities to follow.
The resource kit, titled #NarrativeBack, gives a community agency and power over how — and if — they want such stories to be told in the media. It consists of templates that communities can use if they want to reach out to media for coverage, and also features a guide for reporters on how to conduct themselves when covering a wildfire in an Indigenous community.
As Kilawna explains in an interview with IndigiNews reporter Aaron Hemens, the #NarrativeBack kit works to empower Indigenous communities impacted by wildfires, by giving them the power to decide who, what and how a journalist shares their story. In other words, it’s about Indigenous people being respected and reclaiming the narrative.
Kilawna’s #NarrativeBack media resource kit, created in collaboration with MakeWay and IndigiNews, is free for all Indigenous communities to use.
It can be accessed here.
The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Aaron: You worked on this media resource kit at the height of some terrible wildfires. Can you take me through that — what prompted you to put the kit together?
Kelsie: Through my work with MakeWay, I was reaching out to communities. We were all sort of reaching out to our communities, like my own homelands, because we were impacted a lot by the fires.
And I know through the experience of having the fire go through my community, what it felt like to have so many journalists knocking at our door — especially at the height of what was going on — and trying to be extractive or predatory in their practice. And literally just ignoring our requests for them to step back for a moment. We had a lot of that sort of disaster tourism and journalism happening at the time.
I felt like watching all of these fires [this year] happening in my homeland nations — the Secwépemc and syilx homelands — I just felt like I had to do something. In our teachings, we have a responsibility to speak to the work that we’re doing. And so that means holding your sector accountable, or holding your industry accountable. Because a lot of times, people care more about having our trauma in the daily news cycle versus caring about who we are as human beings.
I asked my workplace — we all had a meeting about how we can support communities right now.
After speaking to some of the communities who were evacuated, or who had fires moved through their community, I talked to my workplace, and I just said, ‘This is a need that I’m hearing. This is a skill that I have and a resource that we can provide.’ That’s when I reached out to IndigiNews and I asked if they wanted to partner on this media kit.
The media kit would make communities aware of their rights in media, and also their response and media’s responsibilities towards the communities. But also that communities are allowed to tell reporters how they should be treated — everybody is allowed to set their boundaries. Media is not void of responsibility when it comes to caretaking people’s well being.
It was really important that I make sure that we can provide as much as possible, so that’s why I started writing the media kit — really just having Indigenous people be respected in storytelling and reclaiming the narrative.
I just started writing — I started thinking about it from my own lived experience. I really rooted my work in the teachings that I have about how we caretake trauma, and to safeguard communities from being over exploited by predatory journalism, or by just journalism in general. Really empowering communities to know that they are allowed to tell people how to treat them, we are still allowed to have boundaries and we’re still allowed to have agency over our narrative.
That was like my whole purpose of wanting to put it out, was to safeguard community and to give community something to work with that was very tangible and easy to use in these kinds of times, when thinking about media kits is the last thing on anyone’s mind. It was just a resource that I felt best positioned to provide.
A: What did consultation with communities look like when you’re putting the kit together? How did you figure out what their needs were and what they wanted to see?
K: I was consulting directly with the communities who were impacted, and listening to what they were saying that they were experiencing with media. Hearing sort of the need that they had directly of like, ‘We want to put something out but we don’t have the time, we don’t have the resources.’ One of the communities I was speaking to had one person on the whole entire team that was able to do some remote work. And so they just were not in the position to best answer questions, or to do any of those sorts of communication outputs. That’s when I kept hearing it over and over in this consultation process. I knew these are the things that are highly needed right now.
And also from our community, we have quite well developed standards of media working with us – or I guess, best practices. I started sort of pulling from what we do as well; we have protocol here of how we engage with our people, and so I started putting in as much as I could for folks to use that felt useful.
A: I’m curious to hear about the main concerns that communities were bringing up about media coverage. Would you be able to share what they were saying, some of those concerns?
K: It was just a lot of journalists not respecting the fact that the community was actively going through a crisis, and then showing up at whatever the front line looks like in wherever communities, because it looks different everywhere. Showing up to the frontlines and trying to get interviews with just anybody who will talk to them. Going on to members’ Facebook pages, and just pulling from people’s personal experiences that they’re sharing on their personal social media.
I think that’s a boundary that a lot of people don’t think about, is that social media — yes, while it is still publicly available, in technicality, it’s legal to do that — it’s completely disrespectful. There’s so much context that goes behind that — these people are speaking to certain audiences, they’re speaking to their family, they’re speaking to very personal circles. Whereas journalists will go in and extract those traumatic posts, and then use it in their story or headline without any consent, or with the person even knowing.
I think that in any realm — whether it be digital and online, or in person — our people deserve respect, and they deserve to be honoured in the time of these trauma ceremonies that we’re going through, these grief ceremonies. The parts of this experience is us moving through these changes of our homelands, with deep respect for the work that’s happening with the fire.
There’s so many nuances and layers of spirituality and of our cultural teachings that are embedded into a wildfire, or into any climate related disaster that’s happening and ongoing. And so with ceremony, there comes protocol, and so many times you see media breaching those protocols, just because of the predatory behavior.
A: For you, how was that for you putting this kit together, but also dealing with the realities of these terrible wildfires affecting your homelands?
K: I think I felt better positioned because it wasn’t in my community. Yes, it was my homeland, but it wasn’t in my community. So it felt like much more of a calling to action for me, and something that I could do to support our different neighbouring communities throughout syilx and Secwépemc Nations, and it was how I could help.
I actually felt much better in terms of providing this resource and being able to put it together because it wasn’t on my back door. I had the privilege of being able to be able to process thought in a really good way where I can provide something.
When it was happening in my community, it was so stressful and you just didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. And because I know that feeling, then I had the self location and I had the responsibility to speak on it and to do something about it. So using that responsibility and grounding myself through ceremony to keep writing, was sort of how I got through it in a way that protected me.
A: I know the kit is made specifically for wildfires. But do you think this could be applied to any sort of climate-related issue?
K: Yeah, we actually talked about that. It can definitely be used for any climate related disaster or event. And we’re changing the title. Well, the title of it is, #NarrativeBack. It’s a trauma informed media kit for any sort of crisis, really, that goes through communities.
Because in the moment of crisis, we don’t have the ability to think in that way, to have foresight — we’re thinking about what’s going on right now when we’re in survival mode, and how we’re going to support our people through those times.
This is something that’s just tangible and it’s put together. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks for any community to use. Both IndigiNews and MakeWay have agreed to not have any sort of acknowledgement for the use of it — it’s just for communities to copy and paste, put it into their own little logo, their own branding, and to use on their own. They don’t need any permission from either MakeWay or IndigiNews to use it.
We wanted to make it really user friendly and for anything that they might have come through their community, where they need media to basically, in a sense, behave.
A: How would you like to see this media kit impact any coverage going forward?
K: I think that when we have something that we put out as Indigenous people — we put out our protocol and we put out actions that we need to have happen — it lessens the ignorance that we see in media. Because then there is something — when people are like, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ Well, there’s literally a kit, there are literally resources that tell you how to conduct yourself in community in a good way.
I think the more that we have out there on how to be a good guest on our homelands, the less room there is for ignorance, and then the more we can hold industry accountable. And then the greater chances of us taking back our narratives, and us being able to shape our narrative for once.
I think that’s what I hope to see; is that we have much more Indigenous-powered narratives, a lot more trauma-informed care going into our stories. And when we’re in the motion of moving through crisis — especially something like a wildfire — that there’s certain parts of the story that are necessary in the moment. There is a place for daily news in the moment — however, there is not a place or time for them to go into the community, to go into situations and to be a predator to our vulnerability, and to use that to create a story so that there’s more clicks, or there’s more engagement.
I think that what I would like to see is differentiated and stopped; is in the moment, crisis story reporting, because there just isn’t space for that at the moment. And people should be the ones going to media to say, ‘I want to share this story,’ versus them always reaching out and being like, ‘I want to tell this story,’ or, ‘How are you feeling?,’ or, ‘Anyone who’s experiencing this fire message me.’ Those kinds of things are just really damaging because you’re playing on people’s vulnerability.
A: I like that section you added, the template for communities if they want to reach out to media. I like that you added that in there to give them that agency or the opportunities for if they want coverage.
K: Exactly! I want people to feel empowered to tell their story when they want to tell it, when they’re ready to. And then for media to sit back a little bit and to take a moment to think about what they’re doing. I think for communities to be empowered to reach out and share what story they want and when, is taking the narrative back.
A: How are you feeling now that the kit is out there now in the world?
K: I feel really good. And again, I feel like it adds weight to journalists, in a sense. Because now there is something that they can use, that can be a resource for them, where they will be held accountable.
If a community copies, pastes and puts this out, then there is accountability behind that. There is respect and protocol that needs to be followed. I’m hoping that when this is utilized in whatever way that might look like — because people might chop it up and use it for their own thing, and that’s totally cool. That’s okay, that’s what it’s there for. I just want to see our people be harmed less — that’s my hope of all of this.
Even if one person benefits from this, I will feel so happy for that. Personally, that will feel really good for me; to know that I’ve supported and protected at least one of our people. That, to me, is my end goal.
A: That’s everything I really want to ask you. Is there anything you’d like to add? Or anything I missed or any final comments?
K: I think the only thing, which I already captured, was that any community or any Indigenous-based organization, or group of people, or even grassroots people, anyone — any Indigenous person can have access and use this in any way that they feel, without giving us any credit.
I just really want to make sure that those teachings remain humble, that these belong to everybody. And we all deserve to be treated as human. So this belongs to everyone, and I want to make sure that all indigenous people know that they can access it in any way they want to use it.
The post #NarrativeBack: Trauma-informed media toolkit offers a new model for wildfire coverage appeared first on IndigiNews.
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
The post In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023 appeared first on IndigiNews.
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.
The post SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors appeared first on IndigiNews.
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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