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Piecing my culture together, one moment at a time



Me with my môsom Alphonse Little Poplar, c. 1988

The memories are sprinkled throughout my life. I pieced my cultural teachings together with these little scraps — brief interactions, the occasional story, a teaching here or there.

In one memory, I’m a young adult and I’m sitting with my cousins in a little hand-built cabin on the rez. Our grandparents are nearby in the main house, but we’re in the little outbuilding with no power, built by my dad. I’m listening to my cousins talk about our relative, Fine Day — the namesake of all the Finedays in our family.

One of my cousins knows many stories. He speaks of raids from long ago, carried out by Fine Day. He knows the tales intimately: the number of times Fine Day managed to steal horses from an enemy camp, the number of horses he took in each raid, the times he counted coup (meaning he was able to touch the enemy without them knowing it or take the horses without them even realizing it until the next day).

When I was younger, I was hungry for these types of stories. I was raised on the West Coast, away from my family on the prairies, so I didn’t grow up hearing about my ancestors. I’ve never heard anyone in my family spoken of the way my cousin spoke of Fine Day that night. He was boastful, obviously proud of our shared ancestor. The stories were a revelation to me.

This night also left me with questions. The biggest among them, what happened to us? Why was my family now isolated on a reserve instead of living among hundreds in community? Why was I not taught these stories in school, rather than in a building without power, as we passed around a bottle of booze around by candlelight? What transpired between the time when Fine Day was a celebrated warrior and now, when only my family remembered him? Why were we so poor, when we used to be so wealthy? Before that night, I had no idea these stories even existed. Were they being preserved?

Another memory: I’m standing in a field on the rez with my dad, the green sweetgrass waving all around us in the wind. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in over a decade, and I am an awkward fourteen-year old. “This is where you were born,” he tells me. I am in awe. The day is hot. The colours around me look over-saturated as I squint in the bright sunlight. Am I dreaming? This is like a dream come true, and I can hardly believe it.

My father takes some tobacco into his hand and shows it to me. Then he places it at the root of one of the sweetgrass plants, explaining, “We always give our thanks and ask permission before picking anything.”

I watch and nod. This teaching makes sense to me. It’s respectful, and it acknowledges the gift of the plant. I am soaking up this knowledge like a sponge. After a lifetime of being taught rules that make no sense to me, here I am learning something that seems obvious and feels right. Things begin to shift inside me.

“We never pick all the plants in a given area,” he continues. “We always leave some plants so that they can regrow. And we never pick all of one plant. We leave some behind, so the bush or tree can regenerate itself.”

This knowledge, my culture, is something I’ve been yearning for my whole life. Hearing it is like feeling pieces of my spirit return to me from the far reaches of the universe. I am becoming whole again.

It’s disorienting to know you’re from a place that you have no knowledge of. I knew I was from Sweetgrass First Nation, that I was from so-called Saskatchewan, that I was Cree. But I knew nothing of my culture. I was raised in East Van. So this knowledge was just a theoretical understanding. I didn’t really know what it was to be Cree. In that sense, I was no different from all the non-Indigenous people around me.

There’s a special kind of shame that accompanies that experience.

My great-great grandfather Kamiokisihkwew (Fine Day) c. 1926

I spent my childhood understanding that something had been taken away from me. Now, here in this field on my reserve, some of it was being given back to me and I was so grateful.

Another memory: I am fifteen, playing softball at my high school in the West End of “Vancouver.” I’m not a strong batter, but I am a pretty good outfielder. We are playing a game and I’m in the outfield near the back fence of the school. A trio of dark-skinned Indigenous people, pushing a shopping cart filled with different types of alcohol, approach the fence and stop to watch our game for a while.

I’ve heard classmates refer to these types of people as “rubbies.” They are wearing dirty clothes, their hair dishevelled. To me, they look like they could be relatives. I turn to look at them and offer a shy smile before I turn back to focus on the game. By this point in my life I am already aware of the residential “school” experience that my father endured. I have seen the way it has played out in my own family, and I know that if these folks are addicts or living rough, there is probably a good reason for it.

There is a crack as the batter at home plate hits the ball. It flies toward me and I catch it and throw it to the infielders. I am aware that the group of folks with the shopping cart are still behind me.

“That one there,” says one of the women, “she’s real good.”

“Yes, and what a beauty,” the other woman adds.

“Yes, talented and beautiful, that one,” says the man.

Their comments landed on me like a soft kiss. They were letting me know that they could see I was Indian like them, and that I had worth, even though most people wouldn’t recognize the same worth in them. They were showing me love, building me up. Were they hoping those words might help protect me from this racist world, so that I would do more than just survive?

At that moment, I felt claimed. Those words were a gift to me. I had never heard anyone speak of me that way, and for the first time in my life, I felt held, recognized and loved. Pride welled up in me as I heard them talking.

I still think about those three, although it’s been more than 30 years. I’m still grateful. How beautiful their hearts must have been, to be able to give me such a sweet gift even while their own lives were difficult. They were teaching me about my culture too, and about kindness, which plays a big role in it.

I had always thought learning my culture was my responsibility, that I was defective somehow for not knowing more than I did. But whose responsibility was it, really? Not mine — I was just a disconnected young girl in a colonized world. I had very limited resources. It shouldn’t have been my responsibility to seek out and learn the teachings that were my birthright.

I’m older now, getting closer to 50. Two of the cousins I spent that evening with long ago, in that building on the rez, are gone. But I’ve entered a new stage in my life, where I’m finally receiving the teachings I missed out on as a child. I’ve been in an intensive Cree culture class for the last few months. And I’m receiving new teachings from my father, whose depth of plant medicine knowledge and spiritual knowledge is vast.

I want this for all Indigenous people. I want this for all Indigenous children. We deserve access to our culture. Genocide has taken that away from many of us, by fracturing our families.

To all of my Indigenous brothers and sisters who are feeling disconnected, I want you to know that your culture is waiting for you to reclaim it. Like me, you may have ebbed and flowed in your search of yourself. There may have been years when you were focused elsewhere, on your family or your work or your studies. But if you’re like me, there have also been times when you were actively searching, seeking out teachers, classes, ceremonies and Elders.

I urge you to keep searching.

One thing you can do is lay down tobacco at the base of a tree near you and give thanks to that tree for all it has done for you. You can use the tobacco to pray, too: tell the Grandmothers and Grandfathers that you are searching for yourself. Ask them to take pity on you, for I have been taught that the spirits around us listen most when we approach with great humility.

I want you to find yourself, so that together we can rebuild our nations and pass on the knowledge within our cultures to our children. I wish you the best of luck on your quest to discover who you are and the beauty that lives within you, which was passed on to you by your ancestors.

The post Piecing my culture together, one moment at a time 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.

The post Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’ appeared first on IndigiNews.

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