Rueben George spent his younger years living in his own personal prison built of the difficult things he’d seen and experienced as a survivor of colonial violence — but he managed to break free.
The prominent səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) member and the grandson of Academy Award-winning actor and Indigenous icon Chief Dan George is now a leading voice in the grassroots fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX).
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather by writing a personal memoir, George details his story of healing in his first book, It Stops Here: Standing up for Our Lands, Our Waters and Our People.
“I found freedom in ceremony,” he says in an interview from his home in “North Vancouver,” the central community in səlilwətaɬ’s ancestral territory that takes up a large swath of what’s been briefly known as Metro Vancouver.
“With that freedom came an awakening, and in that awakening, I felt the spirit. That’s what drives us. When we feel spirit, and we realize we have a spirit inside ourselves and our ancestors and that everything else has a spirit, and we learn to love those things, how can we not do something about it?”
George, 53, explores his journey in It Stops Here, co-authored by his friend, Michael Simpson, an award-winning author who often writes against the settler fantasy of an “empire in extent of resources.”
Part memoir, part historical text, part inspiration, in it George addresses the history of colonial “Canada” and the impact of residential schools, as well as his own life.
“I was also a prisoner of all the bad things I did, all the men and women I’d hurt with my addiction and my alcoholism and my trauma. I was a prisoner of my hurt and pain,” George says.
Now, he can tie that suffering back to the decimation of his community from diseases like smallpox (which historically brought the nation’s numbers down from around 10,000 to currently hovering near 600) and his parents and grandparents’ experiences at residential “school,” which created a pain that extended down generations.
The book comes from a series of recorded conversations recounting the early years spent with his grandfather, his troubled teen years and addiction, his healing journey, and finally, his fight against TMX.
George is one of the leading voices against the pipeline project, but it is a family affair. His mother, Ta’ah Amy George, has been at his side at many protests.
George continues the fight and urges policymakers and anyone who will listen to take action against the incessant resource extraction endangering the land. Construction on TMX — now owned by the federal government — is underway and is expected to be in service in early 2024, transporting oil from the prairies to the coast.
“It’s crazy,” George says. “From the beginning, we’ve been saying that it doesn’t make sense, and now it’s even more brutal than we thought.”
In the book, George recounts feeling low about the pipeline fight and picking up his grandfather, Chief Dan George’s own memoir, My Heart Soars. He opened it to a random page and found in front of him a poem his grandfather had written entitled Words to a Grandchild:
As I see beyond the days of now
I see a vision:
I see the faces of my people,
your sons’ sons,
your daughters’ daughters,
laughter fills the air
that is no longer yellow and heavy,
the machines have died,
quietness and beauty
have returned to the land.
The gentle ways of our race
have again put us
in the days of the old.
Chief Dan George wrote those words in 1974.
Reuben George’s call to spiritual arms in his book is wide open.
“It doesn’t matter what they follow. My grandfather would say, if you’re Catholic, Christian, Muslim, or you sweat lodge or longhouse, or whatever you want to follow, just be good at it, and we could have a good moment together,” he says.
“He meant to follow the fundamentals of humanity and spiritual teachings: love, honour, respect, dignity, pride, compassion, understanding, truth, knowledge, wisdom, bravery, courage.”
We see and feel trauma every day with fires and floods and murders and drug overdose deaths, he says.
“We are in trauma all the time, and we normalize all these things. But with those fundamentals of humanity replacing our trauma, we will want to do something to make the world a better place.”
George said he initially felt vulnerable opening up about the difficult times of his life, but he hopes by talking about his own journey, others may open themselves to a more spiritual path.
“I believe our world is in trauma, and one of the things I see often in people is the lack of spirit. That is trauma in itself. We’re physical, we’re spiritual, we’re mental, and we’re emotional beings, and that needs to be balanced. If we had a good, genuine spirit in our lives, I think the world would be a better place,” he shares.
“That’s my hope.”
“It Stops Here” was released on Aug. 29 by Penguin Canada.
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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.
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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.”
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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’
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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