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Seven years after her disappearance, family of Caitlin Potts reignites calls for justice



The family of Caitlin Potts, a Samson Cree First Nation mother who’s been missing since 2016, stands outside Orchard Park Mall in syilx homelands on July 13. The Kelowna mall was one of the last locations Caitlin was seen before she went missing more than seven years ago. From left to right: Caitlin’s uncle, AP; her brother, Jeremiah Potts; her mother, Priscilla Potts; and her son, Shane Potts. Photo by Aaron Hemens

CONTENT WARNING: This story includes content regarding “Canada’s” ongoing genocidal epidemic of MMIWG+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.

Blanketed by a veil of smoke from distant wildfires, the blood-red sun slowly sets behind a mountain peak in Secwépemc homelands that towers over the quiet city briefly known as Enderby. 

Against this backdrop, a red dress to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S) hangs from a Cliff Avenue stop-sign located just before the Bawtree Bridge, swaying with the gentle breeze on a muggy July evening.

A red dress to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S) hangs from a stop-sign in Enderby in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

On any other night, traffic typically flows steadily down this road in Splatsin First Nation territory, which takes vehicles over the Shuswap River. But on July 13, a community roadblock brought both ends of the bridge to a standstill for roughly 15 minutes. 

At the centre of this roadblock on the bridge — between the large gap left by two parked cars halting traffic — the family of Caitlin Potts was joined by community members for a vigil to honour the Samson Cree Nation mother’s life and bring renewed attention to her case.

She was only 27 years old when she was last heard from by friends and family on Feb. 22, 2016. She had been living in the Okanagan at the time she disappeared.

“We’re here to honour the life, the legacy and the quest for justice for Caitlin Potts. No more stolen sisters,” said Jody Leon, a member of the Splatsin First Nation who’s been advocating for the Potts family since Caitlin went missing.

Jody Leon of the Splatsin First Nation stands in the middle of a roadblock that was organized during a vigil for Caitlin Potts on the Bawtree Bridge in Enderby in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Throughout the week, family members and supporters reignited calls for justice and for a more dedicated investigation into Caitlin’s case. After so many years, it’s unlikely she’s alive, but her body has never been found. And though police have said they suspect foul play is involved, her loved ones still don’t know what happened.

During the vigil on the bridge, people painted red handprints over their mouths to show solidarity for Caitlin. Candles surrounded pictures of her. People held up signs and hung up posters inked with messages including: “Where is Caitlin?,” “Justice for Caitlin,” and “No More Stolen Sisters.” 

The Women’s Warrior Song was performed, and people repeatedly chanted: “Justice now!” and “Gone but not forgotten!”

“Caitlin was a mother, she was a sister, she was a daughter, she was a woman — she’s a warrior woman because she is gone, but she’s not forgotten,” said Leon.

“We call for justice, we call for answers now.”

Shane Potts, the son of Caitlin, paints a red-handprint over his mouth to show solidarity for his missing mother, during a vigil in her honour that was hosted in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Supporters of the family also handed out informational posters about Caitlin to idle cars halted by the roadblock. The posters detailed her last known whereabouts, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, and pleaded for information about a former partner who the family believes may have knowledge about what happened to her.

“If you know something, help the family get justice. Help the family get closure. Caitlin’s life mattered,” said Leon.

Informational posters detailing Caitlin’s circumstances were handed out to idle cars during a roadblock and vigil that was hosted in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

‘We don’t have answers’

Members of Caitlin’s family — her mom, uncle, brother and son — drove from their home in Pigeon Lake, “Alberta,” that week to visit key last-known areas in Secwépemc and syilx territories, in hopes of finding answers and bringing more attention to her case.

One year after her disappearance, RCMP investigators said that they suspected that foul play was involved, and released video surveillance of Potts in syilx homelands from Feb. 21, 2016, with the footage showing her entering the Orchard Park Mall in “Kelowna.”

AP, Caitlin’s uncle, is pictured during a roadblock and vigil that was hosted in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

“It took them one year to put that on the Internet. How do you expect to find murdered and missing people if you can’t have the information accurately displayed until a year later?” said Leon, who organized the vigil on the bridge.

Before the vigil, Caitlin’s family had done their own search that day of the area in Enderby where Caitlin had lived, and later visited the Orchard Park Mall. 

“It’s a struggle. I get tired. The family’s still suffering. We don’t have answers,” said Priscilla Potts, Caitlin’s mom.

“I know you have to live with grief, you have to keep pushing. We have our children, we love each other, we have each other. That’s all we have right now, and memories — that’s all.”

Caitlin’s family watches as drummers raise their sticks in the air during a roadblock and vigil in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Earlier on the week, on July 11, Leon organized a rally outside of the Vernon RCMP Detachment in syilx homelands, which is about a half-hour drive from Enderby. Following the rally, Priscilla met with investigators.

The case has been under investigation by the RCMP’s Southeast District Major Crime Unit (SED MCU) since 2016. However, Priscilla said that working with authorities and investigators hasn’t been helpful, noting that she doesn’t think the family will ever get the help that they need from the police.

“I don’t have a lot of hope in them. I’m just here because I love my daughter,” she said.

She recalled a moment from early on in the case, highlighting a meeting with an investigator that she said made her lose faith in the justice system.

“He’s sitting there with a smirk on his face. That was number one — how am I supposed to have the trust that I should have in these people? I don’t. It’s hard,” she said. “Give me some leeway, give me something to go on — not that. Because that really hurt.”

Jeremiah Potts, Caitlin’s brother, is pictured during a roadblock and vigil that was hosted in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

BC RCMP Media Relations told IndigiNews that an extensive search for Caitlin was undertaken based on available evidence and resources, and that her family “has been kept apprised regularly” during the investigation including being contacted more than 130 times.

But Priscilla said that updates on the case don’t come easy from authorities.

“We have to ask them. They don’t come to us. We have to push,” she said.

“We haven’t been here for an update in a few years. I’m not expecting too much, simply because nobody’s reached out to me.”

Instead, she credits the help of local Indigenous community members, specifically Leon, who Priscilla said is responsible for pushing for justice, conducting searches and keeping the case alive since 2016.

“Caitlin went missing out of my nation’s area,” said Leon. 

“When I see that in my community, not very far from my home, I feel like I have to take action. I don’t want women to go missing — I don’t want my nieces to go missing, I don’t want the Caitlins in the world to go missing. I don’t want anybody’s daughter to have to go through this.”

‘Her family needs justice’

Leon has been helping to organize rallies for Caitlin and other missing women in the area for years. She organized the rally outside of the Vernon RCMP detachment, which also honoured other women who had gone missing in the North Okanagan region.

Jody Leon plays a drum song during a rally for Caitlin and other missing women outside of the Vernon RCMP detachment in syilx homelands on July 11. Photo by Aaron Hemens

During the rally outside of the Vernon RCMP detachment, community members lit candles, performed drum songs and displayed signs similar to those from the bridge vigil which happened two days later. 

“Her family needs justice — they need answers. We need to raise awareness of this case again,” said Leon.

She said the rally was organized to put pressure on authorities to increase their resources and efforts into the investigation, which she feared was turning into a cold case.

“When the RCMP understands that Caitlin has allies — that she’s got a voice through the media, that she’s got people that are following her story, that she’s got people who are caring for her family – that will help her family get the answer out,” said Leon.

But through her work advocating for families of missing women, Leon said that her faith in the RCMP has been shaken.

“I don’t feel like the RCMP are doing their job. I don’t feel that the RCMP has been helpful to the families, because they leave our Indigenous people who are retraumatized over and over again,” she said. 

“They don’t properly give them the answers.”

AP, Caitlin’s uncle, is pictured during a roadblock and vigil that was hosted in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

One update did come from meeting with police at the Vernon RCMP detachment; according to Leon, authorities informed her and Priscilla that a new investigator has been transferred to the file.

“He’s responsible for the whole major crimes unit, which tells me that his time is also divided, that he’s not a frontline investigator,” said Leon. 

“I think what needs to happen with her, is she needs to have a specialized investigator that’s primarily focused on her file, particularly given the length and the amount of time.”

She said that it’s unacceptable for Caitlin to be missing this long without many answers for the family, despite the strongly-resourced RCMP.

“By raising Caitlin’s profile, we hope to assist with her case, and to continue to call for that justice, and the awareness of the murdered and missing, and just how devastating and important this issue is,” said Leon.

Jody Leon and other supporters raise their fists in the air and shout, “Justice Now!’ as a police cruiser drives past them during a roadblock and vigil in Enderby on the Bawtree Bridge in Secwépemc homelands on July 13. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Although Caitlin’s family has since returned home, Leon said that she will continue to elevate the case and organize more rallies on her behalf.

“Caitlin is gone but she’s not forgotten. And I want them to know that we haven’t forgotten about her since 2016,” said Leon.

“We’re going to stand her and call for justice for the family, call for justice for Caitlin. Indigenous lives matter.”

The post Seven years after her disappearance, family of Caitlin Potts reignites calls for justice 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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