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‘There are no bodies’: Judge’s comments shock KIRS survivor as land defenders given jail time



Secwépemc Hereditary Chief Saw-ses stands outside of Tkʼemlúps (Kamloops) courthouse in Secwepemcúl’ecw during the first day of his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 23. Saw-ses was sentenced to 28 days in jail for resisting Trans Mountain’s construction in his homelands. Photo by Aaron Hemens

CONTENT WARNING: This story has content about the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS). Please read with care.

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) is a seven minute drive from the courthouse where six water and land defenders — including a survivor — were sentenced this week for resisting Trans Mountain’s construction in Secwepemcúl’ecw.

The evidence indicating the presence of 215 children’s remains at KIRS — uncovered through an investigation led by Tkʼemlúps te Secwépemc in 2021 — is still a raw subject for the many affected families, some of whom were present in court.

But that didn’t stop Shelley Fitzpatrick, the judge who has been presiding over the land defenders’ case for two years, from making her opinion about the findings at KIRS known.

On Tuesday, she stated that “there are no bodies” there and participated in a tense exchange with a lawyer that resulted in outrage from the room filled with Indigenous people.

For Secwépemc Hereditary Chief Saw-ses, who endured 10 years at KIRS, her comments — which appeared to be entirely out of pocket — were surprising and enraging. 

“I was pretty mad,” said Saw-ses, who was not present in the courtroom at the time of the comments but heard about it afterwards.

Then, on Friday, Fitzpatrick sentenced Saw-ses to 28 days in jail.

Saw-ses was one of eight water and land defenders charged with criminal contempt for disrupting the development of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) in his homelands. Six of them were given jail time this week, between 28 and 32 days.

Saw-ses and his defence lawyer, Benjamin Isitt, had submitted to the court that his decade at KIRS be considered during his sentencing.

“The overall sentence of 28 days jail for a survivor of the KIRS — and all of the time, the years of time, that Saw-ses already served for no crime at all — we do think that should’ve been applied as a credit against any sentence imposed for the contempt of court,” said Isitt.

Saw-ses was slated to self-represent himself in court — an approach that all the land defenders had been taking up until the sentencing portion — but he told IndigiNews that changed last minute following Fitzpatrick’s comments on the findings at KIRS. 

Also on Friday, settler-ally Romilly Cavanaugh was sentenced to 32 days in jail. Both Saw-ses and Cavanaugh have already submitted notices to the B.C. Court of Appeal. 

Fitzpatrick had sentenced Saw-ses’s daughter, Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick — along with settler-allies Susan Bibbings and Laura Zadorozny — to 28 days in jail on Wednesday, while settler-ally Heather Lamoureux was given a 29-day sentence.

Dick appealed her sentence and was released on bail on Friday. The basis of Dick’s appeal, according to a press release issued by the land defenders, was to challenge what they described as Fitzpatrick’s “blatant bias against Indigenous communities and in favour of TMX.”

Fitzpatrick also sentenced a Tsleil-Waututh land defender last year for actions against TMX in his own homelands.

“Fitzpatrick has presided over TMX pipeline cases since 2019 and has incarcerated a long list of Indigenous Nation members and supporters on unceded territory since,” the release states, in part.

“The appeal will seek to not only challenge [Wednesday’s] sentencing decision but the unfair and unjust sentences that have been the bread and butter of Fitzpatrick’s long and storied career protecting corporate interests.”

In December 2022, Dick, Bibbings, Zadorozny and Lamoureux were found guilty of criminal contempt after holding ceremony in a buffer zone located within a TMX construction site on Oct. 17, 2020. Dick had much of her hair cut off by her sister, in grief over the destruction of her homelands and waters by TMX — now owned by “Canada.”

Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick speaks to supporters outside of Tkʼemlúps (Kamloops) courthouse in Secwépemc homelands during the first day of her sentencing on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Dick was sentenced to 28 days in jail for resisting Trans Mountain’s construction in her homelands. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Two days prior to her arrest, Saw-ses was arrested alongside Secwépemc Matriarch April Thomas, Red Deer Billie Pierre of Nlaka’pamux Nation and Cavanaugh after holding a water ceremony at Sqeq’petsin (the Thompson River) before entering TMX’s injunction-protected construction area.

Saw-ses, Cavanaugh, Thomas and Pierre were all scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 23 and 24, but Thomas and Pierre have had their sentencing adjourned to May, as the two await the completion of Gladue reports. 

Both Saw-ses and Cavanugh were represented by Isitt, who also represented Dick, Lamoureux, Bibbings, and Zadorozny during their sentencing.

How dare you say that?’

On Tuesday, Isitt was providing Bibbings’s submissions to the court. The lawyer made note of Bibbing’s tree-planting efforts that she had completed throughout the years with Sequoia Solution, an organization that she founded.

He highlighted that Bibbings had helped plant 215 trees to honour the evidence of unmarked children’s graves of former “students” at KIRS, saying “their bodies had been unearthed.”

“There are no bodies,” Fitzpatrick interjected, which prompted a quick correction from Isitt, who said that “remains had been unearthed.”

“They have been?” she asked him. Again, Isitt provided a clarification, this time saying that remains had been identified through ground penetrating radar.

“Potentially,” she replied, which immediately prompted outrage from a courtroom packed with Indigenous people.

“They have been identified,” one person shouted. “How dare you say that?” said another. 

“There’s no respect,” someone said as they got up and left the courtroom.

Thomas shouted “Racist!” from the courtroom gallery, which led to a courtroom sheriff asking her to leave.

“Well it was racist. Shame on you!” she said to Fitzpatrick as she exited the room.

‘See the acts of genocide’ 

Prior to the first day of sentencing Tuesday morning, a ceremony was held outside of the courthouse. Drums were played and people sang, “Canada has no jurisdiction, RCMP has no jurisdiction and Canada is on Indian land.”

Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick (centre) participates in a drum song with her sister, Gwa T’selletkwe (right), and her daughter, Maddie Romandia (left) outside of Tkʼemlúps (Kamloops) courthouse in Secwépemc homelands on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Dick was sentenced to 28 days in jail for resisting Trans Mountain’s construction in her homelands. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Before Dick’s uncle, Secwépemc Elder Mike Arnouse, said a prayer, she spoke before the crowd and invited them to come into the courtroom to “see what the acts of genocide that Canada is doing to our people.”

“(Fitzpatrick) has really been very hard on us,” Dick said. “The fact that we self-represented ourselves all the way up to this point has set precedent that the people can say what they need to say, and not be governed by Crown portions.”

As she has done on countless occasions, Dick reiterated the threat that the pipeline poses to Secwépemc waterways, the salmon and the land.

“Everything we do is for our people and for future generations,” she said. 

“We stand on the Shuswap-Okanagan confederacy, which states that we cannot sign, sell, cede or surrender our territory. That’s what we’re standing on today.”

Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick wraps a blanket around her uncle, Secwépemc Elder Mike Arnouse, during a ceremony outside of Tkʼemlúps (Kamloops) courthouse in Secwépemc homelands on Feb. 21. Dick was sentenced to 28 days in jail for resisting Trans Mountain’s construction in her homelands. Photo by Aaron Hemens

‘I still have not been heard’

Leading up to the sentencing, several of the land defenders expressed to IndigiNews what they described as a condescending attitude towards them by Fitzpatrick. 

Tsleil-Waututh and Secwépemc lands were never surrendered to “Canada” but violently colonized, resulting in colonial justice systems such as the B.C. Supreme Court and RCMP — which differ greatly from Indigenous laws. 

During the land defenders’ case, they have described feeling frustrated at having to operate within a colonial courtroom and have upheld ancient Secwépemc laws which prioritize the land, water and all relations.

During her sentencing statement on Tuesday, Dick addressed Fitzpatrick, where she said that despite spending the past two years explaining Secwépemc law to her, as well as sharing her upbringing and the crucial role that she plays for her family and community, she feels she has not been heard.

“You have not taken into consideration the outcome of clean water. The outcome of remediation work,” said Dick.

“And the fact that the conflict of interest that Canada has on the impacts of Indigenous people affected by this pipeline. And I feel like you still have not heard me.”

She said that throughout the case, Fitzpatrick has given no consideration to the impact that residential “school” has had on her family, the systemic issues of violence against Indigenous women and the impacts that colonial structures such as the justice system have on Indigenous people.

“All throughout – even right up to leading to now – I still haven’t heard you say the name of our nation …and still, you’re in our territory,” she said.

“Not even a land acknowledgement.”

‘Don’t take anything in hardship’

When the first day of sentencing concluded, the land defenders and supporters gathered outside of the courtroom for a closing ceremony, where Dick told them not to take any of the day’s events in hardship.

“(Fitzpatrick’s) words, as hurtful as they are, are not for us to take,” she said.

She urged people to lay down tobacco and say some prayers when they got home, reminding them that “we’re all here in our human form to be good human beings.”

“Let’s show the world what it means to take up our responsibilities for climate, our Mother Earth,” she said.

The post ‘There are no bodies’: Judge’s comments shock KIRS survivor as land defenders given jail 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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