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Tla’amin Nation set to reclaim village of tiskʷat 151 years after it was taken: ‘It’s like a long lost relative’

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Catalyst Paper Excellence tiskʷat, with ​ʔagayqsən (Harwood Island) in the distance. Photo by Abby Francis

For the Tla’amin Nation, the loss of their village site tiskʷat has been like “a missing limb” for the community, according to Dillon Johnson.

Their home and salmon fishing site was stolen and sold by “British Columbia” 151 years ago at a time when the community’s population was decimated by disease.

For the next seven generations, Tla’amin people were separated from tiskʷat. People were moved onto reserves, salmon runs were all but wiped out by construction of a new dam, and a paper mill began operating on the site.

“I’ve always heard the Elders speaking about it, how you know, that this is tiskʷat and our people lived there,” said Johnson, an executive council member for Tla’amin.

“The way I’ve always kind of felt about it, it’s like a missing limb of the Nation … It’s like a long lost relative that’s there that we want to reunite it with the family.”

Now, Tla’amin is set to reclaim tiskʷat after the Nation recently submitted a specific claim to “Canada,” signed an agreement with “B.C.,” and are in talks with its current owners, Catalyst, about buying the site back.

The journey towards getting tiskʷat back has been a multigenerational fight, stemming back to the time it was taken — and getting the land back would mean Tla’amin could once again steward this crucial arm of their territory.

A waterfall located in toqʷanan (Theodosia) inside Tla’amin Territory. Photo by Abby Francis

An illegal sale

tiskʷat is an area of land around the “Powell” lake dam, and mill site. According to oral history, tiskʷat had one of the largest sockeye salmon runs besides the Stó:lō (the Fraser River). tiskʷat itself translates to “big river.”

Tla’amin is a self-governing First Nation located north of “Powell River” on the upper Sunshine Coast in the qathet Regional District. 

Tla’amin territory stretches from the main village in Tišosem, to ​ʔagayqsən (Harwood Island), into toxʷnač (Okeover Inlet), including ƛaʔamɛn (Lund) and toqʷanan (Theodosia). The territory is filled with forests, rocky beaches, and an incredible amount of wildlife including eagles, black bears, and deer — to name a few. 

Before colonization, tiskʷat was a village site and fishing ground of Tla’amin peoples, as shown in both written and oral history. During spawning season, there were once millions of salmon including pink, coho, sockeye and chum. Amid vibrant green forest,  families from Tla’amin, Homalco, Klahoose, and K’ómoks — the four sister nations — would gather at this site to harvest fish.

A sockeye salmon spawning at Weaver Creek. Photo by Abby Francis

Tla’amin Elder Elsie Paul remembered learning from her grandparents that the first missionaries who arrived in Tla’amin held mass at tiskʷat.

“There were little cabins there, thatʼs where people lived in when the first priest came and held the first mass right there,” she explained in an article on the Nation’s website.  “It was such a beautiful river.”

In 1873, “Lot 450” which includes tiskʷat, was illegally sold by the Government of B.C. to a man named Robert Paterson “R.P.” Rithet, according to research done by historian Colin Osmond and the qathet Museum and Archives.

Osmond started working with Tla’amin in 2013 as an undergrad at Simon Fraser University and University of Saskatchewan Ethnohistory field school. He said he’s been a part of conversations about tiskʷat ever since. 

Colin Osmond. Submitted photo

“It’s very clear that in the oral history record, that tiskʷat was a super important site for fishing salmon, but also for gathering in the winter. It was one of these places where people from all over the coast came to harvest resources and live for parts of the year,” Osmond said in an interview. 

“The oral history record is very substantial on that.”

While colonial governments saw the industrial potential of tiskʷat, Tla’amin leaders never consented to the sale and have been trying to get the village back since it was stolen. The qathet Museum and Archives website cites that Tla’amin chiefs had made several trips to “Victoria” asking the government and commissioners to stop the sale of the lot, but were not heard. 

When reserve lands were being allocated by the federal government, Tla’amin leaders wanted tiskʷat to be included, but it was left out of the six reserves allocated by surveyors: Tišosem (Sliammon) IR 1, Hardwood Island IR 2, Kahkaykay IR 6, Paukeanum IR 3, Toquana IR 4, and Tokenatch IR 5.

In Osmond’s research he notes reserve commissioner Gilbert Malcom Sproat was actively advocating for Tla’amin lands to be surveyed, similarly, he got little to no response provincially or federally. Sproat was forced into retirement in 1880. 

The province’s first superintendent of Indian Affairs, Israel Wood Powell, oversaw the sale of Lot 450 and the enactment of other violent policies including residential “schools” and the Potlatch Ban. There’s no record that he ever set foot on Tla’amin lands, but he became the namesake of “Powell River.”

In 1912, Powell River Company built a paper and pulp mill at tiskʷat that operated for more than 100 years. It later changed ownership to the company Catalyst. The “Powell” lake dam was finished construction in 1911 which meant the end of the once powerful salmon run at tiskʷat and the end to the forest and village that was used by the sister nations.

Southwest looking at “Townsite,” the Wildwood Bridge, and a part of tiskʷat from Tower Mountain. Photo courtesy of the qathet Museum and Archives

Osmond said there was also a province-wide commission around 1913, a year after the mill opened. When the commission reached Tla’amin, Osmond says there was no mention of tiskʷat, which he found strange considering the history before this time was all about tiskʷat.

“My theory is that one of the things that the mill owners promised when they asked the Tla’amin to move from tiskʷat to Tišosem, they promised that they would be given jobs at the mill,” Osmond said. 

“So we see the oral history record, very detailed, documenting tiskʷat and not only tiskʷat but also this kind of grievance that ‘we did our part and we moved and we were supposed to get jobs and we didn’t.’”

He thinks that the lack of tiskʷat being in the commission is because Tla’amin didn’t want to jeopardize those jobs and economic benefit from the mill. Which Osmond said never really happened.

“I think we can guess that over time when that didn’t happen tiskʷat then became relevant and there’s a reason why it’s a big part of the oral history record because all those Elders made sure that they told their kids and their grandkids that this was the legacy of this place is that the government and the mill owners never lived up to their promises.”

Executive councillor Johnson explained that the removal of Tla’amin people from tiskʷat was like a “heist.”

Dillon Johnson with hegus John Hackett at the opening ceremony for či čʊy ʔaye (children’s house) and ayiš ʔaye (cousin’s house) in 2022. Photo by Abby Francis

“Powell and his cronies saw the industrial potential of tiskʷat and figured out a way to obstruct the creation of ‘tiskʷat the reserve’ for our people and instead sold it as ‘Lot 450’ and reaped the economics of our territory … it’s an injustice where everybody else prospered but Tla’amin,” Johnson said.

He explained that throughout the mill’s history, only a handful of Tla’amin folk worked there over the years.

“For the most part you know, it was non-Tla’amin folks working there, from 17 years old to retire at 60, get a nice gold watch, good pension, and you’ve got a nice house in town and a place on the lake and all this,” said Johnson.

“But for Tla’amin, it’s like we’ve been shut out and excluded from all that prosperity.” 

‘We are pursuing the ownership of tiskʷat’

The tide started to turn in 2021, when the Nation received word that the Catalyst mill would be closing indefinitely, and the over 300-acre industrial site would go up for sale.

A few months earlier, Tla’amin and Catalyst had a ceremony at tiskʷat to change the site’s name to Catalyst Paper Excellence tiskʷat. This was the first time Tla’amin had a ceremony on the site in over 100 years.

From left: Dillon Johnson, hegus John Hackett, Powell River – Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simmons and Tla’amin members Erik Blaney and Drew Blaney during the Catalyst name change ceremony in 2021. Photo by Abby Francis

“Our ancestors will rejoice to hear this place once again being called tiskʷat, and Tla’amin looks forward to the hard and productive conversations to come as we build a new relationship with Catalyst,” said Hegus John Hackett at the time.

Following suit in February of 2023, Tla’amin signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the owners of the dam adjacent to tiskʷat — Powell River Energy Inc., (Evolugen). The parties agreed to “work together to explore opportunities related to stewardship of Tla’amin territory” and other objectives — a key step towards restoring salmon runs.

Pacific salmon spawning at tiskʷat, just below the dam. Video submitted by Erik Blaney

Then, in October of 2023, Hackett and others from Tla’amin gathered at tiskʷat with Premier David Eby and provincial government officials to announce an agreement was signed as a commitment to jointly care for and steward tiskʷat.

A sacred fire was lit for the ancestors who called the original village site home.

“The injustice that was done, when the village site was taken, when the river was dammed and when the salmon disappeared, and when others took the economic benefit from that, leaving Tla’amin out and for generations to try to grapple with that loss was profoundly wrong,” Eby said.

“Our goal here today as the provincial government is to pledge to work in partnership with Tla’amin First Nation to address that wrong.”

Premier David Eby and Tla’amin leader Dillon Johnson at the MOU ceremony. Submitted photo

With witnesses from the Nation, the two parties signed a MOU on Oct. 27, which included the province committing to work with Tla’amin to steward tiskʷat and address the environmental impacts of decades of industrial use. It also recognized Tla’amin’s long-term goal of owning tiskʷat.

“Yes, it feels good to say it out loud today — yes we are pursuing the ownership of tiskʷat,” Hackett said.

“It’s very important, even if we don’t acquire the site this time around, we will continue to show up for tiskʷat. We will work with B.C. and further other parties through this MOU to steward tiskʷat in a responsible fashion until the day we do repossess this site.”

Starting the specific claim process

The same month the agreement with the province was signed, the Tla’amin specific claim for the historic village site was accepted for formal negotiation by “Canada.”

Acceptance of the specific claim culminated many generations of fighting to reclaim tiskʷat, and Hackett stated he was “overcome with emotion” to start the process to finally get the site back, saying: “we are the generation that has the chance to correct this historic wrong.”

A specific claim is made by a First Nation towards the federal government over a piece of land that had been wrongfully taken by the Crown. With these claims, negotiations are held over a settlement fee, meaning that the government would pay the Nation as compensation for the time the First Nation went without that land.

“The specific claim, in a way, it’s always been a priority of leadership. Like they’ve always known, hey, that was our site and it should have been made a reserve,” said Johnson. 

“Thankfully over the past five or six years, Canada has taken a better approach to specific claims and you know, while we still have some Elders that have the oral histories and know them really well, we thought with the land going up for sale, us trying to reclaim the land, positive changes made to the specific claim process… We said, let’s resubmit it.”

In August of 2009, Tla’amin had submitted a previous specific claim on tiskʷat. Johnson said that it was rejected by the Harper government because there “wasn’t enough evidence to accept it as a specific claim.”

However, under Tla’amin’s 2016 treaty, it states that the Nation can choose to pursue any claims that fall within the scope of “Canada’s” specific claims policy— naming tiskʷat as one of them. 

The specific claim with “Canada” is monetary, meaning Tla’amin and the federal government would negotiate a settlement amount for the time Tla’amin went without access to tiskʷat. The claim does not impact Catalyst’s actual sale of the lot, who Tla’amin would still have to directly buy the site from. 

Following Tla’amin’s resubmission of the claim, Johnson said they asked “Canada” to send officials out to the village to meet with Tla’amin Elders and leadership in April 2023. The federal government then notified Tla’amin of its acceptance of the claim in October 2023 and offered to begin negotiations.

He explained that, while the reclamation of tiskʷat is still in its early stages, some of the ideas Tla’amin have for the site include land-based aquaculture, clean fuels like hydrogen, housing potential in some areas, and forestry. The Nation has held several meetings with members and staff about tiskʷat, but before each meeting non-disclosure agreements are signed to protect sensitive information.  

“We’ve got a bunch of experts that are advising us on this project, but if we can get it right, get the right plan, and the local community here supports it and (B.C. and) the feds support it, like it could really be transformative to this whole region and the Nation’s role within the region,” he said.

Toqʷanan (Theodosia Inlet) with the mountains in the back. Photo by Abby Francis

For Tla’amin Youth Ace Harry, reclaiming tiskʷat is a historic moment for her generation — and one that must be done carefully.

“tiskʷat to me means our, our salmon. It means having our river back and it means restoring the ecosystem of all that is in our backcountry, all of our mountainous territory and that is a huge amount of territory,” Harry said in an interview.

“And just thinking about climate change, you know, I think we really as a Nation and as a people need to be very careful about the way that we walk these next few steps forward because trading in those life, giving ecosystems for these industries that crash in less than 100 years, or around 100 years, like the mill did.”

Tla’amin Youth Ace Harry. Photo by Abby Francis

Harry said she’s been talking with other Youth who all deeply value their ancestral connections to the land, and feels ultimately hopeful for tiskʷat’s future.

“But I think as far as our generation’s advantage and seeing clearly, is that our kids are going to have to grapple with directly the impacts of what we do with that site because that was home to one of the largest sockeye salmon runs on the entire west coast.”

The inability to steward tiskʷat has been a constant sore spot for Tla’amin leaders — for example, in January, the dam gates were suddenly opened after months of being closed on the lakeside, unleashing a massive rush of water into the river that would wipe out any salmon that would have spawned over the summertime. Reclaiming the site would mean Tla’amin would finally begin to regain control over how the site is managed.

The “Powell” lake dam opened late January 2024. Video via Resilient BC

Johnson said being involved in the reclamation of tiskʷat has been very meaningful to him, calling it some of the most important and exciting work he’s been involved with in his leadership career. 

“I see so much potential, if we can get it right,” said Johnson.

He said that even looking back four or five years ago, the Nation getting the chance to own the mill site, reclaim tiskʷat, or even get a resolution didn’t seem possible in the near future.

“But here we are, we’ve managed to kind of position ourselves here where we have a path to getting the land back and we have this path for bringing resolution to this claim that’s been outstanding for so many years,” Johnson said.

“It’s been pretty amazing seeing and hearing from our membership about what they feel about tiskʷat. I feel there’s a lot of pride being restored in our folks around tiskʷat … I feel like the ancestors have really been guiding this.”

The post Tla’amin Nation set to reclaim village of tiskʷat 151 years after it was taken: ‘It’s like a long lost relative’ appeared first on IndigiNews.

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Through film, Kayah George explores the nuanced responsibility of being səlilwətaɬ

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Kayah George. Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

Waves crash upon a shoreline as a screen fades from black to the silhouette of a person walking across the protected Maplewood Mudflats within the unceded territory of the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation.

The light of blue hour is in full effect, hovering above the Parkland Refinery in the distance as a voice begins to speak, “My name is Halth-Leah. I carry my grandmother’s name, and she carries it from her grandmother. That goes 13 generations back. I’m from Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which  translates to ‘People of the Inlet.’ We didn’t see this place the way the world does now.”

That silhouette and voice belong to Kayah George, a filmmaker and matriarch-in-training who is also from the Tulalip Nation in “Washington State.” It’s a scene from her poetic hybrid-documentary film, Our Grandmother the Inlet, co-directed with Jaime Leigh Gianopoulos, an emerging director, editor, and producer.

‘Asked to save a world that has taken everything

George has travelled globally for more than half of her life to speak on Indigenous and environmental issues. Recently, she has been moving away from the world of panels and protests toward filmmaking.

On a rainy day in November, George is sitting on the couch in the apartment that she recently moved into. The 25-year-old is in the process of “making the space mine,” she says — a longboard rests against the wall by the front door, a vinyl player with records in the left corner of the room, and her desk, nestled in front of the window, points toward the mountain range of səl̓ilw̓ət with a detailed (and full) calendar and positive post-it notes and affirmations hanging on the window beside it.

Coming from a long line of activists, George has been thrust into the spotlight since childhood, speaking out against resource extraction in her territory. Campaigning against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX), which will significantly increase oil tanker traffic through the inlet, is one example of George’s activism work. Chemicals leaking into the Burrard Inlet threaten the Tsleil-Waututh Nations’ lands. 

At 12-years-old, a very shy George had her first speaking engagement, a poetry reading where she and her dad, Rueben George, both spoke together. From there, these speaking engagements were nearly every few months, and reflecting back on that now, she feels like she was overburdened from a young age — with many environmental organizations jumping at the chance to feature the strong-spoken young activist. Now that she’s older, she’s taking back the reins on how and when she uses her voice.

“Environmental activism is going to be a part of my work no matter what,” George shares.

“I care about the Earth no matter what, whether it affects me or not. I care about it inherently.”

George believes that filmmaking has the power to inspire action and create change, even more so than activism. 

“The frontline can be a healing place to stand up for things, but it can also be a bit jarring. It can wear on you. I feel that a creative and cultural outlet is super necessary for keeping a good balance internally. That was the point of making a film, using all the words I was saying and repeating every time I went up and spoke somewhere. I just put it in a film so I don’t always have to be out there,” shares George.

“I found a lot of healing in making a film and expressing myself, having that outlet and showing things I couldn’t put into words — feelings or thinking. Some of the themes depicted in the film show how I felt inside, and having them out took that pain out of me.”

Narrowing her view on filmmaking is what drives George, which is evident with the recent release of Our Grandmother the Inlet.

The nine-minute film explores her and her grandmother Ta7a, daughter of the late Chief Dan George, as they reflect on their relationship with water, culture and land.

Following the opening, the film transitions to a short scene of George skateboarding down an East Vancouver street with an appearance from Joe Buffalo before their paths diverge, and George is left to reflect on what it has been like to grow up facing the demons of colonization and questioning why she was “asked to save a world that has taken everything from me, everything from my people.”

In one part of the film, George and her grandmother harvest softshell clams from səl̓ilw̓ət, the name of the Burrard Inlet in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, waters which were once abundant with whales, herring, salmon and shellfish consistently and sustainably harvested by the Tsleil-Waututh people before colonization.

Seven hundred contaminants were identified in səl̓ilw̓ət between 1971 and 2016, a Tsleil-Waututh report found.

Because of all the urbanization and industrialization, countless marine terminals and oil refineries punctuate the shoreline of the inlet, which can be seen in montage clips throughout the film.

As the film continues, George highlights the historical importance of the inlet alongside its current struggles and her wish to protect it as it has protected her and her ancestors.

Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

A dream from the ancestors

George, whose first name means “wolf” in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, recalls a moment when she was sitting at the dining table in her Auntie Char’s kitchen in the Tsleil-Waututh Nation when it all came together. She had taken a step back to focus on her emotional and spiritual selves and was plotting her next steps.

“I was like an arrow being pulled back, thinking, where do I point my bow?” she noted.

That’s when it hit her, and she heard a voice from her ancestor say, “Follow your dream.”

She allowed herself to let go of what she thought might be the most realistic path and instead asked herself what she wanted to do next, noting that it was always filmmaking that most captured her attention.

“I wanted to act, and I had another dream: I wanted to go back to school and finish my degree. So I decided to do those things,” she shared.

As a child, George said she would watch films on a projector set up by her father, Reuben, Sundance Chief and member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Reuben, who recently released his memoir and national bestseller, It Stops Here: Standing Up for Our Lands, Our Waters, and Our People, had also wanted to be a filmmaker when he grew up.

She has no regrets about changing course, considering she recalled being raised hearing stories about her great-grandfather, Chief Dan George, who has been referred to as “the most famous Indian in the world,” she shares while laughing.

She continues with a story her grandma told her about going to the Oscars with him. While there, Jack Nicholson approached her and asked, “Who might you be?”

“Amy George,” she answered.

“The chief’s daughter?” he questioned.

That story still sits with the younger George as a driving narrative of how her path would unfold.

Her stepfather, Myron Dewey, from the Walker River Paiute Tribe, was also a guiding force in her life. He was a filmmaker, journalist, professor at Duke and activist who helped bring attention to what was happening at Standing Rock.

She recalled when he said, “We need to put storytelling back into our people’s hands. People can’t keep telling our stories.”

Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

‘Be careful about what you pray for’

A self-described “shy” kid, George credits her “spunkiness” and ADHD as a big part of what drives her. “I feel like I have a lot of ideas,” she said.

“You expect yourself to work at the same capacity as people who don’t have ADHD, and you’re hard on yourself when you have to overcome something. That’s why we tend to overdo it,” she shared.

“I’ll schedule 20 things and be like, ‘Oh, I have a free hour, I can go to the gym, I can go grocery shopping. I can do it all.’ But it’s like, no, you can’t. The biggest message is to be kind to yourself. Today, that was something that was really sitting with me, so I wrote on a bunch of sticky notes and put them all over. I realized something needs to give because I can’t do it all.”

The reality behind the success of high achievers with ADHD is often unexpected. Though some find healthy coping mechanisms to manage some of their ADHD traits, many are often time-consuming and draining, working twice as hard as those without ADHD, which can lead to burnout and isolation. 

Before the pandemic, George was enrolled at Simon Fraser University to study her language when she realized she needed a break. She moved to San Pancho, Mexico, for two and a half months to learn Spanish — her other grandmother’s language —  work on her film and surf. 

She then began studying linguistics and psychology while working as an environmental research intern with Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping.

George is still keeping busy. Recently, she’s taken a semester off school to focus on travelling to film festivals and acting. In July, she will begin filming an educational short Docu-series on orca whales and matriarchy funded by National Geographic. Currently, she is working on her next script.

“Right now, I’m living out my dream and happy about that. I prayed for all these things. The only thing is they all came true at the same time, which is hard. So be careful what you pray for,” she says. 

I tell her this reminds me of something Dane-zaa, nêhiyaw, and mixed European author and activist Helen Knott said at her book launch in October. 

“Be careful about what you pray for. If you’re praying for strength, you’re going to be given hard times to build up that strength, so I’m mindful of how I pray,” Knott shared. 

George laughs and pulls her copy of Knott’s memoir, Becoming a Matriarch, out of the box beside her, sharing how much she wants to read it. 

“I’m being all the things I wanted to be as a kid. It’s so healing to be able to express myself like this.” 

Kayah and Ta7a George. Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

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Police discrimination probe builds on Indigenous families’ calls for justice

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People hold up signs during a rally calling for justice for Jared Lowndes in 2022. Photo by Philip McLachlan

“British Columbia’s” human rights commissioner has launched an inquiry into police discrimination when it comes to use of force.

The province-wide investigation was announced in late January in response to public concerns about disproportionate violence from officers against racialized people and people with mental health issues. 

While systemic racism in policing is a known issue, there is still a lack of comprehensive data about these impacts which is what Kasari Govender’s office hopes to uncover. 

“This inquiry aims to better understand who is at the receiving end of use of force by police, whether any disproportionate impact revealed amounts to systemic discrimination and what can be done to address any equity issues that emerge,’” Govender said in a news release.

Govender said she hopes this investigation will enable communities to have greater involvement in the province’s approach to policing and ownership over their information.

Investigation will ‘narrow scope’ of past work

According to Govender, the inquiry builds on previous work done by her office. In particular, a 2021 report which found racial disparities in the province’s policing system. 

The “Equity is Safer: Human Rights Considerations for Policing in British Columbia” report analyzed data from the “Vancouver” and “Nelson” police departments and the “Surrey,” “Duncan” and “Prince George” RCMP.

It found that Indigenous people are overrepresented in arrests, chargeable incidents and mental health-related incidents. Indigenous women are also overrepresented in arrests compared to white women or women from all other racial backgrounds.

The data also found a great deal of police activity involves people experiencing mental health issues, with Indigenous, Black, Arab and West Asian people significantly overrepresented in these types of police interactions in many jurisdictions. 

While the 2021 report focused on five police jurisdictions in “B.C.,” the inquiry will use data on police interactions across the province. Policing bodies are legally obligated to provide this data to the government, according to Govender, which she said will also help her office “produce some results and move towards recommendations.” 

The 29 recommendations made in the 2021 report include asking the provincial government to provide funding to enable Indigenous peoples to be partners in Police Act reform, that the “B.C.” government should make significant investments in civilian-led mental health and substance use services, and establish a robust and well-funded Indigenous civilian police oversight body. 

Govender said these recommendations would be revisited, and new recommendations would be made through collecting, storing and using data per the Grandmother’s Perspective, which centres on relationships with affected communities grounded in the concept of data sovereignty.

“The recommendations in that last report were aimed at the legislative committee tasked with looking into reforming the Police Act … so they were quite far ranging — we made recommendations about school liaison officers, about de-tasking the police, how to overcome bias and stereotyping [in police checks],” Govender said. 

“This inquiry is going to be much more narrow in scope in the sense that we’re only looking at the use of force data rather than a broader range of information, and we’ll be making recommendations about how to address any disproportionate impacts we see there.”

Inquiry follows calls for justice

The inquiry into the police use of force by Govender’s office follows concerns raised by Indigenous families who are living with violence perpetrated by police forces across the country, along with efforts by policing bodies to improve accountability for their actions. 

An example of this is Chantel Moore’s family and friends, who have participated in an inquiry into her death at the hands of a “New Brunswick” police officer and travelled across the country to share their community’s experience with the police. 

Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, was fatally shot by Const. Jeremy Son, who had been dispatched to check on her wellbeing in June 2020. 

Since then, Moore’s mother Martha Martin has been seeking police reform through greater accountability and transparency in investigations against police behaviour. 

Martin said the inquest into her daughter’s killing relied heavily on testimonies and evidence presented by the Edmundston Police Force. She noted that investigative bodies lack Indigenous representation.

“The second something happens, the police set the narrative,” Martin said. 

“I found the inquiry was such a one-sided story because it was the police officers and the paramedics — the [inquest] didn’t bring any other person to come and say what they had seen.” 

For Martin, the lack of Indigenous representation in the investigation process leads to limited transparency by the police and a lack of accountability for officer behaviour. 

“It’s an ongoing problem that goes across the country where Indigenous people and the BIPOC community have been feeling like they’ve been a target,” Martin said. 

“The transparency part is always one-sided because it’s an officer’s word against [ours].” 

The road to data sovereignty

Meanwhile, on Jan. 9, the RCMP announced the launch of its own initiative to respond to concerns about racism and discrimination by its frontline officers.

Created following two years of consultations, the Race-Based Data Collection Initiative will involve researching race-base data in order to understand the extent of systemic racism within the force.

The data will be based on “officer perception,” wherein the officers will observe and determine the identity of the people they interact with,” according to Mai Phan, the RCMP’s acting director of its anti-racism unit. 

“Officer perception is an important metric to identify whether perceived race and perceived Indigenous identity influence outcomes for different groups of people,” Phan said during a virtual media briefing in January.

“We will be using that data to analyze our impacts and outcomes for community groups in the pilot locations.”

The initiative will begin in three communities — “Whitehorse” in the “Yukon,” “Fort McMurray” in “Alberta,” and “Thompson” in “Manitoba.” Two additional pilot sites — one in “British Columbia” and one in “Nova Scotia” — are set to follow later this year.

Phan said piloting the initiative will allow the RCMP to test processes and make improvements and adjustments before an anticipated future national rollout.

Hard data is critical for understanding interactions between police forces and Indigenous and racialized people, according to Govender. Yet she said it is not always accessible, as is the case in B.C., which has no public body tasked with providing comprehensive, publicly accessible data on the police’s interactions with racialized people.

Govender said she hopes to fill this gap by analyzing data currently available to the provincial government. For the inquiry, her office has submitted an information request to the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, which receives annual reports on the use of force from police departments across the province. 

Her office will review this data to determine whether it shows any disproportionate impacts on racialized persons or persons with mental health issues.  

She will also meet with community organizations during the inquiry to ensure they have a say in deciding how the data about their lives will be used to create positive change.

This goes hand-in-hand with the Grandmother Perspective, released in 2020, which “answers and echoes the calls to collect disaggregated data to advance human rights.” 

The Grandmother Perspective asks that instead of monitoring citizens, we collect and use disaggregated data to emphasize care for communities through “informing law, policy and an institutional practice that is in service of — and developed in collaboration with — those who are systemically discriminated against,” writes Govender in the report. 

“We cannot act on what we do not know. This is a call for knowledge. We cannot make change without first building the foundations of a respectful relationship. This is a call to work alongside community in meaningful partnership. This is the time for commitments to address systemic racism and oppression across British Columbia and to move from words to real change.” 

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At the All Native Basketball Tournament, the AMR team faces ups and downs

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Players from the All My Relations Basketball team enter the locker room after warming up for their first plays in a high-stakes game against Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh) as the basketball court is reflected behind them. Photo by Paige Taylor White

This is the second story in a three-part series about the All My Relations basketball team and their journey to the All Native tournament in “Prince Rupert.” You can read the first story here.

In between the third and fourth quarters of their second game in the All Native Basketball Tournament, the All My Relations (AMR) team was doing sit ups. 

Communication has long been a focus, and coach Adelia Paul wasn’t happy about how many screens the team didn’t call during the match against the Gitxaała Lady Warriors of Kitkatla. She called for 10 sits ups per player. 

AMR won the game on Monday with 69 baskets to their opponents’ 22 points. They also won their first game against the Old Massett Raiders by a comfortable margin a day earlier. 

The sit ups weren’t about winning, it was about execution and doing the dirty work. It was about holding one another accountable — skills that would each become more crucial as the tournament in “Prince Rupert” progressed through the week.

Though the East Van club team started the tournament on a high with the two wins under their belt, the journey to their latest game this weekend would prove to test them in almost every aspect. 

The AMR team does sit ups in between the third and fourth quarters during their second game of the tournament against Kitkatla. Photo by Paige Taylor White

The AMR team huddles at their bench during their game against Kitkatla. Photo by Paige Taylor White

“Alright you have 10 seconds to say what some of our wins were from today’s game,” Paul said after the team’s win against Kitkatla.

Players shouted out replies: drawing fouls, intensity, pressure, confidence, encouraging each other, hustle and determination. 

After this quick celebration of what the team did well, the conversation changed focus to where the team could improve. 

The team had an off day on Tuesday spent resting and scouting games. On Wednesday, the match up was against the Hesquiaht Descendants, which would prove to test and challenge the team. 

AMR player Tamia Edgar from Hesquiaht and Ditidaht Nations warms up in the locker room. Photo by Paige Taylor White

AMR players and cousins Shauntelle Dick-Charleson and Tamia Edgar are both from the Hesquiaht Nation. Edgar is from the Hesquiaht and Ditidaht Nations, and Dick-Charlesson is from the Hesquiaht and Songhees Nations. 

They have relations to almost every player on the opposing team — made up of their aunties, nieces and cousins. In the end, AMR lost.

“It came down to grit, that’s what it was,” said Dick-Charleson in an emotional discussion after the game. 

“They wanted it more, they were hungry for that ball. I say it every practice, hunger. We need that hunger. I don’t know what switched.” 

AMR player Shauntelle Dick-Charleson from Hesquiaht and Songhees Nations is one of the players on the team to compete against family members from her nation’s team. Photo by Paige Taylor White

A final score of 55-50 meant the only way to continue in the tournament was taking what’s referred to as the “backdoor route” and entering the losing bracket. 

“We didn’t do all that training for nothing,” Dick-Charleson said. 

“We put in the work. We put in that work and we lost … I just wish that we came out and showed up to that game”. 

Once you lose a game at All Native, it means playing more games and a much longer road to the finals. If the team had won against Hesquiaht, they would have only needed one more win to qualify — now, they needed four.

But it’s been done in the past. In 2022, AMR won the tournament, in what is so far their first and only time, by going the backdoor route.

Later on Wednesday, the team met at the gym to watch the game between the Gitxsan Mystics (Hazelton) and Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). AMR would play the winner of this game the following morning, in the team’s first must-win game of the tournament. 

After a three-pointer with four seconds left in the game, the Gitmidiik Thunder made a comeback to send the game to overtime and win.

At AMR’s pre-game meeting, the team discussed accountability for one another, adjustments that needed to be made, and deciding the best way to get everyone to come together for the team’s common goal. 

“I don’t feel mad, upset, jealous, I could’ve done this, I couldn’t have done that. I don’t feel any of that, I feel proud of my teammates,” said Marnie Scow when it was her turn to speak in the circle.

“We really have to leave our egos at the door. It’s not about us individually.”

AMR player Marnie Scow fixes her hair in the locker room mirror before hitting the court. Photo by Paige Taylor White

At the next morning’s game, the AMR team brought a different energy. Somewhere between calm and confident, light yet focused — the team found ways to be more connected before the game.

Playing against Gitmidiik was a back and forth effort all game long for AMR. Up by a point at half time, and then down 43-40 going into the fourth quarter, it was an all or nothing scenario.

The All My Relations Basketball warms up for their first game against Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). After losing the day before to the Hesquiaht Descendants, the AMR team has to go the “backdoor route” to the finals playing additional games to try and earn their spot in the finals. Photo by Paige Taylor White

Shenise Sigsworth works her way to the hoop while AMR takes on the Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). Photo by Paige Taylor White

AMR player Laura Lewis draws a foul while AMR takes on the Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). Photo by Paige Taylor White

In the last quarter, Laura Lewis was on the court when Gitmidiik took possession of the ball and moved it down to AMR’s net. 

Playing defence, Lewis and others lept for the ball at the same time as several other players. With Lewis putting all her energy and focus into protecting the net, the collision brought her to the ground. In a fall that looked at first looked like it was okay — Lewis didn’t return to her feet and was still on the ground. 

Looks from the AMR bench and the crowd showed the heartbreak of the situation. Without needing to look at Lewis herself, she could be heard across the court in audible distress during the already emotionally charged game. She was escorted off the court, leaving her teammates without the player’s leadership but with new motivation to win on Lewis’s behalf.

AMR player Laura Lewis gets help from family member and teammate Brenna Doolan after spraining her knee against the Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). The team depends on Lewis as a leader and vocal player on and off the court. Photo by Paige Taylor White

With only a few minutes left in the final quarter of a close game, AMR’s youngest player Amber Wells was able to steal the ball and score to put her team back in front on the scoreboard.

As the clock wound down, AMR held on to the win with a nail-biting final score of 61-60. 

Amber Wells shares and emotional win with teammates after beating Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh) in a back and forth game. Photo by Paige Taylor White

When the teams untangle themselves, a woman with purple hair breaks into centre court saying continuously “I am so proud of you.” Aggie Wells is the grandmother of AMR player Amber Wells — and congratulates her with a hug. Photo by Paige Taylor White

The win against Gitmidiik took AMR to another game on Thursday at 8 p.m., this time against Haisla Nation.

As the team warmed up in the locker room that evening, someone yelled out as Drake’s infamous song “Started From the Bottom” began to play. AMR lost to Haisla last year in a game that knocked them out of the tournament.

The All My Relations Basketball team warms up in the locker room ahead of their game against Haisla Nation. Photo by Paige Taylor White

Coach Paul, who is from Haisla Nation, learned from the coaches on that team. She addressed the AMR team ahead of the game by saying “at this point it comes down to who wants it,” while adding it will take everyone on the team for them to win.

As AMR hit the court, it became clear who most of the crowd was rooting for — with Haisla Nation being a beloved hometown team close to the host town of “Prince Rupert.”

With AMR’s black jerseys emphasizing their villain status, the sounds of whistles, boos, and comments like “clean your glasses ref” echoed through the gym. Up 23-20 at the half, AMR continued the forward momentum and pressure. Despite the cheers for the Haisla team, AMR harnessed the power of being disliked to keep a steady and calm handle on the local team.

Coach Adelia Paul and player Brenna Doolan huddle with the rest of the AMR team wihile taking a minute to strategize during their game against Haisla Nation where coach Paul is from. Photo by Paige Taylor White

The AMR team runs to coach Adelia Paul after they win against her her home nation’s team, Haisla, which knocked AMR out of the tournament last year. Photo by Paige Taylor White

In a final score of 51-43, the AMR team beat Haisla for their second win while taking the “backdoor route” and earning a chance to play for at least one more game against the Laxgalts’ap Aces (Greenville), which is set to take place Friday morning.

The tournament is set to conclude on Sunday, Feb. 18.

AMR player Joleen Mitton walks off the court after the team’s win against Haisla Nation. This win allows the team to play the next morning against Laxgalts’ap Aces and continue their run in the “backdoor route” of the tournament. Photo by Paige Taylor White

Reporting for this story was made possible in part through funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, a philanthropic organization working to advance sustainable, equitable, and socially just land use across the province.

The post At the All Native Basketball Tournament, the AMR team faces ups and downs appeared first on IndigiNews.

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