An annual rodeo in Secwépemc homelands opened this year with a moving memorial for all of the children who never made it home from residential “schools” — as a riderless horse entered the arena to symbolize the loss that’s taken place.
With orange material braided into its mane, the lone horse was escorted around the indoor arena as a chilling reminder of all those who never had a chance to grow up.
The display reminded of the trauma that Indigenous people have had to go through — but then led into a show involving Youth and the possibilities they now have in a world where they are respected and held up by their people.
Kúkpi7 (Chief) Willie Sellars of the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) led the opening ceremony, which began with the singing and drumming of the Women’s Warrior Song.
“When we go on this path of reconciliation, we have to acknowledge the educational piece of that journey,” said Kúkpi7 Sellars on April 14.
“That onus that we have as community to hold each other up, the onus that we have as Indigenous people to also participate in that education journey by showcasing and … really holding up our traditional peoples, our language, our ceremonies.”
The annual indoor rodeo took place at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex in Williams Lake over three days in mid-April. It included various events including junior steer riding, barrel racing and bull riding.
Ceremony a strong beginning to rodeo
The event was organized by the Interior Rodeo Event Association, and each day began with an opening ceremony from the WLFN.
“The people of Williams Lake First Nation would like to welcome you to the land of their ancestors. Since the beginning of time, the Secwepemc have been living with the land as its caretakers,” said rodeo announcer Tyson Pietsch.
“As we live and work towards a common goal of providing the best for our family, support that our neighbours have the same. May you and your family live your best and reach all of your dreams.”
Pietsch spoke about hardships that the First Nations communities of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast have endured over the past 150 years, and warned the crowd about the possibility of upcoming triggering material.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis line number was also read aloud and displayed on the video screen — the number is 1-866-925-4419 and crisis support is available 24 hours a day.
“Children were legislated by the Canadian government to attend Indian residential schools, like the one on the traditional land of the Williams Lake First Nation,” he said.
“Children at the school were robbed of their childhood, language and identity. Even worse than the abuse they suffered, many of the children never returned home.”
Pietsch repeated a statement made by Kúkpi7 Sellars, who said that “There can be no reconciliation before there is truth.”
“As we recognize this truth, we wish to demonstrate and pay tribute to those of our neighbours, friends and loved ones that belong to the Williams Lake and surrounding First Nations,” said Pietsch.
In a show of the current thriving culture, traditional dances were showcased, including the men’s fancy dance, women’s traditional, men’s traditional, and boy’s grass. The dancers had platforms in the middle of the arena and another up in the stands so the entire audience had a view of the performances.
Following the dances, the riderless horse was escorted around the arena as a reminder of the children that never made it home.
Pietsch announced that this represented, “The child that never had a chance to become an adult, to become a mother or a father, the child that was never able to see their family.”
He continued by dedicating the ride, “To the child that didn’t experience their dreams, to the child that had so much to offer their community, only to face an early departure at the hands of others. Unimaginable to all of us, this is a child we will never forget and who has prepared a place for us with the Creator.”
After the riderless horse made its rounds, a small child mounted it and Pietsch said that this display represented the wounded child that did make it home to their loved ones — the one that faced overwhelming cruelty and neglect.
“Silent and with a bleeding heart, cried a thousand tears for those left behind,” Pietsch said. “This warrior will have the strength to go through life facing all his challenges and the courage to breathe new life into their culture and identity.”
The child was met with applause and cheers ringing out from the crowd as they made their way through the arena.
WLFN Youth wait to walk into the arena as a show of the thriving new generation. Photo by Cathy Norman
The cheers erupted further as a group of Youth came into the arena, who were said to be the second generation of those who were taken from their families.
This group of Youth represented the “new generation that will move forward to begin a new time of healing, a time of respect, of empathy, of a consoling heart, and most of all, will never forget the challenges and the sacrifices of their ancestors,” said Peitsch.
“These are the children that will set the new path, that will have the freedom to decide their own journey, filled with the respect of their rightful traditions, language and ceremonies. We are all present here today as a gift from the Creator and it is up to all of us to help each other fulfill that path whatever they choose it to be.”
Conclusion by Kúkpi7 Sellars
At the end of the ceremony, the Chief’s Song was played to help “bless the competitors, bless the fans, and bless the livestock.”
Kúkpi7 Sellars said that he felt truly honoured for the opportunity to kick off the rodeo in a way that welcomed guests to the lands of the Secwépemc people.
Williams Lake is surrounded by many Indigenous communities, and this ceremony helped to set a precedent for other events in and around these communities to showcase the Indigenous people and honour the land that is being used.
“Hold up our dancers and our Elders and our survivors and really honour those that couldn’t be here, that are here and that want to be here,” he said.
He also invited the public to attend all the events put on by the WLFN, including their Father’s Day powwow, competition powwow, and any other events hosted in the area.
“We welcome you to participate and stand with us and stand beside us,” he said. “That is a very important part of this healing journey that we’re on.”
Kúkpi7 Willie Sellars leads a traditional song and drumming at rodeo’s opening ceremony. Photo by Cathy Norman
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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors
During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.
The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.
The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more.
Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).
Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.
Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.
“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.
“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”
Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau
As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience.
“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.
Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.
Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.
“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.
“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”
Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.
“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.
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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect
Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.
The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves.
So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops.
“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”
Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.
In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.
“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.
But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed.
At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.
“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.
Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.
He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.
In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.
“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.
A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached.
“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.
This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”
Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.
“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.
He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process.
“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.
Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.
Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.
“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.
“Honestly, it could save someone.”
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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) is celebrating a new community-owned grocery store that’s bringing food options and employment opportunities to the reserve.
The grand opening for the new Sweláps Market is set to take place on Thursday at 11 a.m., and will include speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting. It will also feature week-long deals and prize draws, giveaways and food samples.
The Sweláps Market is located in the Chief Louis Centre, and had its soft opening on Oct. 19.
The market is owned by TteS but is open to everyone. The store displays signs in Secwepemctsín (Secwépemc language) including a welcoming of Weyt-kp above the front door.
The language also labels each department of the store such as q̓wlem (bakery) and ts̓i7 ell swewll (meat and fish).
On the market’s website, each department is listed with audio files to hear the proper pronunciation.
Sweláps translates to “bighorn sheep” and the logo represents the sheep’s horn among the mountains and North and South Thompson rivers.
The 22,000-square-foot grocery store incorporates culture into the architecture, including a Secwépemc weaving design on the ceiling and a wooden ladder outside which resembles the entrance of a pithouse.
After the ladder was carved on-site by Charles Dumont, the owner of Coyote Contracting and a TteS band member, and his son Ryder — a ceremony was held to bless the log as it was put into place.
General manager Kara Stokes spoke about the importance of having a market in the community, given that, before now, the closest grocery store was off-reserve and across the river.
The vision for a band-owned grocery store goes back ten years, Stokes recalled, with multiple locations explored before settling on the Chief Louis Centre.
Before the store’s opening, Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir expressed high hopes for the store’s impact.
“This project will bring food closer to home, create employment, and further strengthen our economy,” she said in a community statement. “It will be a source of pride as leadership is fully implementing a community driven opportunity.”
Before opening, the public was kept up to date through updates and upcoming events listed on the market’s website.
A members-only job fair was held in September to give band members a chance to explore the job opportunities before opening it up to the public.
Between full-time and part-time job openings, the market employs a total of 65 people in management and frontline positions.
Stokes explained that the job openings are a helpful addition for TteS.
“That opens up the opportunity for a lot of people who live in the area to be able to work in the area,” she said.
Since the store opened to the public last month, Stokes said she has served customers of all ages and varying family sizes. The market is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
“Everybody’s been coming in and shopping and it’s really amazing to see the support from the community to be able to provide this service,” she said.
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