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Woodland art is freedom for artist Donald Chrétien



The Chickadee of the York Region Experience Trail Marker Project is illustrated by Nipissing First Nation artist Don Chrétien. – Photo supplied

By Kelly Anne Smith

NIPISSING FIRST NATION – The Amazon has Nipissing First Nation artist Donald Chrétien enthralled.

“The patterns in nature here in the jungle are arranged in different ways and has opened my eyes even wider, like a kid in a candy store.”

Chrétien is in Brazil for a month-long artist-in-residency with The Broken Forest Group. Through his art, Chrétien purposefully draws people into the forest for a dose of nature.

“I’m really starting to go towards the plants and get people out in the forest and see these things that they are forgetting about.”

His pollinator/seed spreader series is very popular marking the trail system in the York Region. The birds and insects are showstoppers in bold strokes with vibrant mass colours and clever undertones of coloration. The artist says he has been asked to create trail markers to add to the nine in the series.

The Moth, The Butterfly, and The Bee seem to be rooted in the forest. The Hummingbird flies among the branches and leaves in search of nectar. The whimsical Firefly lights up the sweetgrass while The Chickadee is the wise seed saver scouting the forest for tree caches.

“It’s the little things that matter,” says Chrétien. “At that point, I was learning more and more. Same with us. Do we really have a voice? But as a group, it makes a big difference. The same with the pollinators and seed spreaders; without them, we don’t have plants  and plants are the most important thing in the pyramid. Without plants, there are no animals. There’s no us.”

The group NIN OS KOM TIN (meaning the Creator) helped Don explore his roots.

“I was with them for about five years. We had the mini pow wow right where the actual sign is where we just dedicated a couple of weeks ago in Newmarket, [Ont.], at Fairy Lake. That’s exactly where I used to set up the teepee and I’d stay overnight the night before. I would stay in the park. It’s kind of neat that this signage went about 10 feet from where I used to sleep for the pow wow,” he explains. “My first pow wow, we were helping to organize to bring awareness to that area. There is nothing in the York Region for off-band members. We were trying to just bring awareness. That was when everything sort of opened up. My mom came to that. She passed away about two months later after that. So, there were a lot of questions I had.”

The timing was right for retracing his heritage when he connected with Basil Johnston. Johnston needed an illustrator for one of his books. They went on to work on a bigger project for Owen Sound, Ont.

“After I connected with Basil Johnston, that was pretty much it. I was totally committed. I gave up commercial work in Toronto. I just started from scratch. I’d always been interested in the woodland style. I’d never really had the opportunity to work on it.”

Painting woodland style, Don found his own way from artists he really liked such as Carl Ray and Norval Morrisseau.

“Everything that I’d done previously in my illustration career was editorial, illustrating stories. Whatever I did beforehand was training for what I’m doing now. A lot of my colour theory I was unable to use in a commercial world because the colours are just too much sometimes. I worked with a lot of different art directors and I learned a lot from them. But now, I’m free.”

Don Chrétien’s art holds important stories.

“They’re medicine for me also and hopefully for other people. Yeah, you gotta look. A lot of them are artwork when it’s first shown to people. My artwork anyway, they go, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But as soon as you tell the story, they become so engaged in it saying, ‘Wow, I never saw that’,” he recounts. “While I’m doing it, because I’m working with organic shapes, other good things come up. So, I leave them. They are little treasures that I find and then I leave in the artwork.”

The artist explained his passion project a few years ago, which involved students helping to carve chairs adorned with animals, dodems (clans), and the Grandfather Teachings.

“I worked a couple of years with the students at Unionville Highschool, all different nationalities, and we all came to the same conclusion: we all have to be nicer to each other and work together. The Grandfather Teachings are great for that,” he explains. “They’re a place to reconnect yourself and just sit in these chairs. If you need a little courage, go sit in the courage chair. These chairs have animals carved into them and there are three animals in each one. And when you sit in it, you become the fourth. They are huge. It took two years. It took a lot of students and a lot of work to get it done. They were involved in a huge project. I’m impressed. They are too nice to be outside.”

In Brazil, Don is with other international artists from all over the world gathering together in forests in different countries.

“Last year, all the artists were here in Canada, in North Bay, and Kirkland Lake, and we had a show in Toronto. The year before that, I was in Poland. And that’s amazing. In September, with Broken Forest West, we’re in Victoria and Vancouver Island.”

Don is also excited about another big project coming up. It’s a little Anglican church that’s on the corner of Bloor and Avenue Rd., right across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

“I have 75 feet by 30 in along the bottom of the building. That’s a high visibility spot for Canada, I guess.”

Donald Chrétien has a couple of ideas that might be inspired by the great amazon. Check his fine art here.

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Dokis member offers thoughts of economic reconciliation at Toronto conference




Dokis First Nation member Karen Restoule was one of the presenters at the Indigenomics Bay Street conference held in Toronto.

By Sam Laskaris

TORONTO – Karen Restoule believes it is time for change.

Restoule, a member of Dokis First Nation in Northern Ontario, shared her thoughts of what that change could look like at the Indigenomics Bay Street conference, which concluded on Nov. 23 in Toronto.

Restoule, a strategist and communications specialist who is a vice-president with Toronto’s Crestview Strategy, was one of the presenters at the conference held at the Westin Harbour Castle.

Her presentation was titled ‘The intersection between policy and Indigenous business’.

“Indigenous Nations are ready to drive off the Indian Act superhighway,” Restoule said during her presentation.

Restoule said policy alternatives have been developed in recent years and First Nations are able to opt into these laws, making the Indian Act no longer relevant.

These policies include the First Nations Land Management Act, the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act, and the First Nations Good and Services Tax Act.

Restoule, however, believes it would be better to modernize all treaties, including ones that are considered “historic.”

“Currently in Canada, there are 25 modern self-governments or modern treaty agreements that include some 40 or so First Nations,” Restoule said. “And they are largely located in British Columbia, across the territories, and into northern part of Quebec. There are more than 630 First Nations across the country. That means that approximately 590 Nations remain under the Indian Act.”

Restoule believes it is time to consider renegotiating “historic treaties” like the other ones that have been modernized.

“Not only does this lead to equitable federal transfers, it gives way to agency and the right of ownership of land,” she said. “And most of all, it gives way to equitable opportunity.”

Restoule thinks the current system is broken, but she also believes what an improved system would look like needs to be sorted out before changes are made.

“In a society where so many are tearing down, we ought to consider what we can do, as citizens of this country, to build that off-ramp (on the Indian Act superhighway),” she said. “And while yes, the Indian Act does in fact need to go, it cannot be abolished in the absence of another solution.”

In large part because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Restoule said members of the Canadian public are familiar with some aspects of the Indian Act, established in 1876.

Restoule believes Canadians are better informed now on topics including the history of Indian Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop.

“But there are many points about the Indian Act that Canadians are less familiar with,” she said.

For example, she mentioned movement restriction, where First Nations people were not allowed to leave the boundaries of their reserve without the permission of an Indian agent stationed there. Business and trade restrictions were also implemented whereby both internal and external business dealings required approval from the Indian agent.

“There is a commonly held stereotype that Indigenous peoples have always lived in small secluded communities, never leaving their patch of land for anything,” Restoule said. “This couldn’t be further from fact. Prior to Indigenous-European contact, Indigenous peoples throughout these lands had expansive and established trade networks that gave way to the movement of goods and the people who moved them.”

Restoule concluded her presentation by issuing a challenge to attendees.

“What are each of you prepared to do to build that off-ramp towards a better Canada for everyone?”

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Noojmawing Sookatagaing Ontario Health Team a voice for citizens




Rocky Bay Child and Family Services staff Amanda Esquega and Tricia Mishquart shared information about their organization during the Noojmawing Sookatagaing (Healing Working Together) Ontario Health Team’s Indigenous Service Providers Showcase and Leadership Session on Nov. 21 at the Victoria Inn in Thunder Bay.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY — An Indigenous Service Providers Showcase and Leadership Session was hosted by the Noojmawing Sookatagaing (Healing Working Together) Ontario Health Team (OHT) on Nov. 21 at the Victoria Inn in Thunder Bay. Noojmawing Sookatagaing OHT, which supports a continuum of care with providers in the City and District of Thunder Bay, was officially launched in October 2022 as part of the fourth cohort of Ontario Health Teams.

“The Leadership [Session] was to bring service providers within the health and social services systems together to network and collaborate and to build trusting relationships and partnerships,” says Natalie Paavola, co-chair at Noojmawing Sookatagaing OHT, director of health and wellness at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care and Namaygoosisagagun citizen. “The reaction, I’m happy to say, has been quite positive. Everybody has been just pleased with the turnout and pleased with the feedback that we’ve been given and also sharing that they are quite happy and satisfied with the opportunity to network and collaborate with each other.”

Sandi Boucher, an Indigenous keynote speaker, author of Honorary Indian and other books and Seine River citizen, delivered a presentation on I Have a Dream during the Leadership Session.

“I’m a 10-year domestic abuse survivor — there’s a time I couldn’t have sat at a table and have a conversation with one of you, and look at what I do now,” Boucher says. “I am living proof our past does not have to be our present or our future, and it has nothing to do with how someone else looks at us, it’s how we look at us, that’s what we’re focusing on today.”

Boucher says her mother used to demonstrate to her and her brother how no individual can see the whole picture by having them look around the living room while standing back-to-back.

“She pointed out to us that there was so much of the room that we could see but there was one part we were totally blind to, my brother couldn’t see the part that was directly in front of me, I couldn’t see the part that was directly in front of him,” Boucher says. “This is why we need Indigenous voices on the OHT, because only if we come together and share what we see and actually believe each other can we start to see more of the room. And you’ve heard this in meetings, someone will say, ‘It doesn’t look like that to me.’ That’s not a challenge, that’s an opportunity to see something that’s in your blind spot.”

Paavola says the Showcase was an opportunity for Indigenous service providers and Indigenous-led services within the City and District of Thunder Bay to showcase their services.

“We know that removing barriers through awareness works,” Paavola says. “When you are aware of the services that are available, you are better able to help and support community.”

Amanda Esquega, traditional care manager at Rocky Bay Child and Family Services, says the Showcase was “really informative.”

“We did a lot of networking with other [Indigenous] agencies to kind of see what is out there for our families,” Esquega says, noting that they provide an array of prevention programs. “We’ve been here (in Thunder Bay) since 2019, our satellite office is here and our main office is in Rocky Bay. We always mirror our programming, our services there and here, whatever we do.”

Tricia Mishquart, child and family services manager at Rocky Bay Child and Family Services, says they are also a voice for their citizens in both the community and Thunder Bay.

“We all know as Indigenous peoples how hard it is to reach out for additional services and supports,” Mishquart says. “That is why we are very unique in what we do for our [citizens].”

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ABPA responds to the Liberal Government’s Announcement of a National Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program




ROBINSON-SUPERIOR TREATY AND FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION TERRITORY, THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO (November 22, 2023) –  This week, the Liberal government announced the next steps for a long-awaited National Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program in the next year’s federal budget. However, Indigenous leaders are still waiting for details on how the program will work and whether the program would help communities invest in the natural resource sector and facilitate equity ownership in energy, mining, forestry, and other infrastructure projects.

Following is a statement from Jason Rasevych, President of the Anishnawbe Business Professionals Association, regarding the Government of Canada’s Economic Statement and commitment to National Loan Guarantee Program for Indigenous peoples:

“Indigenous leaders have been calling on this type of program for decades. We have seen some examples in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, but there are some limitations on what type of project can be supported including the amount and timeline. The lessons learned from the successes and challenges of the current state and forecasting the market demand should be part the new program design and seek compliance with Indigenous-led values and the principles of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. The announcement of a national Indigenous loan guarantee is a positive commitment that protects lenders from potential defaults and derisks the weighted average cost of capital; however, much more needs to be considered on how it prioritizes applications by geography, industry, and deals with jurisdictional dissonance across the provinces permitting regimes. We need to make sure that the human rights risks inflated by financial programs that create a larger gap between the classes of have and have not Nations are minimized and not motivated by a government – political agendas. We need the loan guarantee program to enhance and support Indigenous communities looking to participate in various sectors at different financial thresholds of resource development and ownership of enabling infrastructure like corridors and facility ownership. These projects should be assessed to consider respect for the rights-holders throughout the financing and project lifecycle, and that the proponent has achieved the free, prior, informed consent of Indigenous peoples impacted as a condition for approval. If the mandate and decision to provide the loan guarantees is supporting government or partisan plans it will create more friction for Crown-Indigenous relations, especially on how those loan guarantee decisions are being made. Indigenous communities will also need grant funding to develop the business case and economic model for the loan guarantee applications and there should be a mechanism to consider backing Indigenous-owned or operated lenders and financial institutions for a multiplier effect.”

In the past, there has been budget allocations to realize Canada’s role as a key global supplier of critical minerals for manufacturing electric vehicle batteries, solar panels, and other low-carbon technologies, which suggests dependence on intensive mineral extraction. Given Northern Ontario’s forest and mineral abundance, the region has an integral role to play in achieving these aspirations. Resource developers and governments will need to demonstrate understanding of the necessary and pivotal role that First Nations play within this paradigm given their unique rights and land title.

While the announcement could be promising as a path to reconciliation and economic growth through its support of developing strong partnerships with First Nations, success will only be realized through effective roll out and accountability. The federal government will need to demonstrate a well-executed and collaborative approach with First Nations. ABPA stands ready as an advocate for the First Nations business community and will be watching and eager to play a role in ensuring the above outlined programs meet the demands of the North.

The current ABPA Board of Directors include:
• Jason Rasevych, President, Ginoogaming First Nation
• Rachael Paquette, Vice-President, Mishkeegogamang First Nation
• Ron Marano, Vice-President, North Caribou Lake First Nation
• Jason Thompson, Secretary/Treasurer, Red Rock Indian Band
• Brian Davey, Director, Moose Cree First Nation
• Steven McCoy, Director, Garden River First Nation
• Tony Marinaro, Director, Naicatchewenin First Nation

About the ABPA:
The Anishnawbe Business Professional Association ( is a nonprofit, member-based organization based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. ABPA serves the First Nation business community within the Treaty #3, Treaty#5, Treaty #9 and Robinson Huron and Superior Treaty Areas. The ABPA develops and expresses positions on business issues and other public issues relevant to First Nation business, on behalf of its members. They provide a forum for the First Nation business community to develop policies and programming which contribute to the socio-economic well-being and quality of life of First Nations peoples in Northern Ontario. They also serve non-First Nation businesses by providing information, guidance, and access to a wide-ranging network through events and sponsorship.


Media contact:

Jason Rasevych
Anishnawbe Business Professional Association
Telephone: 807-357-5320

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