Indigenous Success Stories: First Nations

July 2, 2024

First Nations

Beloved Chilliwack Indigenous Elder who impacted the lives of many has passed

Image: UFV Indigenous Student Centre / The University of the Fraser Valley Indigenous Student Centre is mourning the passing of beloved Resident Elder Gary Williams, an Indigenous leader who impacted the lives of many as a master canoe puller, fisher and Sto:lo historian.

NationTalk: FraserValleyToday: CHILLIWACK — The University of the Fraser Valley Indigenous Student Centre is mourning the passing of beloved Resident Elder Gary Williams, an Indigenous leader who impacted the lives of many as a master canoe puller, fisher and Sto:lo historian.

According to the UFV Indigenous Student Centre, Williams passed on Sunday morning, June 30 at Chilliwack General Hospital, surrounded by his family. Williams, who was known affectionately as “Uncle Gary” to many, came to UFV in 2017 to serve the community as an Elder. Residing on the banks of the water at Skwah First Nation in Chilliwack, Williams never missed a fish opening, and taught many individuals to fish, repair their nets, and to read the river and the sky. 

“Uncle Gary was never stingy; he shared generously any knowledge that he had with all those who wanted it. This is what made him a treasured Elder in the Indigenous Student Centre,” the UFV Indigenous Student Centre wrote in a tribute to him online. 

UFV’s ISC says the family will gather at Skwah First Nation and will advise UFV when prayers and a service will be held.

by Mike Vanden Bosch

June 3, 2024

First Nations

How Shirley Williams’s traditional knowledge helped her become a professor at Trent University

1st Indigenous woman in Canada to reach full professor status via traditional knowledge

Williams stares out across the lake.
Shirley Williams was born and raised in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

June is National Indigenous History Month. To celebrate our accomplishments CBC Indigenous is sharing stories highlighting First Nations, Inuit and Métis trailblazers in law, medicine, science, sports — and beyond. 

CBC Indigenous: When Shirley Williams began teaching Anishinaabe language and culture at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., in 1986 there were no textbooks, so she had to develop her own learning materials for students.

“I remember the first sunrise ceremony that we did. It was up on the hill and we had to do it secretly,” Williams said.

“Today it’s free and we can do all kinds of cultural things for people to learn.”

By 2003, Williams had become a full professor based on her traditional knowledge, and is believed to be the first Indigenous woman in Canada to have done so. Now 85, she’s a professor emeritus of Indigenous studies at Trent.

The Odawa/Ojibway elder is from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, and attended St. Joseph’s residential school in Spanish, Ont., between the ages of 10 and 16.

“We had to fight for everything to be recognized … because the language was forbidden and the culture part,” Williams said.

“We had to go through a lot of hoops in order to practise our language and culture.”

Elder smiling.
Williams, 85, is a professor emeritus of Indigenous studies at Trent University. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

She’s semi-retired but still teaches, hosting online immersion workshops in Anishinaabemowin from her home in Wiikwemkoong.

Translating elder knowledge into institutional language

David Newhouse, who is Onondaga from Six Nations of the Grand River and chair of the Indigenous studies department at Trent since 1993, was one of the creators of tenure and promotion recognition for traditional knowledge in the department.

“Full professor is the highest rank that you can achieve within the university,” Newhouse said.

“I thought it was important that we have individuals who had high levels of Indigenous knowledge to be appointed to that highest rank.”

At Trent’s Indigenous studies department, candidates for tenure can meet requirements three ways: as a conventional scholar who is academically trained in the western tradition; as a traditional Indigenous knowledge scholar who has knowledge of the customs, tradition, histories, languages and ceremonies of a particular nation; or as a dual tradition scholar who has both traditional knowledge and academic credentials.

Man overlook balcony.
David Newhouse is the chair of the Indigenous studies department at Trent University. (Submitted by David Newhouse)

Williams, who holds a BA in Native studies and a master’s degree in environmental studies, was considered a dual tradition scholar.

Newhouse said there was some debate as to how they would validate traditional knowledge credentials. He said the verification process relies upon testimonials from “learned members of their community.”

Newhouse said every professor is expected to teach, research and serve the university — but elders don’t do research in a conventional fashion.

He said they “translated elder knowledge into the language of the institution” by asking what activities they engage in and how that generates new knowledge to bring to the university. Newhouse said Williams developed materials for teaching and working with elders and prepared lexicons and dictionaries, which they characterized as research to fellow colleagues at Trent.

One such occasion required Williams to develop new words for a hockey lexicon.

“She laughed uproariously about having to talk to elders about how to translate ‘jockstrap’ into Anishinaabemowin,” Newhouse said.

Williams’ work, Newhouse said, is in keeping with Trent’s vision statement to foster an environment where Indigenous knowledge is respected and recognized as a valid means by which to understand the world.

“Shirley is gentle. She’s kind and she brings a lot of laughter,” Newhouse said.

“You can’t have Indigenous organizations without laughter and without kindness.”

Walking for water

Williams returned to Peterborough in May to participate in and provide traditional teachings for a 100-kilometre water walk, an annual event that takes place over three days around Pigeon Lake in the Kawartha Lakes region. She and colleague Liz Osawamick founded the walk, called Nibi Emosaawdamajig – Those Who Walk for the Water.

Williams said she wants to help the public understand how they can be better stewards of the water.

Woman speaks to large group.
Williams helps lead Nibi Emosaawdamajig – Those Who Walk for the Water in May in the Kawartha Lakes region. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

“Water is very sacred,” Williams said.

“Without water we cannot live.”

She said sharing her traditional knowledge is a way to help Indigenous students reconnect to their spirit, if they didn’t have a chance to learn it growing up.

Students, friends and colleagues joined the walk.

Lynne Davis, who began working with Williams at Trent in 1986, said she remembers attending a lecture where Willams told a heart-wrenching story about how residential school had shaped her life.

Women smile with lake behind them.
Trent University students Judy Hyland and Angela Wallwork. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

“I remember Shirley started her lecture by saying that she may cry, she may become emotional. She never knew what would happen,” Davis said.

Davis said it was the first time she’d ever really understood anything about residential schools.

Judy Hyland, an educator and learner, said she went to Trent specifically to take one of Williams’s classes about language on the land. She said she’s since taken all of Williams’s language courses offered at Trent.

In her third year of a Bachelor of Education, Angela Wallwork said Williams wrote all of her Ojibway textbooks.

“Relearning the language is so impactful and she’s changed my life,” she said.


Candace Maracle, Reporter

Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.


September 5, 2023

First Nations

University of Waterloo to build new, 500-bed residence prioritizing Indigenous design principles

Groundbreaking for the new building is slated for July 2024, pending approvals

NationTalk: The University of Waterloo will build a new, 500-bed residence building on its main campus with a targeted opening of fall 2026.

In collaboration with Indigenous-owned architecture firm Two Row, and alongside the Office of Indigenous Relations at the University of Waterloo, the building team is taking a design approach that prioritizes Indigenous engagement and principles.

The building will feature a community healing garden to allow for the cultivation of sacred and traditional medicine plants. It will also be home to gathering spaces equipped for smudging, a cleansing ceremony, and will offer spaces to allow for live-in Elders to meet with students.

“I’m very proud that the university is incorporating our commitment to reconciliation in the design of this new space. It’s vital to actively seek out opportunities to move forward together with Indigenous communities in every step we take as a university, and the spaces where our students will live is a good and important example of how we can do that,” said Vivek Goel, President, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “This investment is also a key contribution to continuing to grow the Region’s housing capacity, which is especially significant in light of the ongoing challenge of availability in our community and across the country.”

The building will also include improved accessibility with multiple accessible room options and increased connectivity to main campus buildings through bridges and ground-level access. There will be dedicated counselling, wellness and sensory spaces, and washrooms will be available to all genders – reflecting the university’s commitment to inclusiveness and well-being.

Sustainability will also be top-of-mind, with the use of recycled building materials and air source heat pumps – a low-carbon heating system. The building is being designed to be net-neutral, and the recommended location for the building on the northeast side of parking lot A creates opportunities to explore alternative energy sources, further supporting the university’s net zero carbon targets.

“We know that students who live in residence, particularly during their first year of study, achieve higher rates of retention and graduation, high GPAs and a strong sense of belonging, community engagement and personal wellness,” said Chris Read, Associate Provost, Students. “This is why we want to ensure that as many students as possible who want to live on campus can, and that when they do, they have thoughtful, sustainable options which prioritize their well-being.”

The new residence will be purpose-built for mixed-year accommodation. This approach to campus housing, already popular in the United States, features traditional dorm-style accommodations for first-year students but also incorporates more private and independent living options for upper-year students.

“The mixed-year model is beneficial for both first-year and upper-year students,” said Read. “First-year students gain access to mentors in upper-years who can help them integrate into campus communities, and upper-year students gain access to a desirable, on-campus housing experience and leadership opportunities.”

The new build is one piece of the university’s Campus Housing Facilities Strategy – a long-term plan to inform the revitalization of Campus Housing facilities. It includes new beds, but also calls for the revitalization of current buildings, which are aging, not environmentally sustainable and present barriers to accessibility.

The plan was developed by the teams in Campus Housing and Plant Operations and is based on multiple assessments of the condition and performance of existing buildings, stakeholder workshops, financial development, extensive engagement with student leaders, Campus Housing staff, Plant Operations staff and a wide range of other university stakeholders.

“We’ve been working to lay out a comprehensive plan which will ensure that housing on campus provides our students with a supportive environment that fosters community and academic success,” said Glen Weppler, Director of Housing at Waterloo. “We have that plan now, and I’m thrilled that our leaders are prioritizing this work by supporting the construction of this new building, part of the first phase of this multi-year project.”

Waterloo is working with Diamond Schmitt architects and will break ground on the new building in July 2024, pending the approval of the final stages of the project plan by the University of Waterloo’s Board of Governors and Regional and Municipal partners.

July 19, 2023

Inspiring the next generation of Indigenous scholars

The 2023 IndigiNerd cohort (from left to right) Emma Sissenah, Kayla Shaganash, Jersee Hill, Jayden Rivers, Jessica Campus, IndigiNerds program coordinator Katelyn Knott, Jenni Makahnouk, Autumn Lewis, Flavie Dupont-Fournier, Justice Ryan and Sara Montour. (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University). 


NationTalk: McMaster University Daily News: Ten early scholars from across Canada got the chance to experience hands-on graduate-level research at McMaster thanks to an intensive research training program hosted by the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute (MIRI).

IndigiNerds, an eight-week program, helps guide Indigenous undergraduates as they prepare for graduate studies by offering mentorship, support and inspiration.

In addition to conducting research, scholars take part in workshops and Indigenous Knowledge programming — all part of the program’s wider goal to contribute to the success of Indigenous researchers.

The program, formerly known as the Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars (IUSRS) program, is now in its ninth year.

“IndigiNerds gives these students the confidence to pursue graduate studies,” says Katelyn Knott, the program coordinator and research coordinator for MIRI. “It’s amazing to see what our participants have gone on to do and the impact they are now having on the world. I can’t wait to see what this newest cohort accomplishes.”

This year’s program concluded with an event on June 30th that saw participants present their research and share their work.

Learn more about the critical research presented by three of this year’s Indigenous scholars below.


Hill is a third-year student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University)

Hill, a Mohawk and member of Six Nations of the Grand River, took on two research projects during her time in IndigiNerds.

Working under the supervision of associate professor Rick Monture and post-doctoral fellow Daniel Cameron, Hill investigated how cultural familiarity affects perception of musical rhythms, as well as how music workshops can support intercultural relationships.

“I’m hoping that my research will contribute to expanding our understanding of music, as well as how it may be used to build and foster relationships with members of other cultures, not just our own,” says Hill.

She adds that she hopes her work serves to inspire other Indigenous youth to pursue research in areas they find interesting.

“[IndigiNerds] made me more confident in my decision to pursue graduate studies, as well as just being an Indigenous student in university,” says Hill, who intends to study clinical psychology at the graduate level.

“Being in such a supportive environment with other goal-driven Indigenous students made me excited to be there. It was comforting to meet and hear from others who are going through similar things as me. I truly appreciate the time I got to spend with them.”


Montour recently graduated from McMaster with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies and minor in Anthropology and Gender Studies (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University).

Montour, a Mohawk and member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, explored queer culture on Six Nations as part of her research with IndigiNerds.  

Working under the supervision of assistant professor Ki’en Debicki, Montour says she learned the dynamics of conducting research in an area where there isn’t a lot of coverage by diving deep into archives, libraries and online databases.

Outside of research, Montour says getting to know fellow participants through the program’s social and cultural activities was a highlight.

“One of my favourite parts was going to Chiefswood Park for the first weekend of the program,” says Montour. “It was such a great group of individuals and truly a unique experience getting to know everyone.” “Overall, this was a very inspirational program and I loved every moment.”

Montour says she is hoping to apply for her Master’s in Indigenous studies at McMaster, and that IndigiNerds has helped show her a path forward.

“I’m a first-generation attendee and graduate of post-secondary education so whether it was my undergrad or graduate school, this program showed me I belong in academia as much as everyone else.”


Sissenah is a fourth-year student in Algoma University’s Law & Justice Program. (Photo by Christian Braun/McMaster University).

Sissenah, who is Anishinaabe and from Sagamok Anishnawbek (located on the north shore of Lake Huron), conducted research into a government-imposed starvation policy that aimed to control the movements of First Nations and Métis in the 1880s.

Working under the supervision of associate professor Robert Innes, Sissenah examined Indian Affair annuity lists to better learn the movements of people in Cypress Hills (southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta) and to better estimate a death toll.

“By examining this policy and the consequences of it, we hope to prove that a genocide occurred because of the policy enactment by the Canadian Government,” says Sissenah.

The Algoma University student is studying for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and hopes to practice Indigenous/Treaty Law one day.

She says the practical skills she gained, as well as the personal experiences she had as an IndigiNerd has prepared her to continue on with research and to go on to graduate school. “I learned so much traditional knowledge through the elders, presentations, guest speakers and trips to Six Nations that I am so happy to have gained and experienced,” says Sissenah. “My personal favourite memory was meeting and talking to Elder Bertha Skye who shared many stories about her fabulous life, as well as encouraging words that I will hold onto.”

“I am very lucky to have had this opportunity as it pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone which has allowed me to grow in so many ways as an individual.”

To learn more about the IndigiNerd program, visit the McMaster Indigenous Research Insititute (MIRI) website

June 22, 2023

First Nations

Pikangikum First Nation celebrates its largest-ever graduating class — and it’s a big deal

From college to travelling and taking naps, here’s what the young grads are gearing up for

Graduates walk outside.
Members of Pikangikum First Nation’s 2023 graduating class march across the field outside Eenchokay Birchstick School in northwestern Ontario. (Gwen Gray/CBC)

Clicl on the following link to view the slideshow (1 of 14):

CBC News: Under a large white tent shielding them from the 33 C sun, 41 people stood in line, perspiring in black caps and gowns as they anxiously awaited their turn to approach the stage.

For Pikangikum First Nation, this wasn’t just another graduation: it was the largest grad class the Ojibway community of 4,000 in northwestern Ontario has ever seen. Two men’s fancy dancers led the graduates of Eenchokay Birchstick School across the field, where they met hundreds of friends, family members and children running around while carrying golden decorations that took hours to assemble.

Donning a light pink tie and red-and-cream Converses, Denzel Quill addressed his peers at the podium Tuesday. He shared memories of persevering through COVID-19, taking trips to Winnipeg and Vancouver with his friends, hanging out at the community sandpit and watching the clouds roll through the starry sky.

He also spoke of those who weren’t there to cross the stage with him. “I was scared to be emotional on stage, but I wasn’t in control. I just let it loose … ’cause I felt it was going to be more meaningful if I just let my emotions take over,” Quill said.

Three people pose in a hallway full of school lockers.
Denzel Quill, Eenchokay Birchstick School’s Grade 12 valedictorian, celebrates with his parents, Darren and Savannah Keno.  (Marc Doucette/CBC)

The school serves more than 1,500 students from kindergarten through Grade 12. It was built in 2016 after the former school burned down in 2007. In the interim, students studied in portables.

Pikangikum First Nation’s Chief Shirley Keeper touched on the hardships the community has faced, including fatal house fires, a lack of running water and a crisis of youth suicides, but said Tuesday’s celebrations were about looking forward. “This past year’s been so difficult,” she said. “When we go through hardships, it affects every one of us, and to see so many graduates this year, it gives us more hope.”

Like mother, like daughter

For Geraldine and Lakota Peters, their emotions at the graduation ranged from nervousness crossing the stage, to panic when Lakota lost her high heel in the grass, to relief after shaking principal Cindy Spence’s hand and realizing they were finally finished.  Geraldine hadn’t planned on graduating this year, let alone with her youngest daughter.

Women in graduation gowns stand outside.
Graduates of Eenchokay Birchstick School’s PLAR program are beaming after their graduation ceremony.(Gwen Gray/CBC)

After she left school more than 20 years ago when she was offered a full-time job in social work, she struggled to find the time to get her high school diploma. But the more years that went by, the more she felt something was missing.

So she went back for the prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) program, where mature students return to get their diplomas. Of the school’s 41 graduates, 21 were from the program. “I encourage everybody to get their Grade 12, ’cause I’m over 40 now,” Geraldine said.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lakota plans to take social work in college. But before looking ahead too far, the pair’s plan after the ceremony was to go home and enjoy their air conditioning after a long, sticky day. “I’m just gonna sit back…” said Geraldine, sending them both into a burst of laughter.

A sleepless night worth the wait

While nerves struck many of his classmates, Jordin Turtle leapt onto the stage and ramped up the crowd when his name was called. Despite only running on an hour of sleep because of his excitement, his energy was unmatched. Although he won the Chief’s Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership and commitment to others, Turtle said he has no plans to take on that role when he’s older.

Three young men in graduation gowns hold plaques.
Montana Turtle, Jordin Turtle and Denzel Quill show off their awards at Eenchokay Birchstick School’s graduation. (Gwen Gray/CBC)

“No, I’m irresponsible, man. There’s no way I’m leading people,” he said. “It might say leadership, but I feel like that’s just like a fluke.” He has plans, however, to attend the Warrior Leadership Summit next week in Carlinville, Ill., a faith-based program for young Indigenous people. Well before that, though, he had plans to take a nap.

Queen’s University partners with Pikangikum

Tuesday’s ceremony also gave the graduates another opportunity: the chance to pursue post-secondary education at home. Queen’s University is delivering a Bachelor of Education program to Pikangikum students next spring as part of its community-based Indigenous Teacher Education Program. A memorandum of understanding between Pikangikum and the Kingston, Ont., university was signed after the graduation outside the school’s teepee.

People sit at a red table and sign documents.
Pikangikum First Nation’s Chief Shirley Keeper and Dr. Peter Chin of Queen’s University based in Kingston, Ont., sign a memorandum of understanding. Queen’s is delivering a bachelor of education program to Pikangikum students next spring. (Gwen Gray/CBC)

Keeper said the partnership will bring more opportunities to Pikangikum students, who can stay with their families and support systems in the community.

Pikangikum is known for its strong language retention — the first language taught is Ojibway. When Keeper was in school, there was no native language teacher, but now that Pikangikum’s own are being trained as teachers, she hopes that someday, Eenchokay Birchstick’s entire staff will be fluent in both Ojibway and English.

Looking forward to the future

As Quill said in his valedictorian speech, graduation dawns a new beginning.   “As we leave the safety and comfort of our high school, we face a new set of challenges. We must navigate the uncertainties of the future, make difficult decisions and carve out our own paths,” he told his classmates. His path is taking him more than 300 kilometres from home to Winnipeg, where he’ll attend Red River College Polytechnic in the fall for professional photography.

“He’s gonna really excel over there and have more opportunities to kind of branch out,” said his dad, Darren Keno. “I’m excited for him.” Rather than imparting lengthy words of wisdom, Keeper chose instead to share a song with the graduating class that’s about hope, faith and overcoming adversity.

“I wanted to sing from my heart ’cause I want to plant a song in their hearts — not to stop today, but to keep going, using the words in that song,” she said.  “Because there is hope, there is strength in that song, and hope and life — and that’s who we are here in Pikangikum.”

  • A previous version of this story said the Queen’s University partnership starts next semester. In fact, it starts next spring.Jun 22, 2023 6:40 PM ET

Sarah Law, Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at

June 15, 2023

Indspire Awards

Meet some of the 2023 Indspire Awards recipients making a difference in their communities

30th anniversary of the Indspire Awards honours Indigenous achievements from Turtle Island and beyond

Four portraits of two men and two women.
From left to right, Lori Campbell, Reanna Merasty, Willow Allen and Joe Buffalo are four of 2023 Indspire recipients. (Submitted by Lori Campbell, Gin Ouskun, Indspire, Joel Dufresne)
Unreserved: An “Indspired” episode

Click on the following link to listen to Unreserved:

CBC News: As a child, it was always tough for Indspire Awards recipient Lori Campbell to get a grasp on her identity.  But that changed when she found cultural acceptance at her university. The experience later helped her give back to that same university community.  Now, she and other recipients are being honoured at the Indspire Awards, which recognizes the accomplishments of First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals who have achieved outstanding feats in a range of fields. 

Rosanna Deerchild, host of Unreserved, spoke to Campbell and three other Inspire Award recipients. Here are their stories.

Lori Campbell, education

Campbell said she recalls thinking that to find success, she had to be white.  Growing up, there was no one to talk to about how she felt. It was an “isolating” experience, she says. 

Woman with dark hair, wearing a light button down shirt with a blazer.
Lori Campbell, associate vice-president of Indigenous engagement at University of Regina, is an Indspire Award recipient in the education category. (Submitted by Lori Campbell)

That’s because Campbell was part of the Sixties Scoop, a period beginning in the ’60s and continuing until the 1980s, when thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster families.  Without much connection to home, it was at the First Nations University of Canada where she felt like she found community. 

That journey led Campbell to her role as an educator, and now, the University of Regina’s associate vice-president of Indigenous engagement. Campbell helps Indigenous students reconnect to their roots and find confidence in who they are.  “I try to focus on creating a space and place where Indigenous students, staff and faculty can bring their unapologetic Indigenous selves … and take what they want or need from what’s in the institution already to use for their benefit,” she said. 

In her role, Campbell often works with students whose family members had been part of the Sixties Scoop, and encourages them to talk to their parents about it in order to reconnect with their culture.  “As they’re learning healing backwards, there’s this chain reaction and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she said.  “I’m not that person — so don’t hire me,” she said. “I’m not the one who’s going to come in and teach people about Indigenous awareness or Indigenous history.” 

Reflecting on her position, Campbell said a younger version of herself would not believe she’d be in an executive position like hers. “This is like a full circle thing,” she said.

Composite image of all 12 Indspire Award recipients for 2023.
Twelve people are being honoured at this year’s Indspire Awards. Clockwise: Reanna Merasty, Willow Allen, Ruby Bruce, Kylik Kisoun Taylor, Jennine Krauchi, Shirley Cuillierrier, Albert Marshall, Dr. Christopher Mushquash, Sandra Laronde, Lori Campbell, Madame Justice Ardith Walkem, Joe Dion Buffalo. (Indspire / CBC)
Joe Dion Buffalo, sports

In an effort to overcome trauma as a residential school survivor, Joe Dion Buffalo turned to skateboarding. Buffalo, who attended one of Canada’s last residential schools, is a co-founder of Nations Skate Youth. Now he helps youth find courage and strength in themselves. 

Man with long dark hair
Joe Dion Buffalo is Cree from the Samson Cree Nation. He’s an Inspire Award recipient in the sports category. (Joel Dufresne)

“We figure out what their interests are,” he said. “It’s purely self-expression, we pass that message along to them and it’s just amazing seeing them lose these layers.” 

Buffalo, 47, and his team go directly to Indigenous communities and bring skateboards, safety gear and anything else needed for the sport. Since that enterprise began in 2020, Buffalo says it’s been “quite the trip.” But he says the most amazing part is that the sport allows him to connect with Indigenous youth. “We’ll get to know the kids on a whole other level,” he said. 

With that comes helping kids get out of their shells and embrace who they are. “When we’re our truest selves, that just sheds layers off of them.” 

Buffalo notes that skateboarding offers each kid an opportunity for self expression. “Knowing that you don’t have to fit into some sort of box, there’s no rule book,” he said. “There’s no two kids that skate alike; everyone has their own style.” 

Teaching and bonding with others through skateboarding has been a kind of therapy for Buffalo to work through issues stemming from his time at residential school, he said.  He said he hopes by relaying the stories of his trauma, it’ll encourage others to speak out too.  “I hope to inspire others to come forward,” he said. 

Reanna Merasty, youth 

Reanna Merasty was born a builder. But that’s not the only hat she wears.  Merasty, an architectural intern at Number TEN Architectural Group in Winnipeg, also advocates for and writes on Indigenous inclusion in design education. She’s also an artist and a role model that the Indspire awards cited for amplifying Indigenous voices in her field. 

Woman sitting on the floor.
Reanna Merasty is an Inspire Award recipient in the youth category. (Gin Ouskun)

Her ambitions have deep roots. During her childhood, she spent summers with her grandparents, in particular, her grandfather, who builds log cabins on the family’s islands in Northern Manitoba. Tagging along to his job sites, she admired watching her grandfather make something out of his own two hands.  “I did a lot of building forts on the side, I’d always build my own little tiny houses as well — so that also influenced me to get into architecture,” she said. 

But it’s also a small field, according to Merasty, with very little representation of Indigenous people. 

Indigenous people should be at the forefront of the conversation and decision-making processes when it comes to building on and for Indigenous people.- Reanna Merasty

As a student at the University of Manitoba, Merasty said she faced racism and misrepresentation, so she worked to change the culture and upbringing of architects there.  She founded the Indigenous Design and Planning Students Association at the university, where she was able to provide the support needed to Indigenous students.  “That’s something that I really lacked when I was in school,” she said. 

Her work meant shifting the “colonial mindset” that often stands in the way of lifting Indigenous people up, she said. “It’s always about shifting the colonial process of exclusion, of destruction, of mistreatment of various institutions … and also colonialist architecture which was also representative of Indian residential schools.”

Merasty said Indigenous people should be leading those discussions in order to repair aspects of those colonial processes.  “Indigenous people should be at the forefront of the conversation and decision-making processes when it comes to building on and for Indigenous people.” 

Willow Allen, youth

Although social work student Willow Allen has been met with multiple successes in modelling and content creation, she says her home and community are the driving forces behind everything she does. 

Sharing Inuvialuit history on social media is especially important when it comes to keeping her culture alive. Allen does so by talking about the traditional way of life in Inuvik, N.W.T. “It’s always been really important to my dad to teach me those things that his parents taught him, so that it’s not lost,” said Allen. “He’s always just loved the way of life in the North.”

Woman posing with one hand on the left side of her face.
Willow Allen, a model, is an Indspire Award recipient in the youth category. She says her dad has inspired her to cherish “the way of life in the North.” (Indspire )

In one video, Allen drives to Tuktoyaktuk with her dad and nephew to pick up dried meat for her wedding. Others focus on traditional activities such as berry picking. “Seeing how important it is to my grandparents and my dad and my family to carry it on, that’s always been something that’s been really on my heart — to always ask questions and learn,” she said. 

Allen’s modeling career is also a factor in how she represents who she is to the world — a challenging feat at first.  She says finding her voice in that industry wasn’t always as easy, mainly because she wasn’t aware how her Indigenous identity would fit into the modelling landscape. “My first modeling trip, when I had gone to Singapore, they wanted me to say that I was Asian because of how I looked. I found that part really challenging,” Allen told Unreserved. 

Afterwards, Allen found herself telling people about her background. That’s when others began to encourage her to showcase her culture and where she comes from. 

When she moved to New York to continue her career, she began to have conversations with people about where and how she grew up. People valued it, she said, especially when she took those stories to social media.  “That’s kind of where I started finding my voice more,” she said.

Watch or listen to the 2023 Indspire Awards on Sunday, June 18th at 8:00 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio One and CBC Listen.


Keena Alwahaidi

Keena Alwahaidi is a reporter and associate producer for CBC. She’s interested in arts, culture, and human interest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @keenaalwahaidi 


May 24, 2023

First Nations

John Kim Bell was North America’s first Indigenous conductor — now he’s a Governor General’s Award winner

He’s conducted for the Royal Philharmonic, worked with The Bee Gees, and founded the Indspire Awards

Conductor John Kim Bell, wearing a suit and tie with a sash around his neck
Conductor and philanthropist John Kim Bell in the recipient of a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. (V. Tony Hauser)

This is part of a series of articles about the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards laureates

CBC News: Judged on his creative endeavours alone, John Kim Bell would be a worthy candidate for a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.

Born in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory and raised between Kahnawake and Columbus, Ohio, Bell was conducting on Broadway when he was just 18, working with the likes of Vincent Price, Gene Kelly and Lauren Bacall. From there, he became an apprentice conductor at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, making him the first Indigenous person to conduct an orchestra. In 1984, the CBC made a documentary about him called John Kim Bell: The First North American Indian Conductor.

He then went on to conduct the orchestra for the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Philharmonic, among others. He wrote the score for the first contemporary Indigenous ballet, In the Land of the Spirit, in 1988. And he’s even worked with The Bee Gees.

If John Kim Bell did all that and just hung up his conductor’s baton at some point in the middle of the 1990s, doing nothing more after that, he’d still deserve a lifetime achievement award. But that is just a fraction of what John Kim Bell has done with his life. The true hallmark of John Kim Bell’s career is what he’s done for both the Indigenous community and for artists.

In a 2016 interview with Muskrat Magazine, Bell said that after the CBC documentary first aired in the 80s, he started receiving a lot of requests to speak in First Nations communities. What he saw in some of those communities made him want to act. “I was familiar with my own community, which isn’t as impoverished as others,” he told Muskrat. “Some of the northern reserves are pretty bad off. I had no idea about those because I hadn’t really visited any other reserve communities other than my own. But when I did go, what I saw shocked me.”

“I was young, emotional, passionate and thought this was terrible. I wanted to do something to make a contribution.”

In 1985, he started the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, now known as Indspire, to provide bursaries and scholarships to Indigenous students in all disciplines. In his interview with Muskrat, Bell explained that he wanted to move beyond just providing financial assistance — he wanted to change how other Canadians saw Indigenous people, and how Indigenous people saw themselves.

In 1993, he had the idea to start an awards show to highlight Indigenous achievements in a variety of fields. The idea for Indspire came to him, in part, while he was watching Parliamentary hearings late one night. 

“I was watching the CRTC hearing,” he recalled to Muskrat. “CBC was getting hammered for not ever producing Aboriginal programming, so the CRTC commissioner said: ‘You’re on probation. You either spend so many dollars or hours on Aboriginal programming; if you don’t do that, we’re not going to renew your licence.'”

“I went in two to three days later and said, ‘I want to produce the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.’ They said, ‘We don’t have any money.’ So I told them, ‘I’ll raise all of the money. You give me the airwaves, editing services, animation, and an office.’ Then we had a deal.”

That show, now known as the Indspire Awards, still airs on CBC every year. Over the years, they’ve honoured such artistic luminaries as singer Susan Aglukark, visual artist Kent Monkman and documentarian Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell. 

John Kim Bell has had two award-worthy careers: one as a conductor and composer in his own right, and the other as a philanthropist and advocate. When you look at it that way, one Governor General’s award almost doesn’t seem like enough.


Chris Dart, Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he’s had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.


May 20, 2023

First Nations

First Wolastoqey valedictorian at UNB hopes to inspire others with her story

Kianna Bear-Hetherington says her university journey has been unconventional

A young woman in a grad gown and cap stands at the podium.
Kianna Bear-Hetherington gave her valedictory address to graduates in the faculties of forestry and environmental management, nursing and science at University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus on Wednesday. (Submitted by UNB)

CBC News: Kianna Bear-Hetherington said she never imagined herself a valedictorian, telling her story to a crowd of her peers, when she was growing up. 

The University of New Brunswick’s first Wolastoqey valedictorian is also its first Indigenous student to have that honour in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM, earning a bachelor of science in environmental and natural resources, with a major in water resource management.

Bear-Hetherington said that her university journey has been unconventional. “Growing up as the daughter of an Indian day-school survivor and the granddaughter of a residential-school survivor, I face a lot of deep rooted trauma and pain within my own journey,” she told Information Morning Fredericton.  “So I wanted to use my story to empower others. No matter how much pain and adversities you may be facing, you can overcome that struggle.”

A young woman with dark straight hair and wearing a beige sleeveless top smiles at the camera in front of a sign.
Bear-Hetherington has accepted a position as a fisheries technician with Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick. (Submitted by Kianna Bear-Hetherington)

It was her father who encouraged her to pursue the water resource management program at UNB, and she said it was the hands-on learning environment she had longed for. “Once I entered university, I really knew this program was for me,” said Bear-Hetherington. The program “has you outdoors in the field at least two to three days a week, rather than just sitting in a classroom all day. So it was very healing for me to go back to my roots.”

Bear-Hetherington said that she has had to overcome addiction, which she struggled with at the beginning of university, and has now been sober for two years. “I was trying to deal with a lot of sadness and pain within myself, you know, I’m not the only one to feel like this,” she said. “As an Indigenous youth, we have a lot of people who feel this intergenerational pain. But I really wanted to use this platform to uplift others to allow them to reclaim themselves.”

She said “the struggles we face in this world only shape our purpose.

UNB’s first Wolastoqey valedictorian shares her speech

WATCH | Kianna Bear-Hetherington addresses spring 2023 graduates:

Sitting alongside the Wolastoq River, Kianna Bear-Hetherington of Sitansisk First Nation in Fredericton practises her valedictory speech.

Click on the following link to view the video

Graham Forbes, a professor of wildlife ecology, taught Bear-Hetherington in some of her upper-level classes. He said she’s invested, gets involved and often makes a course better for everyone.

He also admires her perseverance. “If she gets knocked back a bit, she gets back up and keeps going,” said Forbes. “It’s really quite an impressive attitude toward everything — education and life. So for her to get valedictorian at UNB this year was very special, very appropriate.”

Bear-Hetherington said she finally found her voice as a university student through support at the university’s environmental and natural resources faculty and through leadership roles she adopted.  She was the Indigenous representative for the student union and she mentored other Indigenous youth across Canada.

A young woman with long dark hair in two braids smiles at the camera in an outdoor setting. She is wearing glasses, a cropped aqua tank top and is holding a small bird in her hands.
Bear-Hetherington said being able to work in the field during her program was very satisfying. (Submitted by Kianna Bear-Hetherington)

She felt the university community was welcoming to her, but she had a lot of internal struggle, including when it came to self-doubt.

One of her mentors, Cecilia Brooks, helped her feel empowered. “She is the only Indigenous professor within my program and she teaches the only Indigenous-perspectives class within my program as well,” said Bear-Hetherington, who worked as a teaching assistant under Brooks for two years. “She was so incredibly inspiring. And the stories she’s told about her life experiences — it really pushed me to be able to tell my own story in my own way as well.”

Now she hopes to inspire others who face difficulties, especially those who are interested in science, technology, engineering or math, and she has accepted a position as a fisheries technician with the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick.

“My struggles did help shape me into the woman I am today,” said Bear-Hetherington. “I just want to help inspire others to reclaim their power.”


Vanessa Moreau, Reporter

Vanessa Moreau is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick in Moncton. You can send story tips to

April 28, 2023

First Nations

The Legacy Schools Program brings Indigenous truths into classrooms

Twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residentia school trying to walk the 600 kilometers keeping him from his family back home. Chanie never made it to Ogoki Post

The contents of the Legacy Schools classroom kit. Credit: Doreen Nicoll

NationTalk: – Chanie Wenjack was an Anishinaabe boy born January 19, 1954 in Ogoki Post in Northern Ontario. At nine years of age, Chanie and three of his sisters were sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora. Better known as the Shoal Lake school.

At 12, Chanie ran away from the school trying to walk the 600 kilometers keeping him from his family back home. Chanie never made it to Ogoki Post. Instead, a week later railway worker found his body along the tracks. Because that worker found the body and was obligated to report that finding, this sparked the first inquiry into the death of a student from a residential school.

Chanie’s death is listed on the school’s official site as Charles Wenjack October 22, 1966. The school assigned him the name Charles. An additional 36 children are acknowledged as having died while in the care of Shoal Lake school officials.

In 1967, Ian Adams wrote an article for Maclean’s Magazine titled, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack” published on the heels of the first Indigenous protest held on November 21, 1965 that brought racism in Kenora to the attention of the rest of Canada.

It was after reading the Maclean’s article decades later that Mike Downie introduced the reality of residential schools to his brother Gord, the frontman for the band The Tragically Hip. The Hip routinely played Kenora, Attawapiskat and other Indigenous territories, yet Gord had no idea that First Nations children had been stolen from their parents and forced to attend residential schools where they were robbed of their childhoods, language, culture, and were routinely sexually and physically abused.

Gord’s response was to create the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund which aims to build cultural understanding as a means to creating a path to Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Five years ago, the fund created the Legacy Schools Program. It started with 300 schools but now boasts 6,000 educators and 5,100 schools and groups participating in every province and territory across Canada.

The Legacy Schools Program is a free national initiative that engages students and educators. It helps them understand the history of residential schools all the while moving toward Reconciliation through awareness, education and connection. Teachers receive an initial tool kit containing two copies of the book The Secret Path a graphic novel illustrated by Jeff Lemire with lyrics by Gord Downie; a copy of Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action; a school flag; a calendar with important Indigenous dates, celebrations, and activities; as well as a guide and class set of legacy patches in the shape of the unmistakable Downie hat.

Over 650 resources are available to help teachers from kindergarten to grade 12 include Indigenous perspectives and ideas in their class curriculum.

Projects include teaching coding using The Secret path book and performing the high school play that’s available – just be sure to donate the funds raised to a local native group or the Downie & Wenjack Fund. Hold a walk for Wenjack and then have students write to Chanie’s sister Pearl.

The Gord & Wenjack fund even managed to convince the Hudson Bay Company to donate proceeds from the sales of their notorious, iconic Bay blankets – often purposefully infected with small pox virus before being distributed to First Nations peoples – to the Downie & Wenjack fund to bring Indigenous speakers into schools through the Artist Ambassador program.

Imagine icons like Buffy St. Marie a member of the Piapot Cree Nation, Tom Wilson whose parents were Mohawk from the Kanehsatake Reserve in Quebec, and Drew Hayden TaylorOjibway from Curve Lake First Nation engaging with your students to share their lived history and experiences.

Without that Truth there can be no Reconciliation. And, without ReconciliAction there can be no Reconciliation. Teachers, be the change you want to see in this world, join The Legacy Schools Programand welcome Indigeneity into your classroom today. Then . . . ACT on it.

This article first appeared on Small Change.

September 27, 2022

First Nations

Taapwaywin: Talking about what we know and what we believe: new podcast of unheard Indigenous stories and histories

NationTalk: A new podcast about memory, power and the journey to find truth launched today from the University of Victoria Libraries. The eight-episode series, Taapwaywin: Talking about what we know and what we believe, features deep conversations and analysis with Survivors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and others on seeking truth before reconciliation can begin. Hosted by Ry Moran, associate university librarian – reconciliation at UVic and founding director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, this provocative series explores themes that originate from Indigenous knowledge systems and are reinforced by solid facts and broad human-rights principles.

Canadians still have many questions about what has happened in this country. They also have been called upon to learn more. This podcast is an effort to dig deeper, fill in some of the gaps and place particular emphasis on the voices of Indigenous Peoples.

—Ry Moran, podcast host, a member of the Red River Métis and the inaugural associate university librarian – reconciliation at UVic

“It is an effort to help share the knowledge and wisdom that exists both with Indigenous communities and within scholarly communities––in recognition of that fact that we need as many good ideas circulating as possible given the scope and scale of some of the challenges collectively faced,” says Moran.

The series will highlight the stories and experiences of Indigenous Peoples, underrepresented populations, UVic scholars and memory keepers from around the world. Founded on a deep well of truth, reconciliation and decolonization, the podcast will explore questions of knowledge creation, dissemination and preservation, examining the consequences of how and why certain knowledges and worldviews have dominated political, social and economic discourse while others have been silenced.

“This podcast is unafraid to ask hard questions that unearth the necessary truths of our country. It is exemplary storytelling, based in respect, honour, humility and truth. Taapwaywin asks us to listen not only with our minds, but with our hearts. One of the richest listening experiences I have ever had,” says featured podcast advisor Shelagh Rogers, the CBC radio journalist, former UVic chancellor, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) honorary witness and champion of truth, healing and a new relationship between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

It’s an honour to work with Ry Moran and watch how he so eloquently guides and directs into very courageous conversations that ‘dig deeper’ in the history of Indigenous People in Canada. We all know that this is how respectful relations with Indigenous People must begin. As we launch this new podcast series, I raise my hands to Ry, with the deepest of respect, hy’ch’q’u Siem for your amazing work and spirit.

—UVic Vice-President Indigenous Qwul’sih’yah’maht Robina Thomas

In creating the podcast, Moran wishes to honour and celebrate Indigenous knowledges while exploring connections to stories and topics from around the world.

One of the stories focuses on Master Carver Carey Newman (Hayalthkin’geme) and his Witness Blanket, an art installation that incorporates objects from every residential school in this country. The episode evaluates the layers of memory and history that exist at sites of human-rights abuse like residential schools. “I’m convinced that we need to give enough space to the truth so that it becomes part of who we are, it becomes part of what it means to be Canadian,” says Newman, UVic’s inaugural Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices. “And once we get to that level of engagement with truth, then we can start on the reconciliation, because the truth has fundamentally altered who we are and how we understand this country.”

With the launch of Taapwaywin, Moran hopes to open the minds and hearts of listeners who may not be familiar with the TRC’s calls to action, and to create a global community of truth-tellers who become informed and engaged.

The series is available on major podcast platforms and on the website,

Read more in the campus article.

— 30 —

A media kit containing two high-resolution photos of Moran, an mp3 file for radio journalists, transcripts, as well as audiograms, is available on Dropbox.

July 19, 2022

First Nations

Chiefs of Ontario launches Education Agreement Resources

The Chiefs of Ontario are proud to announce the launch of new Education Agreement resources. The Education Agreement resources aim to provide information to First Nations in Ontario on the benefits of Education Agreements. Through the creation of an informational video, overview document, and Education Agreement template, the Chiefs of Ontario have created a versatile and easy-to-use toolkit for First Nations to negotiate Education Agreements with Ontario school boards that meets their unique needs.

“First Nations learners deserve every opportunity to succeed. As leaders, teachers, and advocates for First Nations education, we must ensure they have the tools they need to succeed and remain connected to their culture and language,” said Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare. “The Education Agreement resources are intended to improve the quality of education for First Nations learners by establishing collaborative relationships between First Nations communities and provincial school boards.”

It is important for First Nations to continue negotiating Education Agreements with school boards as they have for decades.  Education Agreements enable First Nations to ensure their learners have access to all necessary programs, services and supports when attending schools in the provincial education system. While the Reciprocal Education Approach, implemented by the province in 2019, addresses some longstanding issues for First Nations it does not cover all the cultural and linguistic programs, services and supports to foster holistic student success.

“Historically, Ontario schools have not been successful in providing equitable education services to First Nations students. Through these agreements, First Nations and provincial school boards will be able to support the cultural connections, diversity, and unique needs of First Nations students while promoting success for future generations.

I am pleased to acknowledge the COO Education Sector in their work to create these resources. Our goal is to ensure First Nations communities have the tools and information they need to improve the educational future of our young people.”

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare

The Education Agreement resources are available on the Chiefs of Ontario Education Portal here:

For more information, please contact

– 30 –

The Chiefs of Ontario supports all First Nations in Ontario as they assert their sovereignty, jurisdiction and their chosen expression of nationhood. Follow Chiefs of Ontario on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @ChiefsOfOntario.

Media Contact:

Genna Benson
Communications and Public Affairs Manager
Policy and Communications Sector
Chiefs of Ontario
Cell: 416-523-4020

June 7, 2022

Dr. Vanessa Watts awarded the President’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching and Learning

Dr. Watts, Assistant Professor in Indigenous Studies & Sociology, is among five faculty members recognized for their commitment to education through innovation, continued excellence in teaching and enhanced student learning.

“[Vanessa Watts] is a tremendously talented, inspirational, generous, and insightful scholar, researcher, teacher, community leader, and mentor who has made significant contributions academically to her field and practically in her work with Indigenous communities. She has proven her ability to lead and collaborate on projects, to mentor and support students and research partners, and to engage in ethical and reciprocal relationships with communities. Dr. Watts has a remarkable ability to touch people personally, to inspire giving and to lead.”

Vanessa Watts is known to be an outstanding, innovative instructor, whose teaching her colleagues describe as “transformative.” She has designed and introduced original courses that reflect her deep expertise in Indigenous ways of knowing.

Watts is not only a pivotal member and a driving force behind the growth of the Indigenous Studies program; she has inspired students to expand their thinking to better understand Indigenous ways of knowing.

Watts’ contributions to curriculum development and her innovative teaching and learning in Indigenous Studies and Sociology have taught students new ways of thinking, introducing Indigenous ways of knowing to the curriculum at every level.

She routinely creates opportunities for her students to engage with community members, emphasizing the ways in which expertise is located outside academia as well as within, and providing profound and enduring learning experiences. She has a deep passion for ending gender-based violence and a commitment to activism for justice.

Watts has also innovated new programs to support student pathways, including the McMaster-Mohawk-Laurier-Lambton Partnership Development to create pathways for Indigenous students in diploma programs at Mohawk and Lambton colleges to enter Indigenous Studies and use their credits toward a BA at McMaster.

June 6, 2022

First Nations

Dr. Kathleen E. Absolon, MSW, PhD. (Minogiizhigokwe)

Ontario Native Women’s Association: Thunder Bay, ON – The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), would like to congratulate Dr. Kathleen E. Absolon, MSW, PhD. (Minogiizhigokwe) on her newest book ‘Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know Indigenous re-Search Methodologies’ 2nd Edition. In honour and recognition of Indigenous History Month, ONWA is delighted to welcome Dr. Kathy Absolon to a virtual book launch to speak about her latest work.

At the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), we celebrate and honour the safety and healing of Indigenous women and girls as they take up their leadership roles in the family, community and internationally for generations to come. ONWA prioritizes making space and amplifying the voices of Indigenous women who are making positive changes in families, communities, systems, and institutions.

Every Indigenous woman is a leader, and we need to reclaim that inherent role.

Dr. Kathy Absolon exemplifies Indigenous women’s leadership and what it can accomplish, and her work in Indigenous research is inspiring. Dr. Absolon is making impactful change by carving out a space at academic institutions for Indigenous thinkers. She honours Indigenous spirits, stories, traditions, and knowledge, and is paving the way for the next generation of Indigenous researchers. Dr. Absolon encourages us to adopt Indigenous methodologies and validates Indigenous knowledge systems.

May 16, 2022

Julie Francis, Head of L’nu Health Chair at Cape Breton University

NationTalk: Cape Breton University -A Mi’kmaw Registered Nurse with a passion for Indigenous health and improving outcomes for Indigenous Youth, Francis strives to bridge gaps in knowledge, services and programs for community members of all ages. After graduating from St. Francis Xavier University in 2010, Francis served as a community health nurse in Eskasoni, First Nation. In 2011, Francis became involved in projects with the IWK Centre for Paediatric Pain Research, and has been part of the Aboriginal Children’s Hurt and Healing Initiative since its inception in 2013.

Francis is currently a Master of Science, Nursing student at Dalhousie University where she continues to mentor, encourage and support her fellow students. Her thesis research focuses on early childhood development and the experiences of First Nation families accessing programs.

“Julie Francis is highly skilled in the nursing profession and her dedication to Indigenous health and wellness will bring strong leadership and perspective to this role,” says David C. Dingwall, Cape Breton University President and Vice-Chancellor. “As we continue to Indigenize our University the L’nu way, this role is more important than ever and we are honoured to have Julie at the helm of this crucial work.”

The L’nu Health Chair is a unique, community-based research and practice initiative at CBU aimed at improving health outcomes in L’nu communities. Partners in the project include the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, Nova Scotia Health and Tajikeimik (Mi’kmaw Health and Wellness Authority). The initiative strives to bring together Mi’kmaw health professionals and leaders with academic partners to deepen the understanding and implementation of Mi’kmaw ways of knowing and being in health promotion, service delivery and education of Mi’kmaw health professionals.

“Mi’kmaq language and L’nu perspectives are key elements that Julie demonstrates,” says Laurianne Sylvester, Dean of Unama’ki College. ”With these qualities and strong ties to L’nu communities and health professionals, Julie is already in a position of leadership to improve the health outcomes in L’nu communities.”

Francis recognizes the vital importance of educating health professionals to increase their empathy and understanding to eliminate racism in health care. “What I look forward to most in this role is working with our communities and partners. Together, we will achieve and witness a community-led transformation of health and wellness for the Mi’kmaq Nation,” she says. “There are many amazing initiatives taking place at CBU, and I am excited to be part of this community.”

Francis assumed her role as the L’nu Health Chair on May 2, 2022, and will work to reduce health inequities and support the promotion of Mi’kmaw leadership and self-governance in matters of health and wellness.

May 11, 2022

Maurice Switzer, the 2022 Debwewin Citation for excellence in journalism and storytelling

NationTalk: Anishinabek Nation Head Office – Maurice Switzer Bnesi, a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation, is to be honoured with the 2022 Debwewin Citation for excellence in journalism and storytelling in August.

“Chi-miigwech Maurice for continuing to share our Debwewin with students all over Ontario. He enriches thousands through teaching Canada’s true history, racist and oppressive policies and their intergenerational effects, including the Indian Act, and the significance and importance of treaty relationships,” says Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe. “He ensures that students know about the many successes and contributions of Indigenous people across Turtle Island. Congratulations on career excellence in both journalism and storytelling!”

Switzer currently serves on the Indigenous Reconciliation Advisory Group of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He resides in North Bay, where he operates Nimkii Communications, a public education practice with a focus on the treaty relationship that made possible the peaceful settlement of Canada.

He is the former Communications Director of the Anishinabek Nation, editor of the Anishinabek News, Assembly of First Nations Communications Director, former publisher of the Timmins Daily Press and the first Indigenous publisher of a daily newspaper in Canada, the Winnipeg Free Press. Maurice still writes columns for the North Bay Nugget and Anishinabek News. He also created a partnership with the North Bay Nugget to have a full page in every Saturday edition of the paper called the Niijii Circle Page.

“This page allows us to share stories that normally wouldn’t be covered by a mainstream newspaper,” says Communications Director Marci Becking. “The public education initiative won the 2003 Canadian Race Relations Foundation Award of Honour.

He also created this very award – the Debwewin Citations

March 15, 2022

The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians sign a Tripartite MOU on Education with the Govts. of Ontario and Canada

The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians signed a Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Education with the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada. We are pleased to announce that the current MOU has been extended for another five years. The extension of the MOU comes in part due to the resounding success of language and traditional teaching-based events, such as the Language Gathering Program and the Youth Development Camp both of which have had immense positive results and feedback in the form of increased beneficial knowledge of language and traditional teachings. What may be most pleasing is the continued use of the benefits gained through the Language Champion programs that have seen students continue to engage through the language with other community members to the enjoyment of many.

Grand Chief Joel Abram, who signed the memorandum as a representative of AIAI, says “This memorandum asserts the right of Indigenous Peoples to educate our people and work together to ensure culturally appropriate standards for our communities. The extension of this memorandum will help to establish an important connection between Nations but also an important step forward to preserve, recognize and revitalize the cultural teachings within our communities.”

Deputy Grand Chief Stacia Loft says “The fact this memorandum was formed is a historic moment in itself but more-so it’s extension demonstrates that meaningful partnerships can be formed for the rights and future of our K-12 First Nation students. Languages require preservation, cultural practices need to be recognized, and this MOU will ensure that we will have the resources to move ahead.”

The Honorable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services says “First Nations students deserve high-quality and culturally appropriate education to help them succeed. This five-year extension of the Memorandum of Understanding will give the partners valuable time to continue developing supports for students transitioning from First Nation schools to provincial schools, strengthening connections between First Nations and provincial educators, and developing community-based language strategies.

January 28, 2022

Plato Testing

BMO Financial Group – BMO Financial Group has teamed up with PLATO, Canada’s only Indigenous-led and Indigenous-staffed IT services and training firm, to offer the Amazon Web Services (AWS) re/Start program virtually to Indigenous students across Canada. Twenty-two students, some from remote communities, have started a 12-week Cloud computing boot camp, followed by a six-month BMO internship to learn and apply those skills on the job, and opportunities for full-time employment.
AWS re/Start is a skills development program that prepares individuals for a career in technology with the mission of building a pipeline of talent with core Cloud and Cloud-adjacent skills that are transferable to multiple technology roles. The people participating in this program with PLATO and BMO have been selected from a pool of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit applicants from across Canada who have demonstrated a strong interest in technology.
PLATO Testing was founded in 2015 by Keith McIntosh, CEO of testing firm Professional Quality Assurance Ltd. PLATO is striving to build a network of 1000 Indigenous software testers across Canada.

January 5, 2022

National Indigenous University Senior Leaders’ Association

Indigenous Senior Administrative leaders from post-secondary institutions across Canada have formed the National Indigenous University Senior Leaders’ Association (NIUSLA). First Nations University of Canada President Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann co-chairs the association alongside Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost of the Office of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Calgary.
NIUSLA aims to network and engage in constructive dialogue and actions on the roles and responsibilities of leadership within the academic university context. NIUSLA members will have the opportunity to share experiences and information, provide recommendations, and identify areas of success and need within post-secondary institutions. NIULSA strives to:
• Develop a vibrant and recognized leadership association of university Indigenous senior leaders;
• Address challenges and issues relevant to Indigenous senior leaders;
• Increase the communication and resource capacity of NIUSLA; and
• Strengthen and build capacities of Indigenous senior leaders.
Given the rise of high-profile Indigenous identity fraud, and the increasing designation benefits (dedicated positions, research funding and scholarships) for Indigenous peoples at academic institutions in the era of truth and reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the timing was advantageous for Indigenous senior academic administrators to take the lead and begin working collaboratively by encouraging and promoting expressions of self-determination and leaning into the strengths of its members within non-Indigenous university contexts.
Indigenous senior leaders with a university, college or faculty-wide mandate are invited to join NIUSLA.
“It’s a step towards further strengthening and building capacities of Indigenous senior leadership while being the national network for the administration, advancing issues and concerns of Indigenous peoples (faculty, staff, students, community members and leaders) and connecting with other Indigenous organizations with common goals. The framework includes leadership, mentorship and succession planning for career-retention.”

October 12, 2021

Unama’ki P-TECH School Model

NationTalk – Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey and Nova Scotia Community College, along with IBM today announced they are partnering to deliver the Unama’ki P-TECH School Model (Pathways in Technology, Early College High School) to the Indigenous youth in Nova Scotia. The school program will be based in Eskasoni with the first cohort of students being from three Unama’ki communities.
The Unama’ki P-TECH model offers integrated high school and college curriculum focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). It will enable the Unama’ki students to graduate with a high school diploma, and a tuition-free, industry aligned, two-year college diploma, with workplace experiences within six years or less. Hallmarks of the program include industry one-on-one mentoring, workplace visits, paid summer internships, and be considered as first-in-line for interviews regarding IBM open positions
The Unama’ki P-TECH program will incorporate technical proficiency such as programming, while fostering professional skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication and adaptability for new-collar jobs. In addition, aspects of Mi’kmaq culture, language and other Indigenous teaching such as their guiding principles of “two-eyed seeing” will be part of this school’s P-TECH model.
The P-TECH model provides participants with work experience with employers in the ICT sector that addresses industry’s need to have new grads with experience along with well-developed professional workplace habits. For the Indigenous participants having mentors, and connections to employment built into this program addresses the need for real opportunities. This program allows participants not just to dream about opportunity but more importantly they are able to realize those dreams.

October 4, 2021

Connected North

Connected North, operated by the charity TakingITGlobal, connects students from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12 to a wide variety of virtual, live, and interactive learning experiences like virtual museum tours, cool science experiments, author talks, language revitalization programming, dance classes and so much more. Many sessions focus on connecting students with Indigenous role models to share, engage and inspire through First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture, teachings and traditions.
“Connected North is a program that makes use of technology to bring Indigenous perspectives and knowledge directly to students, enriching the curriculum with cultural content that is reflective of local communities” says Andre Morriseau, TakingITGlobal Board Member.
Scotiabank announced a commitment of $750,000 to Connected North. Scotiabank’s gift supports the development of Connected North’s digital platform to enable program growth and sustainability, helping community partners and educators easily access customized learning opportunities aligned to curriculum needs and student interests. The donation will also fund digital inclusion grants for Connected North students who are graduating high school and require a personal device such as a laptop to continue their education or training.
“Scotiabank’s support is helping to shape the growth of the Connected North program,” says Michael Furdyk, Co-Founder and Director of Technology, TakingITGlobal. “The digital platform provides ease of access to bring unique content providers, including over 90 Indigenous role models, into the classroom in an interactive and engaging way.”

September 27, 2021

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – Today marks the beginning of Truth and Reconciliation Week. This national educational program continues the conversation about the truths of First Nations Treaties, the Métis and Inuit Land Claims, and the legacy of the residential school system.
“This week, we will bring Indigenous voices and perspectives into the classroom. This is an opportunity to fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #62 on Education for Reconciliation, which calls for the development of an age-appropriate curriculum to involve students across the country in the Reconciliation process,” said Stephanie Scott, Executive Director of the NCTR.
This week, educators will engage their classrooms on Truth and Reconciliation as they learn first hand from Survivors, children of Survivors of residential schools, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, artists and leaders from a wide range of nations and cultures. Through age-appropriate educational resources and activities and live events, Truth and Reconciliation Week virtually brings Survivors into the classroom to continue truth-telling and to spark a national conversation about the future of Reconciliation.
Truth and Reconciliation Week dedicates a day each to:
• Land and Treaties
• Languages and Culture
• Truth and Reconciliation
• Orange Shirt Day and
• Elder-Youth Knowledge Transfer.
Truth and Reconciliation Week is hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), with sponsorship by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and funding and support from the Government of Canada and
• NIB Trust
• The Winnipeg Foundation
• Governments of Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Yukon, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories
• Canada’s History
• Historica Canada
• The Canadian Commission for UNESCO
• The McConnell Foundation
• Wapikoni & Télé-Québec,
• Facebook,
• The National Film Board of Canada
• Know History
This year’s French programming is developed in partnership with Télé-Québec and Wapikoni.

August 27, 2021

Eeyou Cree School Board

CBC – A new history curriculum making its way into some Cree high school classrooms in northern Quebec this fall is about so much more than teaching the past. Sara Pash is the Chairperson of the Cree School Board, and the new curriculum, developed by the board, teaches history from a Cree perspective. This fall, it is being introduced in secondary 3 (grade 9) classrooms. Last year, it was taught for the first time in secondary 4 (grade 10).
“We’re looking at history from an Eeyou perspective and as a way to support identity construction of our students,” Pash said.
“We know that our students have very different needs from students in the south.”
The Cree School Board has been adapting the standard Quebec history curriculum, since the early 2000s according to Pash. That was when the board received what’s known as a derogation from the Quebec Ministry of Education. Pash said the work of this new curriculum has been several years in the making.
“It’s really time now that our children hear our own stories from our own mouths, from our own perspectives,” Pash said, adding the new curriculum is based on an Eeyou worldview or Miiyubiimaatisiiwin, which literally translated means, “the good life” and one’s ability to find their own place in creation.
The curriculum starts with pre-contact and takes a comprehensive look at the impacts of colonization and confederation on Indigenous people, according to Pash.
It also takes a trauma-informed approach to teaching students about the history of residential schools, the sixties scoop, as well as treaties signed between the Crown and Indigenous people, including the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed by Quebec Cree in 1975.
“It really tries to ensure that any traumatic events in our history are understood [and] where we are working towards our own future as a nation from a place of healing and empowerment,” Pash said.
The history curriculum also includes present-day efforts in self-determination and self-governance for the Cree.

August 17, 2021

USask. Indigenous Strategy

University of Saskatchewan – The Indigenous Strategy, ohpahotân | oohpaahotaan (“Let’s Fly Up Together”) will be gifted in a ceremony on Aug. 20 to the University of Saskatchewan (USask) on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples who informed and validated the process as a companion to the University Plan 2025. The ceremony marks a historic event for USask as it celebrates the first Indigenous Strategy that has been solely created by Indigenous people at a Canadian U15 research institution.
This historic new Indigenous Strategy calls for meaningful and respectful action to advance Indigenization and support transformative decolonization, leading to reconciliation. The Office of the Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement has been collaborating with USask’s Indigenous community of students, staff, faculty, and leaders, Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers and Language Teachers since 2018.
By embedding the principles of this strategy in all aspects of our University Plan 2025, USask is committed to being a national leader in Indigenous engagement and reconciliation as we strive to be the university the world needs.
Our strategy is grounded in seven fundamental commitments—interdependent, mutually reinforcing, interconnected in time and space. These commitments reflect important concepts to Indigenous peoples, our ways of knowing and being.
These commitments are central to the wholeness of Indigenous self-determination:
• Safety. Creating and realizing inviting, welcoming and safe spaces for Indigenous peoples, free from racism and oppression.
• Wellness. Integrating wholistic healing supports for the University’s Indigenous com- munity, including students, staff, faculty and leaders.
• Stewardship. Preserving and amplifying Indigenous cultures, languages and protocol learnings.
• Representation. Uplifting Indigenous peoples in University spaces and places. Right Relations. Supporting active and respectful partnerships and engagement with
• Indigenous peoples—ethical and relational spaces.
• Creation. Acknowledging, resourcing and investing in wise practices and activities— conjuring the creative spirit that inspires innovation.
• Renewal. Strengthening and sustaining pathways of access and success—connecting with Indigenous youth.
We describe the Guiding Principles that reflect the beliefs, values and philosophies that underpin each of our commitments. Importantly, we empower the University to deliver on its commitment to Indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation through concrete Calls to Action that reflect the voices and aspirations of Indigenous students, faculty, staff, and members of broader Indigenous communities. Finally, we have identified a series of Markers that can serve as guideposts for the University to better understand the impact of implementing these actions, help monitor and evaluate progress, and ensure accountability.
On Oct. 18, 2020 the University of Saskatchewan Senate passed a motion to accept the gift.

July 30, 2021

SCcyber E-Learning Institute

Red Deer Advocate – SCcyber E-Learning Institute will open this September at the local Native Friendship Centre in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. The school will provide online high school courses for the growing population of Indigenous youth from Sunchild and O’Chiese First Nations, about 50 kilometres away, when it opens in September.
The school is an urban-based sister organization to SCcyber E-learning Community, provider of online education courses to Indigenous students from more than 25 First Nations.
“It is well known that Indigenous students often struggle in traditional school settings,” says Kamieniecki, “yet there were very limited options specifically designed to meet the needs of these marginalized urban students until this model arrived.”
SCcbyer E-learning Community was Canada’s first online school for Indigenous learners, founded in 2000.

June 28, 2021

Kâpapâmahchakwéw “Wandering Spirit School”

Toronto Star – Kâpapâmahchakwéw “Wandering Spirit School” celebrates its first graduates. Part of the Toronto District School Board, “Wandering Spirit “welcomed its first cohort of Grade 9 students in the fall of 2107, added Grade 10 in 2018, Grade 11 in 2019 and Grade 12 in 2020. The school integrates values, language and culture into the curriculum. “About 50 people are enrolled in the high school program, and 180 in total.
The curriculum offers students classes such as NAC10 (Expressions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Cultures, NAC20 (First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada) and NBE3 (English: Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Métis and Inuit Voices). Indigenous perspectives are also centered in science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, medicine and design classes.

June 3, 2021

Yukon First Nation School Board Framework

The Government of Yukon and the Chiefs Committee on Education (CCOE) – are pleased to announce the finalization of the Yukon First Nation School Board Framework Agreement.
The agreement sets out the process for the creation of a First Nation School Board under the Education Act. This is a critical first step for Yukon First Nations and their Citizens to assume greater authority and control of the administration and management of education programs for students in their communities and the eventual operation of local schools.
Signatories to the agreement, representing 10 Yukon First Nations and the Government of Yukon, seek to address long-standing concerns about unacceptable education outcomes for First Nations students. They also commit to provide high-quality and culturally-appropriate education systems for these students based on an Indigenous world view.

May 14, 2021

Tripartite Education MOU with Grand Council Treaty # 3

Indigenous Services Canada – Grand Council Treaty #3, Canada and Ontario successfully concluded the negotiation of a tripartite education Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU will foster mutual understanding and respect, and will help preserve, support and revitalize the language, culture and identity of Treaty #3 First Nations by supporting First Nations control of education to improve student success for First Nations youth in Northwestern Ontario.
The federal and provincial governments have invested $1.16 million and $300,000, respectively, to support Grand Council Treaty #3 with the implementation of the MOU and will continue to assist the process as the parties establish a joint action plan that will guide the work and progress of the MOU.
Today’s ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the important trilateral partnership that will pave the way for a better educational system for over 1,300 First Nations students who live in Treaty #3 territory. Currently, 17 First Nations in Ontario have signed the agreement. The MOU is flexible and allows other First Nations in Treaty #3 to join in the future should they choose to do so.
Through this agreement, the parties have committed to address efforts to improve education outcomes by focusing on early learning, culturally appropriate education resources, professional development, relationship building and transitioning between First Nations and provincially operated schools.

January 4, 2019

OISE’s Aboriginal Peoples Curricula Database

The Deepening Knowledge Project seeks to infuse Aboriginal peoples’ histories, knowledges and pedagogies into all levels of education in Canada. The project is a part of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, which is located on the territories of Anishinaabe and Onkwehonwe peoples.
On this site you’ll find information about the history and traditions of First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Native American cultures, information about the challenges facing Aboriginal communities today, and curricula for incorporating this information into your teaching practice organized by grade, subject, and theme. Find lessons and links to help support your classroom learning through ideas, lesson templates, and links to books, films, and music to bring Indigenous perspectives, knowledges, and stories into your classroom

October 2, 2018

Anishinabek Nation

The federal government has signed a self-governance agreement “Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement” with 23 Ontario First Nations, the largest such deal of its kind in Canada.
Oct. 2, 2018 – The Kinoomaadziwin Education Body (KEB) opens the doors of its new head office location (Nipissing First Nation) to the public today, at the official launch of the Anishinabek Education System (AES).

June 20, 2018

Maskwacîs Cree Nations

Alberta Native News – On June 20, 2018, Maskwacîs Cree Chiefs hosted a ceremony to mark the signing of a provincial education framework agreement between the four Maskwacîs Cree Nations and the Government of Alberta, ensuring new enhanced education funding from the province. Effective immediately, the Agreement outlines how the Provincial Government will support the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission (MESC) as they develop a robust Cree-based curriculum that integrates language, culture and land-based learning while improving student outcomes such as literacy and numeracy at all levels.
It also identifies how the province can supplement any funding, expertise, training and other supports to strengthen the new Maskwacîs Cree school system—and how, in turn, MESC will share their curriculum learnings—including First Nations history, residential school history, Treaty rights and land-based programs—with Alberta Education.
Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, MESC will oversee all 11 schools in Maskwacîs across the four Nations, serving more than 2,300 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

May 15, 2018

Maskwacîs Cree Nations

Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission Resource and Development Agreement—which includes signatories from the Chiefs of each of the four Maskwacîs Cree Nations and Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services – marks the official transition of true local control of education to the Maskwacis Cree.
Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission (MESC) is the new education authority for all 11 schools and two Head Start programs in Maskwacîs. The primary goal of MESC is improving educational opportunities, services and student success for all students who attend our schools in Maskwacis

September 17, 2014

Whitcap Dakota First Nation

The elementary school is part of a unique partnership between Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Saskatoon Public Schools and the federal and provincial governments that includes students in Grades 5-8 from Whitecap and K-8 students from Stonebridge. The first on–reserve school (for about 850 students at full capacity) to be integrated into a Saskatchewan School Division. Federal Government committed $2.7M as part of the construction.

August 8, 2012

Waywayseecappo FN

Provincial and federal governments allowed First Nations to join the local school board, transforming indigenous students into provincial students. Under the agreement, the feds matched the provincial standard dollar for dollar. Until about 18 months ago, a student in Waywayseecappo received about $7,300 in annual funding from the federal government, while a student at Rossburn Collegiate received about $10,500 from the provincial government. Then one day the disparity disappeared, poof, overnight.The extra $1.2M in annual funding allowed the school to hire 6 more teachers, reduce class size by 50% and raised teacher salaries between 13K – $18K to be in line with provincial peers (McLeans, Aug. 8, 2012)