Indigenous Success Stories: Métis

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 


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.

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 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.

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