Original Painting: Fanny Aishaa. Original Photo: Ossie Michelin/APTN Picturing Amanda Polchies
MUSKRAT celebrates the following Indigenous heroes of today that we are inspired by! We also want to note that there are many more unsung heroes – so to the ones mentioned below and the ones who go unsung, we honour you. Nia:wen, Miigwech, Massi Cho, Hiy Hiy, Wela’lin.
1. Alanis Obomsawin
Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki) was born in New Hampshire and was raised near the Odanak Reserve at Trois-Rivières, Quebec. With a career spanning over forty years, she has produced over thirty documentaries on Indigenous rights issues for the National Film Board of Canada. Alanis Obomsawin’s directing credits include Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, Rocks at Whiskey Trench, Is the Crown at War with Us?, and Hi-Ho Mistahey! We celebrate Alanis Obomsawin as a hero because of her tireless documentary work that celebrates Indigenous people and highlights injustices that Indigenous people face.
2. Cindy Blackstock
Cindy Blackstock (Gitxsan) is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She is also an associate professor for the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta, and a fierce advocate for the rights of Indigenous children in Canada. Two years ago she filed a human rights complaint against the Canadian government for chronic underfunding of Indigenous children’s welfare. She has since been spied on by the Canadian government, and has brought awareness to this critical issue, while going through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. We celebrate Cindy Blackstock as a hero because of her commitment to seeking justice for Indigenous children.
3. Brenda Sayers
Brenda Sayers, elected spokesperson for Hupacasath on the Hupacasath First Nation’s legal battle with Canada over the Canada-China FIPPA. Brenda has worked tirelessly to campaign and raise awareness for what the Hupacasath say is an unconstitutional deal that will leave Canadian tax payers on the line for billions of dollars in secret tribunals. Hupacasath initiated a request for a judicial review of the FIPPA for it’s lack of consultation with First Nations last year, and its violation of section 35 of the Canadian constitution. The request was dismissed, but the First Nation appealed on June 10, 2014 in the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver. A decision is expected before the end of the summer. We celebrate Brenda Sayers as a hero because of her determination to spread awareness and put a stop to this secretive trade agreement.
4. Arnell Tailfeathers
5. Levi Little Mustache
On February 27th, 2013, the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) and the University of Lethbridge hosted a talk on the abolishment of the Indian Act with Tom Flanagan, *University of Calgary professor of political science and former advisor to PM Stephen Harper. During the talk, Levi Little Mustache (Blackfoot) asked Flanagan about an off cuff comment made to student paper The Manitoban back in 2009 in which he stated; “But that’s actually another interesting debate or seminar: what’s wrong with child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures?” among other things. *Flanagan’s response was filmed by Arnell Tailfeathers, (Blackfoot) who later posted the video to youtube which went viral and led to the University of Calgary announcing Flanagan’s early retirement, and CBC’s Power and Politics dropping him as a commentator. We celebrate them both as heroes because of their their savvy use of social media to bring to light the skewed ideology of this man who was too often considered an “expert” on Indigenous people, but had little credibility or respect within the Indigenous community.
6. Sylvia McAdam
7. Jessica Gordon
8. Nina Wasatase Wilson
Last year Idle No More quickly became one of the largest Indigenous mass movements in Canadian history – sparking hundreds of teach-ins, rallies, and protests across Turtle Island and beyond. Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon and Nina Wilson along with ally Sheelah McLean were the founders of this movement, as they responded to Bill C-45 with a series of teach-ins throughout Saskatchewan to protest impending parliamentary bills that will erode Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections. Their actions shifted the social and political landscape of Canada by sparking a new generation of Indigenous activism, which is why we are honoring them as heroes today.
9. Melina Laboucan-Massimo
Melina Laboucan-Massimo (Lubicon Cree First Nation) has been working as an Indigenous advocate for over a decade, including working with Greenpeace Canada as their Climate and Energy Campaigner. Her work has specifically been around the Alberta tar sands, which has had detrimental impacts on her home community. Melina has participated in numerous campaigns to raise awareness of the effects of the tar sands on Indigenous people, and has studied and worked in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada, with a focus on Indigenous rights and culture, resource extraction and international diplomacy. In 2013, Melina’s sister Bella Laboucan-McLean died under mysterious circumstances in Toronto. On the 1 year anniversary ofBella’s death, Melina contributed to the launch of the website: It Starts With Us which is a community database honouring the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Melina continues to do the work of fighting for the rights of Indigenous people, and for all of her efforts, we honour Melina Laboucan-Massimo.
10. Christi Belcourt
Christi Belcourt is a Métis visual artist with a deep respect for the traditions and knowledge of her people. In 2012, Christi put a call out on social media for community members across the country to send in Moccasin vamps to honour missing and murdered women. The community response was overwhelming with over 1,700 pairs of contributed vamps. The call out culminated in the Walking With Our Sisters exhibition which is perhaps the most powerful and moving memorial to the over 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls here on Turtle Island. Christi’s paintings and murals are known for their healing powers, and in fact, each of the birthing rooms at the Toronto Birth Centre features a print of a Christi Belcourt mural for that very reason. The recipient of numerous awards, Christi was recognized as the 2014 Aboriginal Artist of the Year by the Ontario Arts Council. We honour Christi Belcourt because her body of work tells a critical story about the power that exists within Indigenous communities and the healing that comes from art and traditional knowledge. Author of Medicines To Help Us (Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2007), and Beadwork (Ningwakwe Learning Press, 2010), Christi has also published works on traditional plants and medicines.
11. Russell Diabo
Russell Diabo is Mohawk from Kahnawake and is the Editor and Publisher of First Nations Strategic Bulletin, and a founding member of Defenders of the Land, a network of Indigenous communities and activists in land struggle across Canada. His policy analysis has been key in disseminating critical information about what he calls the termination tables as well as a suite of legislation that threaten First Nations rights. We are honouring him as a hero because of his ability to hone in on and make public important legal and political policies that jeopardize the rights of Indigenous people.
12. Deejay NDN
13. Bear Witness
14. DJ Shub (A Tribe Called Red)
A Tribe Called Red are an electronic music group, who blend instrumental hip hop, reggae, moombahton and dubstep-influenced dance music with elements of First Nations music are taking the world by storm. Members of this trio have each contributed to the landscape of Indigenous resistance and cultural resurgence, through music and activism. Each of the members maintain active social media accounts, and throughout their travels confront the negative stereotypes of Indigenous people, cultural appropriation, and racism they encounter. Perhaps most notable has been Ian Campeau’s 2012 campaign to change the name of the Nepean Redskins, which achieved success in 2013 when the high school announced they would be changing the name.
15. Dr. Marie Wilson
Dr. Wilson sits as a Commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has more than 30 years of professional experience as an award-winning journalist, trainer, and senior executive manager. As a Regional Director for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Wilson was a pioneer. She launched the first Daily Television News service for northern Canada, against a back-drop of four time zones and ten languages: English, French and eight Indigenous. She developed the Arctic Winter Games and True North Concert series, to showcase northern performing artists and traditional Indigenous sports for audiences across southern Canada. She fought for the recruitment and development of Aboriginal staff and their on-air reflection. We honour Dr. Marie Wilson because of her commitment to representation of Indigenous people in media and to truth-telling, by listening and documenting some of our most painful stories so they never happen again.