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Ashley Callingbull became the first Indigenous Mrs. Universe this year | Image source:

It’s amazing what can happen in the span of a year. Last year at this time Perry Bellegarde had just been elected as the new AFN National Chief. The Conservatives held a majority government and opposed resolving Indigenous issues like the missing and murdered Indigenous women tragedy and closing the gap on First Nations education and funding. Reserve communities were also dealing with the controversial First Nations Transparency Act at a time when Stephen Harper’s appointed Senators were facing allegations of misspending thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money.

While racist stereotyping of Indigenous Peoples persists across Turtle Island, the tide of a new government has stirred hope for 2016 for Indigenous people in Canada. Before delving into the New Year MUSKRAT Magazine takes a look at some of the biggest Indigenous media moments of 2015:

Dancers from Making Treaty 7
Dancers from Making Treaty 7 | Image source:

1. Making Treaty Seven Visionaries Passed Away in Tragic Car Accident

Early in the morning of February 10 the Calgary arts community lost four of their greats: Narcisse Blood, Michael Greene, Michelle Sereda and Lacy Morin-Desjarlais in a tragic car accident north of Regina, SK. Blood and Greene were the visionaries behind the ground breaking production Making Treaty 7. While the loss of life had taken its toll on the cast and crew, they made the tough decision of continuing on in honour of their work and lives.

2. Canadian Fashion House Unveiled Culturally Appropriated Clothing Line

During Milan Fashion Week in early March, Canadian design brothers, Dean and Dan Catan premiered a clothing line “inspired” by Canadian Indigenous tribes, labelling it DSquawed. The term ‘squaw’ is a derogatory word used towards Indigenous woman. The duo received heavy criticism in the media and quickly removed the Dsquaw term from their website and social media platforms. The brothers never responded to the criticism or apologized for the major discrepancy. In a recent performance at the American Music Awards, Jennifer Lopez and her backup dancers wore clothing from the controversial collection.

Scene from Unplugging | Image source:

3. Unplugging Created Controversy Over Use of Non-Indigenous Actresses

The Unplugging is a play that follows two aging Indigenous women, cast out of their community and left to fend for themselves. While the production made its debut at the Factory Theatre on March 14 in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts, it caused a groundswell of controversy when they cast non-Indigenous actresses to portray Indigenous characters. A big reason cited for the casting call was that there weren’t any Indigenous actresses available in the region at the time to take on the roles. Shortly following the controversy, Indigenous Actor Glen Gould launched First Nations Talent Bank, which lists hundreds of Indigenous actors across the country. Board members of Native Earth issued an apology for the discrepancy stating, “that they will never again be involved in a production that allows an Indigenous character to be portrayed by a non Indigenous actor.”

Truth Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Image Source: United Church of Canada Archives

4. Truth and Reconciliation Commission Released its Calls to Action

From June 2-5 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to a close in Ottawa, ON. Commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair declared that cultural genocide was committed against First Nations, Inuit and Métis people and that residential schools played a pivotal role in that genocide. Over the course of the events it was revealed that over 3,200 children never returned home from these schools and that Indigenous children had more chances of dying in a residential school than a soldier in World War II. The historical event concluded with 94 calls to action for the government and Canadians to implement.

5. Fashion House Valentino Inspired by Métis Artists Christi Belcourt

Valentino designers, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpoala Piccioli, were so impressed by Métis artist Christi Belcourt’s painting Water Song that they wanted to use similar prints for a new collection. As opposed to just going ahead and using her designs without her consent, like houses before them (see DSqwad), Valentino worked with Belcourt and got her input before designing the collection, providing an example of what cultural sharing can look like.

6. David Guetta Released Racist Promotional Video For Ibiza Stint

In early July, Parisian DJ, David Guetta released a highly racist video to promote his summer residency of Club Pacha on the party island of Ibiza. The video featured scantily clad women in bikinis, carrying and dancing around a totem pole, screaming warrior cries, wearing war bonnets and warrior face paint. Soon after the video’s release, the club and Guetta faced serious backlash, rightfully so, and removed the video from its site. This eventually led to outdoor musical festivals such as Osheaga banning people from wearing headdresses at their festivals.

7. Ashley Callingbull became the First Indigenous Woman to Win Mrs. Universe

Ashley Callingbull made history this year for being the first Indigenous woman to be crowned Mrs. Universe. The beauty queen went on to become a powerful voice for First Nations rights by encouraging Indigenous voters to vote out Stephen Harper in the election. While some people criticized her for being too political, she quickly silenced them on social media stating, “I’m not your typical beauty queen. Look out…. I have a voice for change and I’m going to use it.”

Cover of Power In The Blood
Cover of Power In The Blood | Image source:

8. Buffy St. Marie Won Polaris Prize

For the second year in a row, an Indigenous woman has won the Polaris Prize for Canadian record of the year. Last year the prize was awarded to Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq. Power in the Blood is the 20th record released by the 74 year old performer. Earlier in her career the singer became known for revolutionary songs like Universal Soldier which was blacklisted by the United States government. St. Marie went on to become a highly successful singer, songwriter, teacher, actress, humanitarian, activist and world traveller.

Justin Trudeau and Perry Bellegarde After Addressing AFN Congress
Justin Trudeau and Perry Bellegarde After Addressing AFN Congress | Image source:

9. Election Night

While former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper campaigned on the politics of fear and divisiveness, NDP leader, Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau campaigned on promises of improved and renewed relations with the Indigenous people Canada. High profile Indigenous leaders such as National Chief, Perry Bellegarde and Mrs.Universe, Ashley Callingbull encouraged and championed the Indigenous vote. Election night saw Justin Trudeau’s Liberals easily form a majority government along with a record 10 Indigenous MP’s, 7 of them representing the Liberals. Since then Trudeau has begun to implement the 94 calls to action, lifted the 2% funding cap to First Nations communities, programs and services and see number 10.

10. Historical Inquiry Called Into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Staying true to his word, PM Justin Trudeau called a national inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women tragedy. This is historical mainly because the former Conservative government had strongly opposed a national inquiry in the face of national and international pressure calling for one. New Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nation), Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Status of Women Minister Patty Hadju were named to lead the inquiry. They announced two phases to the inquiry. The first portion they will meet with victims families, frontline workers and various national Aboriginal organizations to determine objectives, focus and parameters. The second phase will be the inquiry itself.

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About The Author

MUSKRAT Magazine

MUSKRAT is an on-line Indigenous arts, culture magazine that honours the connection between humans and our traditional ecological knowledge by exhibiting original works and critical commentary. MUSKRAT embraces both rural and urban settings and uses media arts, the Internet, and wireless technology to investigate and disseminate traditional knowledges in ways that inspire their reclamation.

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