March 27, 2017

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INDIGENOUS HEROES OF 2015

INDIGENOUS HEROES OF 2015

Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Superman franchise| Image source: moviepilot.com

MUSKRAT Magazine would like to acknowledge the following brave individuals who against many odds had the courage to create positive change and build a better future for Indigenous people in 2015.

1. Caleb Behn; Dunne-Za/Eh-Cho Dene

Caleb Behn is the star of the documentary Fractured Land, which made its debut this year at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. The documentary focuses on the work he does as a lawyer and environmental activist that raises awareness about the impacts of hydraulic fracking in British Columbia. He studied law at The University of Victoria where he was one of the first students to specialize in environmental law and sustainability. Behn was inspired to attend law school to help his People stand up against big oil and gas companies in court.

2. Carey Newman; Kwakiutl District Council

In early 2011, Newman heard about a Request for Proposals by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for commemoration initiatives dealing with the Indian Residential School Era. Inspired by a woven blanket Newman “weaved” together over 800 artefacts collected from residential school structures. Alone they represent fragmented cultures, segments of language, diminished pride and crumbling buildings. Together they tell the story of loss, strength, reconciliation and pride. The installation started its cross country tour on January 1, 2015 in Regina, SK to Ottawa City Hall during the closing ceremonies for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events and will make it’s way across the rest of the country well into 2020. Once the tour is over it will permanently be on display at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

3. Josephine Mandamin; Manitoulin Island

Since 2003, Elder Joseph Mandamin has led the Sacred Water Walks to pray for water, the sustenance of life and the veins of Mother Earth. This year, the Sacred Water Walk started out in Mantane QC, by the Atlantic Ocean, and followed the route of the Anishinaabe Migration Story before ending in Lake Superior on Madeline Island, Wisconsin. The main focus of the three month long trek was to raise awareness about the oil spills and pollution happening across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

Map of Anishinaabe Migration
Map of Anishinaabe Migration | Image Source: zhaawanart.blogspot.com

4. Jason Momoa; Kanaka Maoli

Game of Thrones star, Jason Momoa, born in Honolulu, jump started a social media campaign to protest the construction of the $1.4 billion project, Thirty Meter Telescope, on top of the sacred mountaintop, Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The campaign was used to raise awareness of a petition on Change.org to halt the telescope’s construction and the arrests of people protesting the project. Jason and his wife, Lisa Bonet, are using their fame and influence to bring Indigenous stories to the mainstream. In addition to writing, directing, and starring in Road to Paloma, a story about a Native American on the run after avenging his mother’s murder, Momoa also stars on the TV series Red Road, the new Netflix original- Frontier. He also has a contract to play Aquaman in several Superman movies.

5. Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould; Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation

After the Liberals won a landslide election, Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould became the first woman of Indigenous descent to be appointed as the Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada. Wilson-Raybould has a lengthy and successful career as a crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and the BC First Nation Regional Chief. In December it was announced that Wilson-Raybould, Carolyn Bennett (Indigenous Affairs Minister) and Patty Hajdu (Minister of Status of Women) will be leading the national public inquiry into the murdered and missing Indigenous women tragedies.

Carolyn Bennett, Patricia Hadju, Jody Wilson- Raybould, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry
Carolyn Bennett, Patricia Hadju, Jody Wilson- Raybould annoucne the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry| Image source: ctvnews.ca; Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press

6. Chief Justice Murray Sinclair; Ojibwe

In June 2009, Justice Murray Sinclair took over as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Justice Harry S. Laforme resigned citing insubordination from his fellow commissioners. Sinclair, being a former residential school survivor himself, listened to over 6,000 testimonies from fellow survivors and published the final report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, on December 15. Sinclair is the first person of Aboriginal descent to be appointed as a judge in Manitoba.

7. Melina Laboucan-Massimo; Lubicon Cree First Nation

Melina Laboucan-Massimo is a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada and
the Indigenous Environmental Network worldwide. She is also an educator on the impacts that
the fossil fuel extraction sector has on Indigenous people, especially on her home nation, the
Lubicon Cree First Nation. This year Melina toured the speaker circuit advocating to environmental and Indigenous rights at events such as the Nobel Women’s Initiative on the Defence of Women Human Rights Defenders in Holland, and the Earth and Spirit Speaker’s Series in Vancouver. In 2011 she was chosen to be the ‘godmother’ of the Greenpeace ship – Rainbow Warrior III. The ship is named after an Indigenous prophecy that states when the earth grows sick, a tribe will gather the cultures of the world to heal it and that they will be known as the ‘Warriors of the Rainbow’.

8. Michael Champagne; Shamattawa Cree Nation

Michael Champagne is a self-described street educator based out of Northern Winnipeg, home to one of Canada’s largest urban Indigenous populations. On September 24, Champagne was featured in Time Magazine as a ‘Next Generation Leader’. He is known for his community activism as a founder of the Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO!) and as a leader of Thunderbird House where, “he recruits volunteers and teaches Aboriginal values.” In Time he states that with AYO!, “young people are committed to the four principles: breaking stereotypes, walking with integrity, providing Indigenous solutions and the application of traditional teachings.”

Michael Champagne, Time Magazine
Michael Champagne| Image Source: Adam Ferguson for TIME

9. Perry Bellegarde; Little Black Bear First Nation, Treaty 4

After being voted as the AFN National Chief in late 2014, Perry Bellegarde reached out to former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to build a positive relationship for Indigenous people with the federal government, but was met with an unenthusiastic response. Since the announcement of a fall election, Bellegarde became a central figure that rallied the First Nation vote stating that First Nations voters can influence a total of 51 ridings. In an interview with CBC he changed his stance on whether he would be casting a ballot himself from no to yes explaining, “it is vital that First Nations voices be heard in every way possible, including through the ballot box.’ His original decision not to vote as a Chief was based on the belief that Indigenous people have a separate relationship with the Crown as a whole rather than one political party.

10. Rinelle Harper; Garden Hill First Nation

On a cold November night in 2014, Rinelle Harper was brutally attacked, not once, but twice and left for dead by the Assiniboine River in Winnepeg. After coming close to becoming a missing and murdered Indigenous woman statistic, Rinelle came back hard, advocating for a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. She states in an interview on We Day, “we have to ask ourselves how we contribute to violence and take responsibility to change our words and our thoughts. Violence isn’t just physical, it’s also gossiping and bullying. These are things that many people do everyday and they don’t see how destructive it can be. It’s not easy to speak up sometimes. It feels like a risk, it can be scary, but I’ve learned that if you use your voice others will join you.”

Rinelle Harper, Perry Bellegarde, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
Rinelle Harper speaks about her experience with violence at a roundtable in Ottawa in February with Perry Bellegarde beside her | Image source: lapresse.ca; ChrisWattie, Reuters

11. Robert Falcon-Ouellette; Red Pheasant First Nation

Robert Falcon-Ouellette ran in the Winnipeg Centre riding against long-time incumbent, NDP MP Pat Martin. Falcon-Ouellette was one of the 10 Indigenous MPs who helped make history in this record breaking election which saw the highest number of Indigenous MP’s to be elected to date. What is fascinating about his win, is its location. Earlier in the year, Winnipeg was at the centre of huge article in Maclean’s Magazine for being a place ‘where Canada’s racism problem is at it’s worst.’ The Liberal MP has two master’s’ degrees, a Ph.D and served in the army for 18 years. He chose to enter politics to change people’s negative perceptions of Indigenous people.

12. Shannen Koostachin; Attawapiskat First Nation

When Shannen was alive, she and her fellow classmates led a movement to raise awareness about the funding gap for First Nations children’s education, an issue that took centre stage this past election. Although Shannen passed away in 2010, her legacy lives on in the youth driven movement, Shannen’s Dream and in the book, Children of the Broken Treaty, written by NDP MP Charlie Angus. The book chronicles how First Nations struggles came to be with broken treaty promises and how they affect Indigenous youth today. She was also honoured with a public monument in New Liskeard, ON that was erected in October.

13. Chief Wilton Littlechild; Ermineskin Cree Nation

Chief Wilton Littlechild worked alongside Justice Murray Sinclair on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that ended this year. He took on the role to raise awareness of the abuse that went on in residential schools in Canada and to contribute to building a more inclusive country. Littlechild was the first Indigenous person to receive a law degree from the University of Alberta and has since gone on to advocate for Indigenous rights and the implementation of treaty relations nationally and internationally. Just like Sinclair, he was also a residential school survivor.

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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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