Celebrating Indigenous Voices in Western Canada

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It was a comment on social media from National Truth and Reconciliation Day that will stick with me for a long while:

“As we colonials fold up our orange shirts and pack them away for next September 30, keep in mind Indigenous peoples can’t simply pack away their trauma.”

Education and understanding drive change, but it takes people with vision and dedication to help forge the path of reconciliACTION*. Over 20 years as a travel journalist, I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of interacting and learning from a host of such influential Indigenous voices; people who have faced so much challenge and yet they are rising to the occasion. This, to me, is what makes a hero.

There are many more “ordinary” heroes from Indigenous communities across this country working to effect change. We need to get to know and to listen to more of them in the days and months ahead. For now, here are a few Indigenous change makers who’ve impacted our world here at ZenSeekers, heroes for today and beyond. Trust that we’re determined to bring you more as our world turns.

Ktunaxa First Nation’s Michele A Sam

Her business, Michele A Sam consulting, keeps colonials on a path of gaining Ktunaxa First Nation and Indigenous perspective, and an understanding of why place matters. I’m paraphrasing, but as she explains in the courses she offers, “when we lose our sense of place, we lose our understanding of our world.”

As Cranbrook’s College of The Rockies Indigenous studies instructor and as a consultant for hire, Sam uses her presence to turn tides and build bridges to a better path forward. 

Ktunaxa First Nation’s Eldon Stanley

Through summer and fall of 2021, Stanley – a videographer and audio engineer - interned at Seekers, blazing a path that is leaving a wake of inspiration for other Indigenous creators across his Nation of Ktunaxa and far beyond. While he worked largely behind the scenes over his 2021 internship with us, you can see the results of Eldon’s work in ZenSeekers’ #KtunaxaHomelands expedition.

His contributions to the #KtunaxaHomelands project will allow travelers to Cranbrook, Kimberley, Fernie and across the Ktunaxa Nation to gain Ktunaxa perspective on their creation story. 

Ktunaxa Rockies Montain Hut Fernie BC
Photographer: Kyle Hamilton
Eldon Stanley centres himself with this view of the Ktunaxa Rockies, in #KtunaxaHomelands.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s Gisele Martin, Terry Dorward and Saya Masso

Martin, Dorward and Masso are some of the key members behind one of the world’s leading examples of Indigenous land and title expression, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks. As I wrote about earlier this year in this ZenSeekers story, Tla-o-qui-aht’s Tribal Parks is a vision that has become a movement.

Founded in 1984 out of what was the biggest civil uprising in Canadian history, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks challenges visitors and Tofino’s visitor economy to support the Nation's efforts in restoring and protecting what is one of the planet’s most diverse biospheres, Clayoquot Sound.

Quinton Crowshoe, Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site

If you’ve been to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump you get it; you know why this place is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

So much history sits within this Indigenous attraction located about two hours south of Calgary. Crowshoe, a member of the Piikani First Nation, has leveraged the destination as a vehicle to spur youth employment and cultural resurrection for his people for over two decades.

His work also allows any traveler to the region to find better connections with the Piikani people and ultimately the land. 

Juanita Chase and Leon Hunter - Metis Crossing

As the two leaders of one of Canada’s newest Indigenous attractions, Chase and Hunter have been facilitating growth and foundation for Alberta’s Indigenous Tourism Industry.

The programming offered by Metis Crossing allows any traveler to gain perspective on what it means to be Metis and what it truly means to live off the land.

Metis Crossing Alberta metis tales by the fire
Photographer: Paul Lavoie
Visitors listen to traditional stories by the fire at Métis Crossing.

Michele K Johnson, Syilx First Nation Language House

It takes a lot to build something from nothing, especially when your full-time role is to resurrect a dying language. I met Michele on the slopes of SilverStar this past winter and have been in awe of her work as the lead for the Syilx First Nation Language House.

She has 19 students in her cohort this year who, under her guidance, graduate as fluent speakers of the Syilx language. Her work leaves nothing but inspiration for other First Nations communities working to build presence through language. 

Wishkii and Stella Peters, Huu-ay-aht First Nation Kiixin Tour Guides

Wishkii and Stella are two knowledge keepers for Huu-ay-aht First Nation and tour guides who provide any traveler access to a community over 5,500 years old.

If you’ve followed ZenSeekers for a while you have heard of Kiixin and ideally you are now one of the thousands who have made the trek to BC’s west coast to gain Huu-ay-aht understanding of years past and how that history leads into the future.

Touring the Kiixin historic site, Huu-ay-aht First Nations, BC.
Photographer: Jaiden George
Huu-ay-aht guide Wishkii leads the way to the 5000 year-old Kiixin Village site.

Ahousaht First Nation’s Jaiden George, writer and photographer 

ZenSeekers has been graced by Jaiden George’s presence for over a year now. He came to us in our quest to welcome more indigenous creators to our pages. Jaiden’s stepped to the plate in so many incredible ways and there is so much more to come from him.

As a movie producer, student of Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s photography faculty and as a strong writer, like Eldon Stanley, he’s leaving a trail of inspiration for other Indigenous youth to harness the power of digital storytelling for change

These are just a few of my heroes, noting that there are dozens more out there.

Who have you met? Join the conversation on our ZenSeekers’ Facebook page and share with us what it means to have change makers in your world:

* “reconciliACTION” is a word coined by another group of change makers, in the shadow of one of Canada’s most renowned superheroes, The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie. You can find reconicliACTION inspiration via the Downie WenJack Foundation created in his wake: https://downiewenjack.ca/our-work/reconciliactions/

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