THIS STORY CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSE. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
At 77 years old, Métis senior Jim Cunningham shares his story of attending Sturgeon Lake Indian Residential School. He opens up about his experience, detailing the abuse he suffered at the hands of other students as well as school administrators.
In November 2017, the National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls arrived in Edmonton, Alberta. Elementary school students were invited to take part and learn about the impact on communities and families. They were also given an opportunity to interview one another on camera with iPads.
Photos of Lynn Brant, Allen Benson, Allen Benson passing on the conference to Aboriginal Australians, Navaho Code Talker and others
Joe Mackenzie is very knowledgeable about the caribou and offers great advice on how to help their numbers grow.
An incredible storyteller. Full of knowledge. I am in awe of what she knows.
Ever since meeting Carla Ulrich, we've had so much fun interviewing our Fort Smith Elders. Carla has adapted my comic "Hickey Gone Wrong", illustrated by Haida Artist Christopher Auchter as well as my graphic novel "Three Feathers", illustrated by Krytal Meteus and she's about to adapt my graphic novel "The Blue Raven", illustrated by Cree artist Steven Sanderson this summer. I've known her grandmother, Vina Champaign, my whole life! :)
Mahsi cho, Carla, for all that you do for our Fort Smith youth the the YouthRise Project.
Mahsi cho for making movies that showcase the beauty of our town: Fort Smith.
I am so grateful to you.
Here is a story Vina shared with us in January of 2015:
Vina: "You worked in the summer, you didn’t party just like the the Ant and the Grasshopper.
"You know that story?
"The Grasshopper was fiddling and laughing and dancing and drinking and staying up late all hours of the night. And the Ant says to him: “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why are you not preparing like me I’m collecting food for the winter. Winter is coming, you know.”
“Oh winter, what’s that?” He was dancing and fiddling and fooling around.
And then when fall came the snow fell, poor old grasshopper fell on the ground and froze. So when the ant came out to welcome spring he found his little partner frozen.
“I told you," he kept telling him. "I told you to get a house, get a job, work. You can’t be fiddling all day and dancing and partying."
The moral of the story: if you look after yourself you will survive."
Mahsi cho, Vina!
The project staged a setting where French/European Voyageurs men first meet the Aboriginal peoples in their camps and villages. The idea was to portray the true setting, where Canada’s First peoples are seen as healthy, friendly people who helped the first white voyageurs and settlers live on the land. Many ideas and artworks of the “First Meeting” have been portrayed in history as negative, scary and shown in an idealized, romantic light. We created an environment that was closer to the true history of the first meetings, where First Nations peoples are portrayed as healthy, kind and helpful people who shared their resources with men who had been travelling for months and in most cases were starving.
My Biography by Larissa Lusty
My name is Larissa Lusty. I am a Dene woman part of the Salt River First Nation band in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. I was born in Edmonton, AB on April 12, 1989 to John Daniels and Kimberley Lusty. I have two younger brothers. I moved to Calgary, AB in 1992, at the age of 3. My mother was born in Calgary and raised on the Tsuu T’ina reserve with all of her maternal side of the family. My parents raised me Catholic in my childhood years, but we have always lived the Traditional ways with smudging, dancing pow-wow, eating traditional foods and learning our native language and culture.
We lived some years on the Tsuu T’ina reserve, next to Calgary. I was runner-up Junior Princess for the Chiila Elementary school when I was around 9 years old, and represented the Tsuu T’ina reserve. I love school, I always had excellent grades and received many awards for my hard work and dedication.
I’ve always had a creative side and became a self-taught artist. I love beading and painting. I have memories of being a young child and sitting next to my grandmother as she sewed and beaded little projects at the kitchen table. She would get me to thread her needles for her each time. I was so intrigued by her work and I feel that was the time in my life that I had a real interest in becoming an artist. Now that time has passed and I reflected on my earlier years. I feel that art was a way for me to escape. When I was younger, I was bullied all the time in and out of school. Art is healing, and it saved me in a way.
However, I feel that being bullied has made me stronger and shaped me into a person that stands my ground. I never retaliated. I was raised by strong resilient women, and was taught to be respectful, and to be humble even when others were mean or treated me wrong. I am grateful and truly blessed to have had such wonderful role-models in my life.
I then moved to Fort Smith, NT with my family in August 2005, I was 16 years old. It’s my father’s home town where he was born and raised. It became my new home for many years, where I was able to meet his side of the family, graduate high school, and learn to love such a beautiful small place that was quite different than a big city. It was a huge adjustment in my life. New friends, new school, new everything. I went to Paul William Kaeser High school. That’s where my artistic abilities were noticed and I was asked to illustrate a children’s book called “The South Slave Creature” written by elder Henry Beaver. After high school, I moved on to Aurora College and completed my Nursing Access program.
That same year, I started summer work as a Nurse’s aide at the Northern Lights Special Care Home, caring for elders. This would continue for a few years. I then moved to Yellowknife, NT in 2009 to begin my Bachelors of Science in Nursing, 4-year degree. I completed two years and learned that I was pregnant with my now only child. Her name is Amaira, and she is a beautiful gift.
I moved back to Fort Smith to be home with my family for the support that I needed. After becoming a new mother, I decided to go back to school and went in to Business Administration at Aurora College, where I obtained my diploma in 2015.
I like to think of myself as a motivated and self-driven woman. Over the years I have made many art projects. I’ve created my own small business called Lusty Designs that launched in 2012, making and selling hand-made jewelry, specifically earrings. Since I was kid I’ve always had a dream of being an actress or model, and being seen on television. In 2016, that amazing opportunity surfaced and I was part of a movie called “Three Feathers” written by Richard Van Camp, and directed in Fort Smith. It was such a fun, exciting and up-lifting experience, one I would never forget. Having a taste of acting, has truly inspired me to pursue filming even more.
In 2015, I started my work at the Fort Smith Health Centre as a receptionist. I was a face to the community, seeing and helping many people on a daily basis. Two years later I decided that it was time for my daughter and I to move to Calgary. The opportunity was there and we took it.
Unfortunately, my dad passed in 2016. He was a free spirit, my hero, the guy that I looked up to the most. Thank you to him, he always told me to be something in life, to never say “I can’t”, and to never give up no matter how hard things would become. His words live on in my mind daily and are great reminders that have helped me become who I am today. I’ve been through many hardships. Losing him was by far the hardest one of all. It had me fall in to a dark time in my life, I remember feeling lost and like I wanted to give up, like I didn’t care about anything anymore.
Honestly, I turned to alcohol. Grief is the worst pain to ever feel and I numbed it with drinking. At the same time, I was having fun being with friends and feeling a high that lifted me from the hurt. It started getting out of control. Until one day, something inside me snapped out of it. I knew I needed some help for my grieving, depression, and anxiety so I attempted to reach out. I applied to a family Treatment Centre in British Columbia where I could bring my daughter, but was not accepted. I really reflected on my life. Who I was, who I became, what I was doing, what I wanted in life, but most importantly who was watching. That small person watching me every day was my daughter.
I knew I had to make lifestyle changes so that I could be the mom I needed to be. This whole experience was a test. I believe that we are never given more than we can not handle. And even though this was a difficult time for me, I was still able to find that light. Something negative happened and had brought out something so positive as a result. I realize that substance abuse and addictions is common in smaller communities like Fort Smith. I want people to know what I’ve went through and that it’s okay to fall. It happens, we are only human. I want to be that role-model in their lives, for those who may be going through similar experiences with substance abuse. Today I am sober and I am still a single mother. I struggle to get by, but I try and I just make it work. I don’t rely or depend on anyone but myself. However, I am thankful to have my mother. She is the strongest woman I know and I feel that I get my strength from her. She is incredible, she taught me so much and I am proud to say that I am her daughter. My parents have always supported me and have been there for me. They have inspired me to be the best mom that I can be.
Today, I am now the Children’s Oral Health Initiative (COHI) Aide on the Tsuu T’ina reserve. This brand new job position takes a lot of independence, responsibility, creativity and determination. Yet again, I am a face to the community working with young children and their families. I get to teach the importance of good oral health, and help with the prevention of early childhood tooth decay. It’s a rewarding feeling knowing that I can help make a difference in people’s lives. I feel that I am meant to be in the Health field, even though I like to be adventurous and try new things. I’m always brought back to this line of work. I enjoy and take pride in helping others, especially the people of Aboriginal communities. I love connecting with my Northern and Southern roots.
My plan in the near future is to enroll in school and obtain my Dental Assistant certificate through correspondence, while continuing to work. After completion, I am planning to stay working in Aboriginal communities. I love learning, and I believe that education is so important. This is my story, and this is who I am.