Leadership

Lakota Elder Jace DeCory braiding her grandson's hair in Spearfish, South Dakota :)

You know how when you finally meet an Elder who gets you and shares in your humor, wit and happiness?

Lakota Elder Jace DeCory is my heart wish for an Aunty. I could just follow her around for years and listen and learn.

What a treasure you are, Jace.

 

Mahsi cho for your friendship, stories and teachings.

 

:)

 

Larissa Lusty from Fort Smith, NWT

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.

 

 

 

 

Cree Elder James Grandjambe of Fort MacKay, AB

Long time ago, I was interviewing James for a book we were working on called "Our Stories Help The Northern Lights Dance." I was asked to interview Elders in Fort MacKay and Fort Chip. It was a dream come true.

I interviewed James and he, at that time, was the eldest Knowledge Keeper in Fort MacKay. I shared an afternoon speaking with him. His dog was Princess. She put up with me bothering James with so many questions. James has pointed moccasins and was very patient with me.

After we were done, I asked James if he had any rat root. I promised to take his picture and make copies for him and his family for trade. He agreed.

 

He went into his back room on his wheelchair and was gone for 10 of the longest minutes of my life and when he returned, he had the biggest bag of ratroot I had ever seen.

He took out a handfull of ratroot and I was so happy. The flu was bad that year. I could help so many friends and family members.

 

He handed me the rest of the bag. It was as big as my face (and I have a puffy face!).

 

"You're young," he said. "You take it."

 

And that is the spirit of our Elders right there: always wanting the best for us all.

 

I am so grateful to James and his sister for welcoming me and my questions into their homes.

 

:)

 

Mahsi cho.

 

Richard

 

The late Cree Elder Flora Grandjambe of Fort Mackay, AB

I was so blessed share some time with Flora Gandjambe of Fort MacKay years ago while researching the book "Our Stories Help the Northern Lights Dance."

I had the privilege of interviewing Flora and she was the one who told me that in Cree they call Venus “Ogeenanz” for “Leader Star.” Holy cow, we had fun. She kept getting up and getting me bannock, tea, cake. It was a feast. I was so lucky that she knew Cree, Chipewyan and English. I got all that I needed for her page in the book. All this time, she kept serving me: coffee, more bannock, cookies. It was an embarrassment of wealth and I kept telling her that I wanted to serve her, but she kept saying, “You’re busy. Thank you for coming to see me.”

 

I was being with pride. How blessed was I to share the most wonderful afternoon with Flora. Her daughter showed up at around 4:30 and was there to get her mom for an appointment. I stood and thanked Flora and introduced myself to Flora's daughter. I then started to get dressed for the long walk back to where I was staying. I could hear Flora and her daughter talking in Cree and Chipewyan, it seemed, and I knew they were talking about me and laughing. I said to her daughter, “Hey, what’s this?” I teased back. “What are you guys talking about—my flat nose, er nah?”

She laughed and said, “No. My mom is just so proud that the new priest came to see her first out of all the Elders.”

I looked up from tying my Kamiks and said, “I’m not the priest.”

She said, “What? Then who and the heck are you in my mom’s house?”

“I’m Richard Van Camp. An author. I’ve come to interview your mom for a new book we are working on to honour the Elders.” I showed her a pile of my books and gave her a few so she wouldn’t think to call the cops on me.

Flora’s daughter said quietly, “We’ll just let Mom think you’re the priest. Look how happy she is.”

We looked and Flora was beaming.

Bless you, Flora.

I was so proud to have shared time with you.

 

Mahsi cho.

 

Richard Van Camp

Pat Burke of Fort Smith, NWT

I've known Pat my whole life. He used to have long hair. Holy boy.

He also has the most lovely singing voice. If you get a chance, get him to sing for you.

 

Pat stars as "Gabe" in Three Feathers. I can't wait for you to see it. :)

 

Mahsi cho, Pat, for all your gentle leadership all these years in Fort Smith.

 

:)

 

Rose Bishop

Rose Bishop, I am so proud to know you. I am so proud to call you my Aunty. Mahsi cho for your incredible spirit of sharing and for all that you do for the people. Mahsi!