Stickgames and Stories – Starleigh Grass, Guest Blogger

My people, the Tsilhqot’in, were traditionally nomadic people. Because we were nomads most of the things that we owned had practical value. Our art was used to adorn clothing, basketry, and practical items. Prior to contact, art was not something behind a glass case or hanging on the wall. It was something we interacted with on a daily basis. Everyone had the capacity to create art and most people did in some form or another.

During the period of time that our material culture became commodified and our subsistence culture became criminalized, people made items to sell to non-Tsilhqot’ins. I’ve seen some of these items in the Museum of Anthropology, including items made by one of my great grandmothers. I’ve held some of her items.

I know on an intellectual level that if it weren’t for colonialism, I would have learned the art of basketmaking, and to hold a Tsilhqot’in basket wouldn’t be such a rare event. I carry some resentment because I know that if it weren’t for the hardships caused by the criminalization of our way of life combined with the gathering of our material goods on the assumption that we would soon vanish, then these baskets would not have been acquired through colonial capitalism and be housed far from where they came from.

On a soul level, though, when I hold these items I am filled with gratitude for the woman who made them, because to some degree I owe my existence to her basketry expertise and her ability to sell the baskets in this newly imposed system of capitalism.

My grandmother beaded medallions and did applique on handmade purses and other items. Many of my family members had medallions on their rearview mirrors. They were treasured because they were a symbol of her affection. I remember her fondly sitting and beading and talking in Tsilhqot’in for hours at a time and she was very happy while she was making things and visiting.

My mother taught me how to bead on a loom when I was a teenager. I spent many hours with my mother and my sister beading. We beaded delicate chokers and experimented with fringes coming off of the chokers. My aunt showed me how to do applique and she made my son a beautiful medallion.

I stopped beading for several years. When my son was in primary school he attended a public school that required blue, yellow, and white uniforms. I embellished his pockets with yellow and blue beaded trim. Beyond that, I didn’t bead much for over ten years. I had beads, and once and awhile I would gather the beads and then look for a needle or thread or scissors, and abandon projects before they were even started because I just couldn’t focus long enough to get my materials together. Someday, I thought, I should start beading again.

I chose sobriety and started playing stickgames in 2011. I started making beaded stickgame sets less than a year later. Stickgames (known by a variety of names including handgames, bonegames, slahal, lehal, lahal) are a traditional game of chance. The oldest stickgame set in existence are about 12,000 years old, and the set is made out of mastodon bones. There are a number of variations of stickgames. The version of stickgames that I play is played by Indigenous people up and down the west coast, and into the prairies. Stickgames and beading have both played an integral role in maintaining my sobriety.

During the potlatch ban (1885-1951), the singing that accompanies stickgames would have been illegal. Many cultural practices were driven underground, and the suppression led to less participation in cultural practices. Now we are in the process of bringing them back. When I bead sets that people are proud to own and use, I feel like I am contributing to the revitalization of culture in a material way.

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The first few beaded sets that I made were gifted to friends and family. I also used some of my early beaded sets as prizes for our family stickgames at our traditional fishing camp. I’m an teacher, and I donated a set to a fundraising event for an Aboriginal education organization. I travel extensively for stickgames. If a community near me has never had a tournament or is bringing back a tournament that has not happened for awhile then I make it a priority to go there. I also try to go to places that are new to me or places where I know someone who is from there. Sometimes I raffle off a set to help offset my stickgame travel costs.

My preference is to trade. When people ask “what do you want?” I ask “what are you good at?” I have traded for a traditional Coast Salish weaving, a custom carved staff, a set made out of elk antler, and more. I treasure these items because they remind me that I am part of a community of creative and talented people. Even when people don’t make a trade, the conversations about what could be potential trades are treasured too, because through them I get to know about all of the talents people around me have. One time someone said that they were not good at anything. I told them “I don’t believe you. Everyone is good at something.” I look forward to the day they get back to me with their offer for trade.

My most memorable trade was to an educator from Port Hardy. I met him when I worked for a provincial education organization. In his community traditionally games involved 21 sticks, as opposed to the more common 11 sticks we use today. He requested a set of 21 sticks. He brought his dance group to a conference in Vancouver, and he spoke and led a gifting ceremony. The dance group helped hand out oolichan grease, seaweed, and salmon to myself and my co-workers and I handed the the sticks to the dance group. Then they sang and we went around the room and showed everyone our gifts.

Because I raffle sets, people often recognize me now when I go places and ask whether I have any sets. Sometimes when I am doing a raffle, people tell me how they would do the set differently and sometimes I learn from them. When people say “I could make that,” I respond “yes, you could,” and if they have questions about how to make them, I share what I know.

I draw inspiration for sets from popular colour schemes on the pow wow trail and from colour schemes that appeal to me. I read articles online about analogous, complementary, and neutral colour schemes and this knowledge has enhanced my designs. Sometimes people ask for custom colours and when those are not colours I would normally use, then I grow from the experience of working with their colours.

I do have my own style that has evolved over time. When I am really happy with a set, it usually includes these elements:

  • Solid bands at the top and bottom
  • Continuity between the two sides and the kick
  • The two sides to have an identical pattern, but with the colours switched around
  • The design wraps all the way around the stick
  • The kick is the most complex
  • Bright colours
  • Contrast between the colours used for the two sides

Sometimes I make sets where I try to create an image, such as chipmunks or coastal canoes with canoe pullers. I love seeing people’s faces when they see those designs because I’m 100% certain that the designs are one of a kind. I made a set out of one of my great-grandmother’s basketry patterns and that was a gratifying project. I try to work the designs out in my head as much as possible instead of using a pen and paper. My mind is always going, and when it’s working out the puzzle of a design it doesn’t have time to needlessly worry about the daily stresses of life.

I bead for a lot of reasons. I bead because it puts me in a peaceful state. I bead because I get an inherent joy from creating art. I bead because it connects me to the stickgame community and other artists in a meaningful way. I bead because making useful and aesthetically pleasing items connects me with my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and all of my beautiful ancestors that came before them.

A lot of people I have met want to learn how to bead. My advice is to just start. You can learn from trial and error, from studying others’ work, and from talking with other beaders. You have art and beauty inside of you, and if you feel an urge to share it with the world then just do it!

 – Starleigh Grass


Starleigh Grass is Tsilhqo’tin. She’s a mother, teacher, stickgame player, and beader. Her professional interests include teaching about residential schools in public schools, Indian Control of Indian Education, and the integration of Aboriginal literature in grades K-12. Her personal interests include culture, community, road trips, family, nature, and fitness. Her ideal tea is orange pekoe brewed in a large kettle and prepared with sweetened condensed milk in an enamel cup. She’s trying to be less brand conscious so Tetley, Red Rose, No Name…. anything goes these days. Her ideal bannock is thick, heavy, more salty than sweet, leavened with baking soda, and prepared in a cast iron pan. >> Find her on Instagram, Twitter and on her blog, Twinkle’s Happy Place

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A Campbell Christmas Montage

I am a Christmas person. I love the lights, I love the spirit of the holiday. I love visiting all my aunts and uncles and friends and having all the fancy Christmas cookies and dainties. For me, Christmas is about family and our traditions, about the laughter and love that comes from everyone coming together. I’m not so much bent on the religious aspects of the holiday, but I have no problem claiming the kinship part of it all.

When we were younger, we would spend Boxing Day at the Farm, by St. Louis, SK. My mom’s side of the family is small, so we would all cram inside Grandma’s house, play on frozen hay bales, go for sleigh rides, and eat the Christmas oranges she would try to hide from us. We were allowed one a day. We generally went through a box a day, ha. She would hide the box of oranges under her bed…. every year. And every year we found them. I remember meat pies and ketchup, and sweet little Eggo’s called la goufettes and

But in Beauval, we would go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. And coming from the North, we are talking about a -35 kind of Christmas Eve. Like fancy dresses then skidoo pants over the fancy dresses kind of cold. And it was legit at midnight. We would have to sit through the hour-long Mass – sometimes more if we got the slow-talker Priest – and run back to the frozen car to warm up before driving back to the Rez to open up our gifts. Every now and then we would go to Patuanak for Midnight Mass – an hour away – and I remember hearing the hymns being sung in Dene and wearing my jacket inside the old, wooden church that had the doors open as the Church was so full people would stand outside to attend Mass. Once home, Mom and Dad would let us open our gifts, but only after Church and with the understanding that meant less gifts to open in the morning. And come Christmas morning, there was always a present from Santa and a stocking full of candy, oranges, peanuts and small toys.

Not too much has changed in how we celebrate Christmas nowadays. Our families have grown. Between snags and sweeties, life long partners and broken hearts, we have built up our family enough that Mom’s house is now much like Grandma Boyer’s house was back in the day – full of laughter and food, cousins and stories. My oldest brother has three boys and his long-time partner, my other brother and his wife have three girls, I have my daughter and my youngest brother brings a new sweetie every Christmas. She’s always interesting. The Christmas tree gets smaller as our present haul get bigger, and Mom tries something new with the stocking every few years to try and make ‘more room’ in our home.

A few years ago, we done away with buying each individual a Christmas Present and instead, draw names out of a hat. I protested loudly. I was outnumbered. Then Mom tried to get rid the stockings and I protested loudly – “Quit trying to ruin Christmas!” She laughed, told me Christmas is for our kids, not for us (“but Im YOUR kid,” I whispered loudly) and we compromised. For the stockings, we each buy a little thing for everyone and stuff the stockings that way. It works for us, and yeah…. the adult kids still get Santa gifts.

BECAUSE SANTA IS MAGIC, y’all.

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2009 // The Campbell Boys – my brothers and my first nephew, Colton. ❤ 

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2009 // How do you say “hella cold” in Dene?

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2010 // Having a baby around on Xmas is always magic 

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2011 // Mom losing it laughing when I forgot I was Santa. 

so, funny story:

Aerie was six months old on her first Christmas. I was living at home with my parents and my partner at the time, and it was heaven. So much help and support. Anyways, we did the Xmas shopping, the holiday baking, blah blah blah. All the usual. We went to Midnight Mass with Aerie, and we opened our family presents when we got back.  So the morning comes, and we rush upstairs, because we are still kids at heart. Tal and my partner and myself all have Santa presents and we’re super happy, then I look around for Aerie’s.

“Mom,” I question. “Where’s Aerie’s Santa gift?”

Mom gave me a look. “What do you mean?”

“Where’s her gift? I don’t see it.” I was looking around and feeling really sad, as it was my baby’s first Christmas.

“Tenille,” Mom said, doing her choking-and-crying-because-I’m-holding-back-a-laugh face, “YOU’RE SANTA. You are Santa to your own daughter.”

“… NO ONE TOLD ME I WAS SANTA!”

Mom laughed so hard that day, and she still laughs when she thinks about it and tries to tell someone the story.

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2011 // Tal holding his goddaughter because she didn’t have a Santa gift + Grandparents came through with a great gift from them ❤ 

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2012 / my newest nephew Connor joined us that Christmas, and Uncle Trent got to put together all the lego’s 

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2012 / we play Aggravation when we’re home. We play for quarters and we aren’t allowed on our phones  – “pay attention we get told – and it’s very, very serious. 

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2013 // there are no Santa gifts unless someone writes him a letter 

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2013 // we moved to stocking bags now, as the stocking socks were getting too full. Mom made all these. 

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2014 // Connor, Kelry and Aerie playing outside on Christmas.

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2014 // when she’s a hunter too // Trent, Darla + TK

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2015 // a quiet Christmas with us and the girls at Mama’s house

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2016 // I got Dad a cup with a sloth on it as he loves the sloth in Zootopia // my favorite Christmases are the ones when we are all there (with Sheylee, Trent, mom and Darla) 

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2016 // Blueberry Cheesecake and La Goufettes. Holiday traditions. 

But for me, my absolute favourite tradition is the one where we make all our kids sit and take a Campbell Kids picture.

Mom used to do this with us – she also used to dress us alike – so we have no pity on our babies. Despite – or maybe because of – the crying faces because they are tired and the scared faces because we are all staring at them and the annoyed faces because they are over this – this is my favourite event of the day. I get to see my babies growing older, I get to see our family grow, and we all get to continue a tradition that our kids will look back at and go “remember this Christmas?

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2013

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2014

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2015

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2016

– 

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Art, Inspiration & Fashion – April Johnson, Guest Blogger

Fall is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier about it! Summer is great and all, but the older I get I realize I’m more productive in the colder months, and kinda like being a homebody! So yeah, I’m looking forward to getting i*sh done, but will definitely make
time to also step out in Vancouver to take in the beautiful fall colors!

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When I’m getting into ‘the zone,’ I’ve got my routine down – steep the tea, throw on the moccasins and sweats and light my favorite cedar incense. All this usually gets me ready to pour my heart into my photos, scripts and film ideas.

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However, over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking over in admiration at other artists more than I’ve been looking within, and although I want to get sit, sip and bring my ideas to fruition, I also want to celebrate the success of some kick-ass ladies working hard at that they love. Really, these ladies deserve a shout out!

Two people I’ve looked over to and found inspiration from are Joleen Mitton, Founder of Vancouver International Fashion Week (VIFW) and activist and filmmaker Rose Stiffarm. I met up with both ladies in Vancouver to discuss staying focused on art, inspiring others and indigenous fashion.

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Rose Stiffarm

April: What advise would you give to youth about staying focused and following their artistic interests?

Rose: I know that some of my mentors in the arts have told me to keep practicing; you’re only going to get better… and if one art form doesn’t work our for you, there’s always other art forms out there to help express yourself. I think a lot of what’s wrong out there in society is that we keep a lot of our emotions inside and we don’t have a way to express ourselves, but it’s important.

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April: What about your personal style? How do you feel fashion helps you express yourself?

Rose: I definitely look to trends to see what’s out there for fashion, but I don’t let it dictate what I wear. I add to it with other pieces that reflect more so who I am. It feels like myself isn’t necessarily reflected in mainstream fashion, and so it’s nice to have my own spin on things, and I noticed that because of that, I end up having a lot more interactions with strangers. In a way, it’s more about being seen in a society where we we’re not always seen.

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 Joleen Mitton, portrait by Thosh Collins

April: What inspired you to start Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week?

Joleen: I was a model for a long time, since I was 15 years old. I was working in really shallow industry and then come out of it and worked for the community; I was becoming really drained because I was a frontline worker for a long time. So I really wanted to do something with both my frontline work and my fashion identity from before, because both didn’t really fit my personality, but put together, they did. So, being able to help my community without draining my emotions with intergenerational trauma was something I was trying to do.

April: What fuels your ambition?

Joleen: A combination of things, like me making Canada native again…making it a safe space for First Nations to be in the city is really one of my main focuses. I’m trying to create native spaces all the time and I can’t help it. Making sure that the next generation coming up is comfortable in Canada, because it’s unceded territory is very important. The only way that we’re gonna survive is if we keep on doing stuff like that.

April: If you could describe Indigenous Fashion in a few words, how would you describe it?

Joleen: I might need more than a couple words, but: visibility, resilience, artisanship, reclaiming…

April: Any words of wisdom for youth about staying focused?

Joleen: Yes, I guess ‘don’t give up!’ (Laughs) I’ve noticed this with a lot of youth, some are great right out the gate, but sometimes it takes until you’re 30 to really get all your ducks in a row. And so it’s never too late to go get what you want. But do it slow, don’t do it fast, because once you do it fast, I feel like that’s when people slip up the most. Work on your relationships and work on yourself, and don’t take the fast road, take the slow road. It took 7 years to make VIFW. I feel that if you go at a slow pace and do things in an honorable way, and have the right relationships and nurture those relationships, you can succeed in anything. You don’t appreciate things you get quickly. You millennials out there stop that (laughs).

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— See what I mean? These ladies are great, and it’s awesome they’re sharing their gifts (and their wisdom) with the world. Just re-reading their interviews has me motivated to get crackin’ on the creative ideas buzzing in my head. With that said, I’ll gotta get to work!

 — april johnson


April Johnson is of Metis/Cree (Muskoday First Nation) and Settler ancestry and currently resides in Vancouver. She attended the Indigenous Independent Digital Film Program (IIDF) at Capilano University and has been working in media and independent film since 2015. Her interests include screenwriting, photography and promoting Indigenous women’s health. // stay in touch and connect: web: apriljohnson.net // insta: @aprilej

Native Sistah’s Unite

Since moving to the big city, much like Amanda in her last post, I’ve been experiencing some challenging transitions. Having this be my 4th move in one year and as a newcomer to the city, I definitely have my moments of longing to be back in a small community with all its laughter. Luckily, I have my amazing partner who continues to remind me that those things take time to build. One warming sense of community I feel like I always have, however, is our blog. ❤

When one of the Tea&Bannock members first posted that they were coming to Portland to be extras on Portlandia, I became super thrilled. I thought, not only was I going to meet another Tea&Bannock artist, but I was going to have some super rad Indigenous woman to roam the city with!

Already knowing that Joi was part of our blog made it super easy to reach out and offer a place for her and Leah to stay. This was always how my Nanuk treated her friends and friends of friends, even. In her case, it was always more the merrier. Her house was never empty growing up.

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Having Leah and Joi’s company reminded me of why our blog is so comforting. When our ancestors were living off the land, one of the strategies of weakening our cultures were to divide and conquer. When my Nanuk was displaced from her hometown tent life in Aklavik, she mentioned moving into “box houses” and hating the sense of division it created.

As a member of Tea&Bannock, this space has always felt incredibly genuine and supportive. For me, It’s been a major platform to reconnect with my native sisters – and whether we’re Inuit, Navajo, Inuvialuit, Lakota, Dene, etc.., we’re all Indigenous sisters connected through survival of great resistance.

Moments where we can comfortably sit with our tea and bannock (in our case. it was sangria and Mexican food) and chat about being an Indigenous woman in an urban society while giggling at all the follies we’ve experienced and sharing how to deal are incredibly wonderful and healing.

 

 – Caroline Blechert

Laugh with me

Since my family and I moved from Alert Bay to Victoria, all I’ve been thinking about is how much I miss laughing with my friends up island. My first week back in the city I was texting them and telling them that people weren’t laughing at my stories. I was never much of a story teller but something in me changed. I learned a few things about living in a small community during my three years in Alert Bay, and the most important teaching that I picked up is that shit happens and we are all in it together so let’s laugh about it.

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I remember the laughter of my relatives in Saskatchewan. Most of the time we laughed because someone was being teased. I close my eyes and I can see my aunties with their eyes squinted, heads titled up to the sky with big smiles, I hear their cackles and I smell their cigarettes. It didn’t matter who was being teased; we all laughed, especially the one being teased.

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When I was little, my dad was always away working up North and my mom didn’t have very much time to herself, between cleaning other peoples homes and taking care of my sisters and I. She had to bring us along to do everything with her. There were the lawyers and doctors homes that our mom cleaned while we vacuumed or daydreamed about living different lives. We went to the the bank where we were told to behave while all four of us stood and waited in the line, and eventually one of us would start to swing on the stanchions (my husband had to look that one up) and we’d either get a scowl from a back teller or our mother. And now I have the convenience of an ATM or doing my banking from home without distractions. She brought us along to the grocery store (I need to practice deep breathing to avoid loosing my shit when I take the boys to the grocery store) where we would be told that if we behaved we could have a free cookie from the bakery. In the days of no iPads or iPhones my mom would visit her friends at their homes and tell us to sit and behave, there were no electronic distractions. I remember that as I got older, I enjoyed listening to the adults talk and laugh. Their was Milli, who was like a kohkum and we all called her Milli Vanilli. She lived in a small apartment where we would look at the most recent items that she knitted or beaded. There my mother would learn how to make moccasins. I would listen to them talk about their week and notice when their voices became quiet which was when I tried harder to hear what they were talking about and then suddenly they would erupt in laughter. In the evenings we would go visit Leah. She was such a tiny lady with a huge personality, great hair and a big heart. She was always, always laughing; it was infectious. We would go to her place to visit but also to do some shopping. It was her place where my mom bought my very first and only pair of brand new Guess jeans, the pair with the ankle zippers. They were so cool and I wore them with my favourite purple silk blouse. Leah was earning her money on the side while my mom was trying to please her eldest daughter who refused to go shopping at the Sally Anne. Years later I learned that Leah died while being held in a prison cell in Saskatoon.

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In my circles we laugh, sometimes too much and I am told by a three year old that -we are too loud and that it is not funny. My laughter had always been loud but after living in Alert Bay, it is even louder. Not too sure how that is possible but it has happened. I always knew how to laugh but living in Alert Bay awoke something within me – I learned how to laugh like my aunties and grannies used to. We were always laughing. We laughed at everything and anything. If you were hurt, we laughed.  If you were sad, we laughed. If my husband told his “wing wing” joke, we laughed but not always. And its that laughter that allows us to survive even when we are hurting.

-Amanda Laliberte

fish camp

From the moment I jumped into the boat to head my Jijuu’s fish camp, I could literally feel my mind ease and my body begin to let go of tension and stress. I can honestly say that our fish camp is my happiest place on Earth. It is where I can think my straightest and find my balance all while learning about my Gwich’in heritage and spending time with my Jijuu.

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While at fish camp, there is always work to be done. The nets have to be checked all day long, the fish need to be scaled, gutted, cleaned and cut to be dried, we need to gather the right type of wood to be burned for the fish to dry properly, fetch water from the creek, cook meals, keep the place clean and we always end our nights with a game of soccer. Some would say that the best part of fish camp is the nightly soccer game – it can get pretty crazy sometimes, especially when everyone is out on the field. It isn’t so much about the score or who’s winning, but the laughter and teasing that we all share together, especially my Jijuu who stands on the side lines coaching and laughing like it’s going out of style.

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It is a really great feeling to be up there with my family and seeing everyone working together as a team to get all of the work done. And it really fills me with so much pride to watch my Jijuu pulling fish out of the net, cutting it up and hanging it in the fish house that her father had built when she was just a child.

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I can never stress enough, how much I admire and appreciate this little woman who I call my Jijuu. She is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is the hardest worker I know. Although she is in her late 70’s, she is always working, always moving, always doing something – right from the moment she rises right until she lays her head back down to sleep. In the time it takes me to cut one fish to dry, she’s finishing off her fourth. While I’m struggling to get up the hill, she’s already pouring herself a cup of tea and lighting her cigarette. She amazes me beyond words with what she is capable of. I can only hope and pray to one day be half of the women that she is. She is my truest friend.

 – shayla snowshoe

Grad 2017

I would like to introduce to you all… the Fort McPherson graduation class of 2017.

This class consists of eleven graduates, all from our little community of 900 people. To me, this class represents hard work, persistence and intelligence. I hope that they understand what they represent to our community; they are positive role models and scholarly characters. They are succeeding in a colonial world that they were never meant to, and that really means something. Education is the foundation of which we are expected to build our lives.

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I just wanted to take a moment to recognize their 12 years of attending school each and every day, right until they got that diploma. Congratulations, you guys… you made it. This is just the beginning. You have opened up a whole new world of opportunities for yourselves. Do not let your education stop here. Get out there and see the world, volunteer, attend university, be a part of something bigger… make your mommas proud.

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And to end off, I would like to say a huge huge huge congratulations to my little sissy, Dannika Florence.

My girl, it’s hard for me to put into words how proud you made me as I watched you walk down that aisle for your diploma. I’ve seen you grow from a little sassy girl in clothes that you’re now embarrassed of, to a sarcastic, hilarious, fire cracker of a woman. You have a fire inside you that burns strong, your love is pure and your mind is intelligent. I am honored to call you my sister and to have you by my side through this crazy life. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us. Gwiintl’oo nahtinithan shijuu.

 – shayla snowshoe