Thursday January 04, 2018

First Nations in the first person: Telling stories & changing lives

Brielle Beardy-Linklater, 2017 House of Commons, Daughter of the Vote.

Brielle Beardy-Linklater, 2017 House of Commons, Daughter of the Vote.

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

"The truth about stories is, that's all we are." – Thomas King

Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017 highlighted its evolving relationship with Indigenous people. Too often in that history, voices other than those from First Nations did the talking for them. That's why in this episode we're featuring the stories of three Indigenous people told in their own words, people whose lives embody this changing relationship and the multitude of new realities they face. The episode has no interviewer.  It's just them and their stories.


First Nations, First Person-Sandra Henry

Sandra Henry

"My father always said remember who you are and where you came from, then you won't get lost.  And remember the stories, share the stories." – Sandra Henry

On any given day in Manitoba, about 10,000 children are separated from their parents and in the care of Child and Family Services. More than 80 per cent are Indigenous. Sandra Henry of Winnipeg is a former social worker. She spent her career trying to keep families together and she's still working to do that. But this time, the family is her own. In the early 90's, she turned to the popular TV show Unsolved Mysteries to find two of her younger siblings who were part of what's become known as "the 60's scoop", the adoption of Indigenous children by non-Indigenous families, many of whom were out of the country. Sandra's two brothers were located seven days after the show aired. Now Sandra is working to get her final brother, Chesley, returned to Canada. He'd been adopted by a family in Ohio, and has been serving time in the Madison Correctional Institution for murder since 1988. Sandra would like him to serve his remaining time in a Manitoba institution, where he could reconnect with his Indigenous culture and his birth family.

Brielle Beardy-Linklater

Brielle Beardy-Linklater (Jessica Dugray)

"I think as an Indigenous trans person, I'm seen as very radical and I'm very misunderstood and I carry that. Something that I'm planning to get tattooed is the word  'misunderstood ' because the day that I was born I became political, and I had no choice. I wake up everyday and I'm told which bathroom I should and shouldn't use. I wake up to these debates in Parliament about my rights as an Indigenous  person, so how can I not be political in my daily life?" – Brielle Beardy-Linklater

Brielle Beardy-Linklater is an Indigenous transgender activist from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation near Thompson Manitoba. The 23-year-old, who describes herself as an agent for change, is considering entering politics one day.  In 2017, Brielle became the first Indigenous transgender woman to take a seat in Parliament. Brielle was one of the 338 Daughters of the Vote, an initiative organized by Equal Voice Canada to select one young woman to fill every seat in the House of Commons as a way to mark the 100th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote. The irony wasn't lost on Brielle, as it wasn't until 1960 that First Nations women — and men — were allowed to vote in federal elections without losing their treaty rights and Indian status. Brielle is currently enrolled at the University of Manitoba.

First Nations, first person - Theodore Fontaine

Theodore Fontaine on the steps of the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School 1950.

"You know I go back to the statement by [the] government saying the way to get to the Indian people, and get them out of the way, is to kill the Indian in the child. It doesn't mean to kill, slaughter. It means to change the belief of who they are. I think that's what drives me — when they said 'kill the Indian in the child', I think it's to revive the belief of the Indian in the child." – Theodore Fontaine

Theodore Fontaine is an author and a former chief of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. He's 75 and now spends much of this time educating young people about his experiences at the Fort Alexander and Assiniboia Indian Residential Schools from 1948 to 1960. Theodore says part of his mission is to revive the belief of the Indian in the child, a reference to the government initiative to kill "the Indian in the child" by forcing them to attend residential schools. Theodore continues to support residential school survivors and has sought reconciliation with those who were perpetrators of his own abuse.This segment features a question and answer session with Theodore Fontaine and children from Springfield Heights School as well as excerpts from a studio interview in Winnipeg.

**This episode was produced by Suzanne Dufresne.