Meet a Future 40 finalist building relationships — while he builds houses and a new Cree language app

Meet the first 10 finalists in CBC Manitoba's 2018 Future 40, including a 19-year-old who's trying to preserve a traditional northern Manitoba Indigenous language with a new app.

CBC Manitoba's 1st round of Future 40 finalists also includes HIV researcher and an award-winning drag queen

The first 10 of CBC Manitoba's 2018 Future 40 finalists. Top row, left to right: Meghan Loewen Cook, Brittany Murdock, Levi Alizaar Foy, Cameron Adams and Uzoma Asagwara. Bottom row, left to right: Karly Tardiff, Nathan Nickel, Alexander Holowka, Lyle McKinnon and Jill Zdunich. (Submitted photos)

This story was originally published on Nov. 19, 2018.

CBC Manitoba's Future 40 showcases some of the brightest young minds and influential change-makers under 40 working to make this province better for future generations.

We received more than 100 nominations in the 2018 instalment, and last week a panel of judges selected 40 finalists. Those finalists will be announced online in rounds of 10 each day between Monday and Thursday this week.

You can also tune in to hear interviews with some of the finalists this week on CBC's Information Radio, Radio Noon and Up to Speed and see some of them on CBC TV's Winnipeg News at 6 p.m.

Meet the first 10 CBC Manitoba Future 40 finalists:

Cameron Adams

Age: 19

Category: Community activism and public affairs

Cameron Adams on a Habitat for Humanity build in El Salvador in 2014. (Submitted by Cameron Adams)

Cameron Adams is all about building, whether it's building houses around the world with Habitat for Humanity, or his latest project — building an app to help preserve a traditional Indigenous language.

"Right now, I'm developing a Swampy Cree language app," says the 19-year-old, who is an Indigenous studies student at the University of Winnipeg.

His accomplishments and dedication to volunteering would be impressive for anyone — but Adams has done it all while living with a brain injury he suffered as a child.

That hasn't stopped him from working on his new language app, which will focus on providing English-Swampy Cree translations. His interest in Swampy Cree was inspired by his great-grandmother, who learned some of the language — a Cree dialect spoken mostly in northern Manitoba — growing up in Norway House.

"She's what I would say is a passive language speaker, which means that she understands more of the language than she speaks," he said.

"I've always wanted to learn but it was really hard in my family to learn, because nobody really speaks it [fluently] regularly. … People speak it every once in a while, but not very often."

Cameron Adams (front row, left) at a Habitat for Humanity build in Halifax in 2018. 'I like building relationships with people,' the Future 40 finalist says. (Submitted by Cameron Adams)

When he was in high school, he became part of a Facebook group called Cree Simon Says, where he learned a few words of the language. From there, he took on a few basic translations, including translating the daily cafeteria special at his high school from English into Cree.

His interest in learning the language continued after high school, when he enrolled in an introductory Swampy Cree language course at the U of W. But he noticed a lack of resources for learning the language — so he decided to develop his own.

He has connected with University of Winnipeg elder Margaret Osborne to work as a translator, and Kevin Waddell, a computer science instructor at Saskatoon's Indian Institute of Technologies, who is working on the technical aspects of the app.

Working on a team as part of a big project isn't new for Adams — he travels each year to work on a Habitat for Humanity build (he'll head to Macedonia for his sixth build this spring).

To fundraise for the builds during his high-school years, he sold tuques that he knitted himself.

The knitting had a personal side benefit for Adams. "It helped me de-stress from school because of my anxiety with my brain injury," he said.

I like building relationships with people. That's…kind of who I am."- Cameron Adams

That brain injury stems back to his infancy. When he was six weeks old, he had surgery to address hydrocephalus — a build-up of fluid on the brain. He was fine until he was 11 years old, when it was discovered the hydrocephalus has returned and he once more needed surgery.

"Basically, I was given an acquired brain injury due to the pressure built up on my head," he said.

Even that led to another volunteer opportunity — he curls, and volunteers with Special Olympics.

A spreadsheet showing some of the English-Swampy Cree translations for Cameron Adams's tranlation app. 'It's important to bring those languages back to the community, just to inspire youth just like I have been inspired,' he says. (Submitted by Cameron Adams)

For now, though, his main focus is on his Cree language app — which he hopes will be part of something bigger.

"I want to get into Indigenous language revitalization across Canada," he said.

"My goal would be to see immersion schools in every Indigenous language, and immersion camps…. It's important to bring those languages back to the community, just to inspire youth just like I have been inspired."

But whether working on the app, knitting tuques or building a Habitat house, there's one thing that's always in the back of Adams's mind.

"I like building relationships with people. That's … kind of who I am."

Future 40 finalist biographies and photos below were submitted by nominators. Biographies have been edited for length.

Uzoma Asagwara

Age: 34

Category: Community activism and public affairs

Uzoma Asagwara founded Queer People of Colour Winnipeg in 2014. (Submitted by Uzoma Asagwara)

Uzoma Asagwara is an entrepreneur, public speaker, registered psychiatric nurse and activist. They are a former member of the Canadian Women's National basketball team and sat on the Premier's Advisory Council on Education, Poverty and Citizenship. 

In 2014, they founded Queer People of Colour Winnipeg, an initiative that creates safer spaces for and positive visibility and representation of queer, transgender, and black and Indigenous people of colour.

Asagwara​ sits on the University of Manitoba's Rady Faculty of Health Sciences social accountability committee, the board of directors of the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art and the board of directors of the Women's Health Clinic. 

In February, they were selected as the 2018 Black History Month Manitoba Humanitarian Of The Year. They were also featured in CBC's 2018 Up Close: Making Canada Better project, which featured 150 black women across Canada who are making a difference in their communities.

Levi Alizaar Foy

Age: 36

Category: Community activism and public affairs

Future 40 finalist Levi Foy

5 years ago
Duration 1:01
Featured VideoLevi Foy is a CBC Manitoba 2018 Future 40 finalist.

In this era of reconciliation, there are many Indigenous people who have been taking on the Truth and Reconcilation Commission's calls to action long before there was a call to action. Levi Foy is one of those warriors who works hard to "queer up" spaces not only in Manitoba, but across Canada.

As an Anishinaabe mixed blood, two-spirit person, he works closely with communities as an activator, a researcher and a mentor. Elder Rosie Boshkaykin from Seine River First Nation describes his approach as being able to deal with very delicate situations with a child-like spirit, which allows people to engage in hard conversations, but in a fun and meaningful way.

While the list of his outreach and engagement activities is long, varied and meaningful, Foy is most known for his work at the Sunshine House. He is the co-founder of Like That, which is a program that teaches 2SLGBTQ+ people to engage and explore activities that focus on sexuality and gender, self-expression and advocacy. He is the co-founder of the Sunshine Bunch, a group of drag and queer performers who are the fundraising arm for the Sunshine House program.

He recognizes the challenges for young, queer Indigenous youth, and collaborates in several highly visible public activities such as Read by Queens at the Winnipeg Public Libraries and Drag Bootcamps for Indigenous youth at the Freedom School at Ka-Ni-Kanichihk. He is an award-winning, unstoppable drag queen committed to a positive assertion of two-spirit people in our communities.

Alexander Holowka​

Age: 35

Category: Arts and culture

Alexander Holowka began making video games full time in his mid-teens and is viewed as a leader in the Winnipeg independent game community. (Submitted by Albertine Watson)

Alexander Holowka is a leader in the indie video game industry, having won two Seamus McNally grand prizes for best game (2009 for Aquaria, 2018 for Night in the Woods) at the Independent Game-Developers Conference in San Francisco.

He has received several other international awards, including a BAFTA Game Award in London this year. He has spoken about video games as an art form at several game conferences (most recently a keynote at "Meaningful Play" in Michigan), events and schools.

He began making video games full time in his mid-teens and is viewed as a leader in the Winnipeg independent game community. He also composes the music soundtracks for his own and others' games.

Meghan Loewen Cook

Age: 35

Category: Education and training

Future 40 finalist Meghan Loewen Cook

5 years ago
Duration 1:01
Featured VideoMeghan Loewen Cook is a CBC Manitoba 2018 Future 40 finalist.

Meghan Loewen Cook is the director of Wayfinders, an after-school mentoring, homework and engagement program for students at Seven Oaks High School. This program helps at-risk students stay involved in high school, supports them in their academic and social careers, and gives them financial incentive to attend post secondary education.

She is an incredible advocate for these young people. She knows each and every one of them well and guides the staff and volunteers with integrity and a compassionate heart. Combining her knowledge of the community and her knowledge of the students' personalities and interests, she finds appropriate mentors and job placements for the students to engage in meaningful community outreach.

She informs and guides the community-run board of directors to fund the program. This funding provides home-cooked meals, staff who care about student academic success and their success in life, and provides meaningful experiences to build the students confidence and sense of belonging. Meghan is the ultimate role model for the Wayfinders students.

Her determination, dedication and enthusiasm have helped the Wayfinders program grow from 50 students to 400 students. Her personal connection, compassion for and commitment to the students is an inspiration to the Seven Oaks community. She is a community leader who makes a difference to students each and every day.

Lyle McKinnon

Age: 40

Category: Science and technology

The University of Manitoba's Lyle McKinnon has made significant contributions to HIV-transmission research, including an assessment of HIV risk and incidence in male and female sex workers. (Submitted by Keith Fowke)

Dr. Lyle McKinnon, born and raised in Winnipeg, is an assistant professor of in the departments of medical microbiology, infectious diseases and community health sciences at the University of Manitoba. He has made significant contributions to HIV-transmission research, including an assessment of HIV risk and incidence in male and female sex workers. He has published on specific immune responses to HIV crucial to HIV vaccine and disease progression research.

His body of research represents over 10 years of contributions to HIV immunology, particularly relevant to initial HIV infection with important implications for HIV prevention. Dr. McKinnon has published several research manuscripts in prestigious research journals in his field. He is currently studying HIV prevention and inflammation which has implications for inflammatory bowel disease.

While working in Kenya and South Africa, Dr. McKinnon engaged key populations around HIV research and prevention activities and as a result increased awareness of HIV risk and prevention measures. These outreach activities have brought international students to Manitoba, which increases the profile of medical microbiology research in Manitoba at the global level.

As a new investigator, Dr. McKinnon has already made leaps and bounds in our understanding of HIV risk and prevention and is rising star in the Canadian and international medical microbiology field.

Brittany Murdock

Age: 26

Category: Community activism and public affairs

Future 40 finalist Brittany Murdock

5 years ago
Duration 1:00
Featured VideoBrittany Murdock is a CBC Manitoba 2018 Future 40 finalist.

Brittany Murdock is the Turtle Island Neighbourhood Centre co-ordinator at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. Her passion for her work is evident, as she has always gone over and above when it comes to the youth in our community.

Her recent activities include throwing Winnipeg Jets "whiteout" playoff parties at TINC, where youth and their families were treated to dinner, snacks and hockey games on a big screen.

For the last two years, she has helped co-ordinate youth activities for fire evacuees from northern Manitoba. The week prior to students returning to school, she hosted an anti-bullying walk. The group walked from Turtle Island to the Oodena Circle at The Forks.

During the last week of October, Murdock assisted in co-ordinating "Halloweek" at Win Gardner Place and TINC, which included activities like a corn maze trip, costume and pumpkin-making, a community feast, and a safe Halloween event. Safe Halloween was a huge success, with over 1,000 youth participating at two locations (Win Gardner Place and Turtle Island Neighbourhood Centre).

She is a natural leader and has excellent relationships with the youth in our community. She is a valued member of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Youth Program team and we are so grateful for the gifts that she shares with our youth, families and co-workers. 

Nathan Nickel

Age: 37

Category: Health, sports and wellness

Dr. Nathan Nickel is a scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy at the University of Manitoba. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Dr. Nathan Nickel is an internationally recognized expert in population health research. As a scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy within the University of Manitoba, he uses big data to understand what works to promote health and well being among Manitobans. Dr. Nickel is the population health co-lead for the Manitoba DEVOTION Network, a team of researchers dedicated to understanding how early-life experiences shape lifelong health.

He developed an innovative new system to monitor and study infant feeding practices across Manitoba. He is a lead researcher for the Pathways to Health and Social Equity for Children (PATHS) program, studying over 600,000 children born in Manitoba over the past 30 years to understand the impact of social programs like full-day kindergarten, social housing, and the Healthy Baby program.

Dr. Nickel is directing groundbreaking studies on substance use disorders and addiction. He led a 25-year study to inform Manitoba's new mental health and addictions strategy, and is the Manitoba lead for the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug study.

He is currently leading a study of the health and social impacts of cannabis legalization. In 2017, Dr. Nickel was recognized as one of North America's leading population health researchers with the Chipman Award for Health Research from the University of North Carolina. He serves on the executive council of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's health equity committee.

Karly Tardiff

Age: 27

Category: Community activism and social affairs

Karly Tarfiff, second from right, organized the world's longest chain of ice skaters to raise $146,000 for CancerCare Manitoba. (Submitted by Karly Tardiff)

Karly Tardiff never ceases to amaze people around her. She dreams big, like when she organized a fundraiser for CancerCare Manitoba — it became a world record-breaking event. She also organized the longest chain of ice skaters to raise $146,000 for the charity — without any marketing budget.

Quickly dispelling any notion that her event and fundraising talents were a fluke, Tardiff organized the #winnipegisgood campaign for Siloam Mission. The campaign drew on the Winnipeg Jets' success in 2018, which boosted city pride to unprecedented levels. In all, she sold 400 sweaters and donated $11,000 to Siloam Mission.

She continued with the campaign by adapting #winnipegisgood to raise funds for the Rainbow Resource Centre and brought on Project 11 to support the organization's efforts in mental health awareness.

Tardiff is more than just a charity virtuoso. She is very active in the Winnipeg running community. Recently, she organized the Sports Bra Squad, which is a group that focuses on encouraging female body positivity. It is inspiring to witness the confidence and self-esteem gains being made by these women. The benefits of this group are not just limited to fitness.

She lends her talents to making other events shine too. She is an integral contributor to several major events in Winnipeg such as Run Your Lungs Out, the Guardian Angel Gala, and the Wild Winter Canoe Race. She is quickly becoming a recognized authority in community event planning and coaches many other young people who want to make a difference in similar ways.

Jill Zdunich

Age: Under 40

Category: Business and law

Jill Zdunich's store, Take Care Everyone, organizes fashions by colour, deliberately avoiding organization by gender or size. (Submitted by Serenity Joo)

Jill Zdunich is owner of Take Care Everyone consignment clothing store, affectionately called Take Care by customers. She is a young, visionary entrepreneur who is leading the way in redefining how people shop and what a neighbourhood shop can be.

Take Care celebrates LGBTQ2S people and body diversity. Her clothing store is organized by colour, and deliberately avoids organization by gender (men's and women's) or size. By collapsing conventional gender divisions, the store allows people of all sexes and gender expressions to shop in comfort equally. At the demand of her customers, Zdunich sometimes curates a "handsome" section (as opposed to a "men's" section) that appeals to a wider variety of people.

By ignoring sizes, the store encourages customers to try on items by style. Though these may seem like small details, they have led to a loyal and growing customer base, as the store is well know as a safer space with an inclusive atmosphere.

Take Care Everyone lives up to its name, and the success of it is testament to her inclusive business model that refuses to divorce entrepreneurship and social justice.

With files from Laurie Hoogstraten.