5 indigenous voices changing the conversation

As celebrations for National Aboriginal Day unfold today as part of National Aboriginal History Month, CBC takes a look at five people who are changing the conversation.

Marking National Aboriginal Day with a salute to community game changers

Michael Champagne is a founding member of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO). and has been an agent of change in one of Canada’s roughest neighbourhoods – Winnipeg’s north end. (Michael Champagne)

As celebrations for National Aboriginal Day gear up and we honour National Aboriginal History Month, CBC Aboriginal takes a look at five people who are changing the conversation.

These five individuals were chosen for their work that began with passion for their community. They did not expect recognition from their peers or the public. They didn’t do it for financial compensation. Simply, they are the change they want to see in the world — and for that we salute them.

Grassroots — Michael Champagne (Cree) is a founding member of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO). He has been an agent of change for one of Canada’s roughest neighbourhoods — Winnipeg’s North End. He has been a tireless supporter of Aboriginal youth rights, Idle No More, and Meet Me at the Bell Tower. an anti-violence weekly rally that is in it’s third year. More recently Champagne has been travelling across Canada to bring his message of positivity to indigenous communities and conferences.
Chelsea Vowel's blog has become a go-to media resource for aboriginal issues. (Chelsea Vowel)

Media — Chelsea Vowel (Métis) first gained national attention with her âpihtawikosisân blog entry “Dealing with Comments about Attawapiskat” in 2011. She broke down the $90 million funding budget Ottawa claimed to have given the community. What started as a Cree language blog has turned into a go-to media resource for a diverse collection of aboriginal issues — and what they really mean, with no political agenda. 

Althea Guiboche, Winnipeg's "Bannock Lady," has been sharing her bannock with the city's homeless since Jan. 30, 2013. (CBC)
Philanthropy — Althea Guibouche (Métis) is a Winnipeg woman who had the idea to feed the homeless and poor with chili and bannock. Also known as the Bannock Lady, Guibouche herself struggles with poverty but that has not held her back from bringing her food offerings to the streets for the better part of a year and a half now.

Relying on donations for ingredients and gas money, Guibouche was recently invited to speak at a TedX event about her compassion for feeding those less fortunate.

Environment — Eriel Deranger (Dene) is an eco-warrior from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. She is dedicated to saving the land around her home community from the expansion and impacts of the Alberta oilsands.

Eriel Deranger is an eco-warrior from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. (Ben Powless)
It was her conversation with rocker Neil Young about her community’s legal battles that was the catalyst for his Honour the Treaties concerts this past winter. Monies raised went to the legal defence fund of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to fight companies like Shell Canada on broken agreements in the development of the oilsands. 

Deranger is also the communications manager for the first nation and has spoken at Harvard University on the effects of oil development on her cultural lands. 

Awareness — Christi Belcourt (Métis) is the artist behind the art installation Walking With Our Sisters. Her idea? To create moccasin tops or “vamps” to represent the more than 600 ‘official’ missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada, according to 2013 numbers. 

What she got was more than 1,700 vamps from across North America. The exhibition is still travelling across the country. (New stats released by the RCMP a few months ago brought the official count to over 1,100 missing and murdered.)

(Christi Belcourt)
Belcourt also started the 'blue dot' movement this past winter that took social media by storm. The inspiration came after people were given blue dots to signify they had not made the cut to be in the same room as the prime minster and then National Chief Shawn Atleo, during the announcement of the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

Who do you know that has changed your life? Your community? Your world-view? 

Share your game changers in the comments below or on CBC Aboriginal’s Facebook and Twitter pages with the #IndigenousGameChangers.


Kim Wheeler is an Anishinabe/Mohawk. She is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler currently works as an associate producer for the CBC Aboriginal Digital Unit and Unreserved on CBC Radio One.


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