Young indigenous leaders: 5 under 30 to watch in 2015

Big thinkers, community organizers, creators — we’ll be watching for what the next generation of indigenous leaders are getting up to in the months to come — and for other movers and shakers just like them.

The next generation of indigenous movers and shakers are making great strides

Caitlyn Baikie is already going down in history. The 22-year-old Inuk undergrad was on the Arctic expedition that located one of the Franklin ships last summer. (Caitlyn Baikie)

We’re just a couple weeks into 2015 and already we’re catching wind of some young indigenous folks making great strides this year. They’re community organizers, big thinkers and creative types. We’ll be watching these movers and shakers and others just like them in the coming year.

So if you’re wavering on New Year’s resolutions, looking for some inspiration, or seeking some dynamic people to follow on Twitter, read on.

The Explorer   

Caitlyn Baikie is already going down in history. The 22-year-old Inuk undergrad was on the Arctic expedition that located one of the Franklin ships last summer — the HMS Erebus.

Now, only months away from finishing her degree in geography and Aboriginal Studies at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, we’ll be watching as Baikie gets ready to launch her career. 2015 is already shaping up to be a good year.

Baikie has already been to Norway this month and presented research findings from Labrador on the impact of climate change on mental health. She was there in her role as a University of the Arctic student ambassador.

It’s a three-year term — one that will be taking her all over the Arctic and beyond.   

This summer, Baikie will also be giving lectures for Adventure Canada on a pair of tours from Greenland to St. John’s. The trips will be making a stop in her hometown of Nain, N.L. and the place where she first got involved in environmental research at the age of 14 — the Torngat Mountains National Park.

You can follow her adventures on Twitter @CaitlynBaikie.

The Strategist

​Andrea Landry is passionate about change at the grassroots to the big leagues. She has organized Idle No More rallies in Ottawa, done governance work for her home community of Pays-Plats, Ont. and she’s called out the Canadian government on the international stage for its lack of progress in addressing indigenous issues.

A former youth executive for the National Association of Friendship Centres, Landry is an active member of the United Nations Global Indigenous Youth Caucus. (John Paille)
A former youth executive for the National Association of Friendship Centres, Landry is an active member of the United Nations Global Indigenous Youth Caucus.

Last year she completed her masters in communications and social justice at the University of Windsor. Her thesis dissected CBC's coverage of key events portraying indigenous struggle: the 1969 White Paper, the Oka Crisis and Idle No More.

These days you can find Landry in Poundmaker Cree Nation where she is teaching native studies and political science at the University of Saskatchewan. Lately, she’s been most passionate about community-based work, although she still says systems like the United Nations are important for creating international awareness around indigenous issues.

We’ll be watching to see if she makes it to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva in June where she’ll be able to read Canada’s human rights review. She’ll be the one picking apart the indigenous section, to see if the country is holding up to its word.

Landry is also writing a book, but we promised not to give away the details just yet. 

You can follow Landry on Twitter @AndreaLandry1.

The Builder

Advocate and north end MC Michael Champagne is a founding member of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities. (AYO) (Ian McCausland)
Michael Champagne might be the loudest voice in the North End of Winnipeg. He's a tireless advocate for change in one of the country’s most notorious neighbourhoods.

He’s a founding member of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, a public speaker and a young man who leads by example.

On Fridays you can find him, megaphone in hand, at the weekly Meet Me at the Bell Tower gatherings. The anti-violence events have been happening for more than three years now.

Champagne acknowledges he may be a very visible community builder in the neighbourhood, but says he’s just one of many aboriginal youth leaders trying to make it a safer place.

This year we’ll be watching Champagne as he helps kick off a new initiative in the North End called Fearless R2W. It’s a group focused on supporting North End families, educating them about how child welfare works. He says for some that will mean the difference between having children at home or in the care of Child and Family Services.

You can follow Champagne on Twitter @northendmc.

The Filmmaker

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers has made it to the big leagues. After screening her short film Bihttoš (Rebel) at the imagineNATIVE film festival last year, she is now taking it across the country with the TIFF top ten shorts festival. 

Filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers has made it to the big leagues. (Blaire Russell)
It’s a deeply personal film, beginning with the love story of Tailfeather’s parents — her Blackfoot mother from the Kainai First Nation and her Sami father from Norway. Bihttoš first screened at the imagineNATIVE film festival in 2014 and it has been winning accolades ever since.

This year Tailfeathers is writing a feature-length script based on her short film A Red Girl’s Reasoning. She describes it as a vigilante thriller about a First Nations woman who survives a racially-motivated sexual assault, who takes matters into her own hands after being let down by the justice system.

We’ll be watching for her film in the years to come. In the meantime, we’ll be checking out her videography at the highly anticipated exhibition in Metro Vancouver: c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city. The three-part exhibition focuses on the history and living culture of the Musqueam people and reframing the story of Vancouver as a young city.

You can follow Tailfeathers on Twitter @elle_maija.

The Revivalist

“How do I contribute to the things that I complain about or wish to see changed?” It’s a question Khelsilem (his traditional Squamish name) asked himself about five years ago. A lot has happened since.

Khelsilem came up with the idea of creating a language house as a way of reviving the Squamish language. (Blaire Russell)
According to 2014 data, there are only seven fluent speakers of Squamish Nation’s language in B.C. Khelsilem is dedicated to keeping it from going extinct. He’s nearly fluent now, but says it will take a lot more people to reverse the decline. 

Using research from people like sociolinguist Joshua Fishman, Khelsilem came up with the idea of creating a language house and found two other people to move in with last October. The trio has committed to staying together for a year, where they practice the Squamish language on a regular basis.

Khelsilem says the house is a sort of pilot project for an even bigger initiative, the Skwomesh Language Academy — an immersion school he’s launching this year. The goal is to create a full-time program for adult learners to achieve fluency.

We’ll be watching for Khelsilem as the academy gets closer to accepting students — and for his book about language revitalization, which he’s in the process of writing.

And watch CBC Aboriginal for a feature article on the language house.

You can follow Khelsilem on Twitter @Khelsilem

Who are the young indigenous movers and shakers in your community? Let us know in the comments section, on Facebook or @cbc_aboriginal.


Chantelle Bellrichard was a reporter with CBC Indigenous based in Vancouver. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @pieglue.