Dear fellow traveller.

02/12/2017

 

Wonderfully lost within tangles of thoughts with such great depths.

The seeds nourished and lovingly planted.

The soul embracing its nest,

the sun, providing life, energy, growth.

Young sakastew Iskwew.

The world ever-expanding.

Continuation of opening her mind.

Expanding it, paving the way for lost and found treasures.

Moments frozen in time, memories locked away,

her divine inner energy connecting with the sacred mother

from the humbling still depths of the waters

to the blue hue sky full of a universe too vast to comprehend.

Full of stars and stardust being wished upon from us tiny beings,

held down by only gravitational forces and a luck of balance

and life-sustaining chance from the greater unknown energies.

How magnificent it is,

on our one tiny speck of life lies so many diverse moments, minds, thoughts, beings.

On one tiny speck there are grand landscapes

plunging down into rocky untouched valleys,

long forgotten roads,

each leading to a new adventure, a new story.

We create a profound love,

so strong that it must be connected to that universe above or those greater energies so unknown to us.

We create hate, war, violence all connected back to those diverse sets of minds, bodies, spirits.

All cohabitating on this one speck.

Wandering,

wondering,

forever searching for ultimate happiness and for all of the answers.

My mind constantly shifts, like the clouds.

It constantly moves forward like that jetplane smoothly flying high in the dark blue sky.

My mind constantly growing,

even in the toughest and unimaginable terrain,

just like those cacti, standing proudly amongst dry red sand and unearthly rocks.

My heart is constantly reminded of the love so deeply embedded in my being.

For this chance to live, to see, to hear, to breathe, to be a part of something so grand, a part of such a beautiful world.

My spirit is constantly being guided to just where I need to be,

where I’m meant to be.

My eyes cannot unsee what I’ve seen,

my eardrums cannot unhear what I’ve been told,

what I’ve been taught,

my spirit will forever cherish and hold on to that feeling of connectedness,

the feeling of freedom and the utmost amount of feeling whole.

This my dear, are the reasons I love to wander,

the reasons I love seeing this world in its entirety.

The reasons I love travel as a whole.

With its ups and downs, complexities, learned lessons and moments of true bliss and discovery.

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Naicatchewenin First Nation

As the open road warmly embraces three generations of dancers, Treaty 3 territory smiles right back as we whisk our vehicle through curvy roads bordered with lakes, treetops and far open lands. Headed to the beautiful little community of Naicatchewenin First Nation for their 40th annual Powwow celebrations.

Just a month prior I was in the same location, presenting to the youth of Naicatchewenin First Nation and surrounding communities at the same newly built wooden arbor. After that presentation, two members of the powwow committee approached me with tobacco and asked in a respectful way if I would come back to represent as head lady dancer for their powwow. Honoured, I accepted. I had never been a head dancer in the many years I’ve danced so the new experience and opportunity excited me.

The day finally approached. As we left, the sun was just sitting overhead, ready for our 4-hour journey into their beautiful territory. We set up camp atop of one of the hills overlooking the powwow grounds close to some friends from Winnipeg who had also travelled over for the celebration.

The next few days were fulfilling and good for the soul. Late nights spent by the fire at our camp, watching the flames dance in the summer breeze, listening to the nightly creatures roam around the land, looking high into the sky at the brightest stars and Milky Way twinkling. Thinking deeply about this life and all experiences and opportunities that lead me to that very moment. Getting lost amongst constellations and wishing upon shooting stars. Sharing laughs with my mother and grandmother, as we lay snuggled in our tent.

The community was amazing. They were very hospitable and generous. Each morning we were greeted by smiling faces that cooked up massive delicious feasts for breakfast at the community gym. We were also served grand feasts for dinner; Tender fresh fish fry, moose meat, handmade wild rice, potatoes, bannock and vegetables. We were also offered a beautiful cabin just a few kilometres outside of the community but I had decided to stay within the community and camp amongst the locals and stay close to the powwow grounds.

The community and powwow committee also allotted me space and time to host a dance special! I raised enough funds to put together an “Empowering Our Youth” special for kids ages 12 and under. The four places were granted to those youth who danced hard for the people with high energy and smiles. They were then granted a set of their own hoops and some prize money for them and their families. The drum group, “Little Foot”, then honoured them with an honour song. I also made sure that every youth didn’t walk away without anything so I put together consolation honorariums and put together a handmade motivating gift for each young one. I felt this special was important, as the committee members had mentioned most of the people in the community haven’t seen hoop dancing and many are dealing with healing journeys of their own through intergenerational traumas. So in order to empower the young ones to keep dancing and carry on these traditions I held this special.

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Almost over 70 youth filled the circle, dancing hard for the smiling elders under the hot summer sun. Their beaded and sewn regalia sparkling in the sunshine, their fringes and ribbons whipping all around to become a beautiful wonderful blur of colours and resiliency. I was in awe. I felt proud of all of them and their families cheering them on from the sides. It was incredibly difficult to choose only four dancers to receive the hoops but with the help of my mother, grandmother and the headman dancer, we put our minds together and decided on four who’s spirits lit up when they danced.

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It was a memorable experience that I will cherish and I hope to see these young ones grow with their hoops or still see dancing as we all grow through the years still following that red road and powwow trail.

On some time off, my family and I explored the beach where the locals swim and we shared stories and laughs with some new families we met there. Being a head dancer we had many roles. Each and every grand entry and retreat we were there, dancing behind the honoured flag carriers, elders and dignitaries. We judged dance competitions, supported all honour songs, spot dances and traditional sacred whistles that were blown and above all we just danced. Danced for our communities, for the community of Naicatchewenin, for the youth and elders. We danced to pray and to heal and to represent Indigenous country with our heads held high, with our feet and moccasins connected to our mother the earth, praying with each step of light for that water just a few meters over. Praying for the continuation of healing nationwide for our people and that renewal and reclamation of our identities.

It was a beautiful time spent with family, community, outside on the land and opening our minds to connect, experience and grow.

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Reminiscence of the Miss Indian World Contestant experience.

The days of April 25th – May 1st and those leading up were a pure whirlwind that took my world by its roots and nourished them with adoration; a whirlwind that took me to new heights and greater understanding and respect for the world around me. An unforgettable experience that consisted of adrenaline highs, altitude sickness lows and all the amazing fun times through that, far and wide and in between.

For the first time in awhile I dug deep to find the courage to apply and run as a “Miss Indian World” contestant at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In past years I had never felt fully confident in myself and my abilities and the title of “Miss Indian World” seemed incredibly prestigious including the criteria of a young, beautiful, confident Indigenous woman with strong cultural knowledge, abilities to represent entire Indigenous nations across the world, speaking from her heart and showcasing her true self to the world. I always thought to myself, of course I wasn’t deemed fit for that. However, at this time I would like to thank those strong, beautiful and resilient women who inspired and mentored me throughout the years to the point where I felt ready to embark on this experience. To my mother Melanie Dean who paved the way my entire life, implanting that seed of cultural knowledge, raising me in a home with our traditional instruments, medicines, teachings and creating intricate works of regalia for every stage of my growth. I also thank my grandmother who also shared with me her wisdom and stories and offered her support and care. These two women were my prime examples growing up, following in their footsteps and striving for self-respect, self-love and an all seven sacred teachings attitude toward our self and the world around us. With this thanks, I would like to extend it to the rest of my family from my Nihithaw “Swampy Cree” roots on my mother’s side from our community of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. Including all of my aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers and countless cousins who supported my journey throughout the years. I would also like to acknowledge and thank my father Andrew Spence and my Anishinaabe/Ojibway roots from my father’s side from the community of Lake St. Martin First Nation. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for that acknowledgement of both my Cree and Ojibway identity.

The thank you list continues, hang in there. Please do not turn away, as these people are vital to the story and deserve all of the recognition in the world. I’d like to thank those community mentors who have inspired me, those who I looked up to and found guidance from including Tasha and Leslie Spillet, Miss Lisa Meeches, Wab Kinew and Lisa Kinew, Connie Constant, Ray and Rhonda Stevenson, Violet Duncan and many many others. All of these people have paved the way for us as Indigenous peoples. Becoming well known in their home communities and being amazing people in their own ways, thus becoming role models and mentors for young Indigenous women like myself. Tasha and Wab specifically helped me with writing incredible recommendation letters and Lisa has always motivated me toward running. I’d also like to acknowledge Hilda Bighetty: super awesome phenomenal elder and cousin who helped me with my Nihithaw language that I would later include into my speeches, introductions and recognitions. All of these beautiful souls helped build together the courage to represent myself as a Nihithaw and Anishinaabe woman and to also bring a voice to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and Lake St. Martin First Nation and speak on behalf of issues that I felt were important in our Canadian society including youth empowerment, mental health and (MMIWG) missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Youth empowerment encompasses youth from all nations and backgrounds but of course also specifically within Indigenous youth. Providing them with the tools and resources to feel empowered toward reclaiming who they are as Indigenous young people; Reclaiming songs, dances, traditions, languages, stories, etc. and being proud of that. Bring empowerment to educate themselves on their rich histories and find ways to move forward in this ever-expanding world. Also empowerment to non-indigenous youth to do the same, learn about who you are, where you come from and learn to keep an open mind and open heart to those around you. Create safe spaces of acceptance and equality among your peers, find ways to diminish racism and discrimination and violence in your community, for we are all related and we all need reconciliation and healing.

In regards to mental health, this is a topic I am also passionate about because I have experienced my own path of mental health in forms of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. It is a story that I was ashamed of for many years and kept a lot of it to myself but it was through the strength of sharing my voice and asking for help that brought healing into my life. The hoop dance and a lot of my cultural teachings also played a major role in this growth. I hope to grow to be a strong advocate for these issues and bring a heightened awareness to mental health and its ties with Indigenous communities in terms of intergenerational effects, adaption to urban lifestyle, etc.

And of course my final platform of MMIWG, after attended countless candle lit vigils, watching the tears and outcries from elders in my community, watching as fear set into the young women in my community and watching close friends, family and community members have to deal with a lost loved one. This is an epidemic happening in Winnipeg and all across Canada that needs to be fully addressed, talked about and given action from all levels of peoples from our self, to our communities, to our nations and through out governments and those in power. We need change.

With each young woman backed with their platforms in mind, the pageant began with a fun orientation dinner where all of us young women met each other and our chaperones. The next day we were straight into traditional wear and private interviews. The holding room was full of nerves, laughs, coffee and snacks as well as beautiful, motivating and inspiring positive talks from the committee members. Following the interviews we had another dinner at an aquarium where we were distracted by the large pointed toothed sharks, funny looking fish and ancient looking turtles. This is when we also did the raffle draw. At this point I would also like to thank all of you who supported and bought raffle tickets even it was only one with the 2.50 in your pocket or if you bought 50! The support was greatly appreciated and I was very proud in the fact that I had sold all 1000 tickets. It was a fun evening and by this point I was more relaxed with the amazing group of women and committee members.

The next day was the huge talent production at the Kiva Auditorium with rehearsals all day starting at 8am sharp leading up to the main event at 7pm. I had chosen to fuse together traditional and contemporary powwow music together and bring forward my teachings on the traditional Indigenous hoop dance. The day was full of fear, excitement, dancing, massage trains, random break outs in song, braiding of hair, makeup fun with the Aveda team, all of us practicing in any space we could find vacant including showers, bathroom stalls, hallways or quietly in a corner. This was a day where I feel like we all truly bonded over funny family and travel stories, through sharing our experiences and common feelings and creating friendship and networks that would leave us feeling supported, grounded and ready for the night ahead. Let’s just say, I believe this was the pinnacle turning point of the whole week. The amount of adrenaline and pride I had up on that stage, giving it all that I had, dancing hard and speaking from the heart to the audience. Then afterwards being greeted by a roomful of applause from my newfound sisters. This was followed by an influx of crowd after the show; peoples young and old approached me in enthusiasm with an overwhelming array of questions, compliments and photographs. Through the blur of people I was on a mission to find my loving family through the sea of faces. The moment I found them my mom broke out in tears which then initiated the empathetic tear train from myself, my grandmother, my aunty, Lisa (one of the hosts of the talent show) and Candice. In that moment, I felt on top of the world, I felt proud in my performance and I could feel the immense amount of love and energy pouring from my family and those audience members who approached me and the rest of us girls after the show. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I spoke and danced with the strength of my ancestors deep in my heart, I danced to honor my family, my community and those who were in attendance that night. This performance won the award for “Best Traditional Presentation” on the final day.

The days that followed consisted of the the grand “Gathering of Nations” powwow! Nations represented from all over turtle island, North America and beyond. It was held at their new home at the Tingly Coliseum – Fitting name as the grand entry and the powwow always leaves most of us with the tingly feelings. Neeeh haha – This is me trying to offer some comic relief now, not too great at it ay? Anyways, our days were full of dancing in the grand entry, a feeling all on its own. The bright spotlights reflecting off our intricate regalia, our ribbons and fringes ready to whip, our feathers standing tall and our heads held high. The moment of first walking in to that arena, all eyes on you from every direction, the jingles of the bells and the bass of that drumbeat pounding through your entire being. The singing of that grand entry song as the announcer introduces each category into the circle. To be a spectator of the grand entry is marvelous but to be a participant within the grand entry, to be surrounded by nations, pride, dancers and constant flowing energies is beyond anything I’ve ever felt before.

Throughout the powwow times, us girls had our public speaking competition out at Stage 49, our dance competition and of course the crowning and awards ceremony that took place after the final grand entry of the final day of the powwow. During this time I became deeply reflective mode Shan. When am I never deeply reflective mode Shan though, am I right? Anyways…the whole day I was reflecting on everything I had learned, gained and found through this experience. I was thinking about everyone back home and those who were keeping up with this adventure online throughout social media updates or on the live stream. I was thinking about the youth, the elders and the community members back home. I was thinking about our ancestors who perhaps prayed and dreamed about a day like today where we were all gathered in that one place in pride. I reflected a lot on the past, present and future and above all I reflected very deeply about whom I am, whom I’ve become and whom I strive to be moving forward. The moment that they called my name for Second Runner up I was astonished. All of my hard work paid off and excitedly I ran up to Danielle who passed over to me the banner and gorgeous award with flowers. I would also love to congratulate the First Runner up, Mykhal Mendoza and of course the amazing Raven Swaamp. They were both so deserving of the titles they won and I know they will both do amazing at representing Indian country. I also want to congratulate my fellow sisters who also worked incredibly hard and represented their home nations with pride too. Each and every one of them inspired me and brought forward valuable moments and experiences that I will cherish for a very long time.

With all of this being said, I would like to thank everyone for reading up to this point and if I left anyone out of the thank you list I apologize, but please know everyone’s words, thoughts, prayers and immense support was deeply appreciated by little ol’ me and I am honored to have had this opportunity and to have been guided on this path in my life.

You may be asking, “K now what?” and in response to that, I’m going to keep doing the work that I am doing. I am going to continue to represent myself, our ancestors and our nations in the best way I know how through hoop dancing, fancy shawl dancing and speaking in regards to our reclamation as Indigenous peoples, bringing to light issues that are still prevalent in our society, raise awareness of topics I am passionate about and continue to try and inspire the next generations and change the world in the little ways that I can. Here’s to upward and onwards. See you on the trail! 😉

All my relations, ekosi – thank you.

  • Shan

P.S – Please enjoy the snapshots below that don’t even represent or encapsulate the amazing trip that we had or display the multitude of emotions, events and feelings that occurred throughout. Feel free to click on a photo for a longer description of that particular photo.

Winnipeg’s Local Racial Inclusion Summit

Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Centre of Canada and the heart of the prairies.
Thriving and bustling with multiculturalism, diversity, economic gain and industry progress. A meeting place of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. However . . . Winnipeg, Manitoba was also given the title of the most racist city in all of Canada while segregation and division among our ethnical communities still linger after the founding of the city.

After this public acquisition by Maclean’s magazine and after realizing the unfortunate truth that we are in fact a divided city, most of us realized that work had to be done. Our new elected Metis mayor Brian Bowman took the essential steps forward during this time of crisis by formulating the Indigenous advisory committee and creating/supporting community driven work and organizations.

Recently, a handful of youth leaders organized the “Local Racial Inclusion Summit” utilizing the hashtag #OurSummit. It was held at the same time of the mayor’s national summit on racial inclusion but the group felt some important local grassroots voices were missing from the conversation. The event invited and gave all local community members  from various ethnicities and nationalities the opportunity to join in various discussions about the division within our city, race relations, how to become better neighbours, how to enhance the relationship between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people’s and possible effective solutions moving forward.

The summit included a diverse range of speakers and the chance for community members to voice their thoughts on multiple topics including,

  1. Child and Family Services.
  2. Using dialogue to improve relations.
  3. Employment Income Assistance.
  4. Indigenous/Newcomer youth relations.
  5. Jobs and employment.
  6. Kids growing up in a corrupt world.
  7. Media.
  8. Missing and murdered men and women.
  9. Nutrition and food security.
  10. Moving past our racial mistakes.
  11. Systemic racism.
  12. Uniting humanity harmoniously.
  13. Water (Shoal Lake 40).

It was a beautiful and successful event and instilled the hope that it is possible to move forward as a city and work towards our relationships with one another. I personally wished to see much more in attendance but I understand that this is only the beginning. I hope that all of this momentum and hard work toward ways of reconciling and healing our communities continues and I hope that everyone in Winnipeg will someday be able to truly feel like a community instead of many divided smaller communities keeping to themselves. I only wish to see everyone intermingling together without borders, racism, discrimination or exclusion. Back in June of 2014 I co-organized an event called the “All Nation’s Youth Grand Entry” where my wish was to see youth of diverse backgrounds coming together as one, dancing and uniting and working together. Although that event went very well I was saddened back then to see such a lack of support from the various multicultural organizations that I had invited. Perhaps one day, sooner than later, we’ll see this happen. But for now, there is much work to be done and this racial inclusion summit made ways forward in a very positive way by encouraging dialogue, interaction between community members and brainstorming of solutions.

Question time!
Are there any important topics you think should have been brought up?
What are some ways we could move forward as a city and diminish the division that exists?
Any other thoughts on this matter?
Please leave your answers in the comments below, I encourage open conversation between everyone but please keep it respectful. Thank you.

I managed to capture some action shots from the event, hope you enjoy.
If you would like to learn more or would like more resources please visit www.groundworkforchange.org

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At the beginning of the event all community members in attendance were invited to partake in a group activity which challenged them to walk around the circle, introducing themselves. The activity then progressed to the next section where they were asked to partner with someone and each share their individual story.
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Community Members onlooking and supporting the various invited and local speakers, one specifically holding a sign with the word “love” written across. A common theme and attitude throughout the event.

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Rosanna Deerchild, A strong and empowering leader in our community, host of CBC radio’s “Unreserved” as she discusses the Maclean’s article, acknowledging the large challenging issue and ways to confront it and move forward positively.
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Breakout session on the topic of “Missing and Murdered Men & Women, We All Matter”.
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Topic “Uniting Humanity Harmoniously”. Conversation included the importance that we all live here on this one earth and must utilize and work together as one. One man also mentioned that he often felt excluded from important conversations due to targeted race demographics, he suggested the usage of calling on all of humanity rather than certain racial groups.
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Photo speaks for itself.
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The beginning of the march to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
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The event concluded at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights with a leader of each breakout group reporting on some important points made in relation to their topic.

 

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Hoop Dance Portraits

During the spring of 2015 I had the privilege and wonderful opportunity to visit the Avenue Photography Studio in the east side of Winnipeg, Manitoba owned by the creative founder, Robert Dearden. We had the chance to collaborate together in order to capture some shots of dance and “indigenized” portraits. I was very grateful for the opportunity and impressed with the final copies.

Robert Dearden has always been a well known photographer in our community. He studied photography at Red River College and shoots a range of photography including studio portraiture, community and multicultural events, weddings, newborns and maternity,  powwows and many others. He attends these events here in Winnipeg and throughout the province with his camera and gear in hand making sure to capture the right moments. He also appreciates the art of photography and honours the importance of quality and value. His work can be found on his Facebook page by clicking HERE or his personal website at www.robertdeardenphotography.com

Below I have posted some of my favourite’s from the shoot but there is lots more of where they came from so if you would like to see more just suggest it down in the comments and I may just post a part two. I also strongly recommend checking out Robert’s work and supporting his local business. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I do. I am also taking bookings for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016 so if you would like my services as a hoop dancer, fancy shawl dancer or speaker you can contact me by filling out a contact form below. I would love to hear from you!

kinanâskomitin / Thank You.

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What Does National Aboriginal Day Mean To You?

Every year on June 21st, National Aboriginal Day is celebrated in Canada. Now, I always tend to get completely cliche and exclaim that every day is “Aboriginal Day” for us as Indigenous people across North America because we live our realities, our cultures and celebrate our “Indigenousness” every day.

As for me, this year feels different. I’m in deep reflective mode lately (classic over-thinking Shan) about our growth as Indigenous people. I feel as though all Canadians have been embarking on a journey which includes but is not limited to:

  • The increased awareness of the 1,200+ cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls because of public marches, protests, dances and ceremonies. Because of the outcries from brave family members, the push for a national inquiry and for more support from our police force and the government. Because of the raised awareness that these mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters are being taken far too young and do not belong bound and found in our rivers. They are loved, remembered and respected and didn’t deserve the treatment they faced.

 

  • There is also an increased awareness about the residential school system era including the genocide of countless Indigenous children and the attempt to diminish our Indigenous cultures. So much has happened since the last school closed in 1997; formal apologies, investigations, healing circles and the told truth from various survivors and students who attended. There is also the increased understanding of the inter-generational effects that still effect our families and communities to this day.

 

  • The 60’s scoop has also been acknowledged. The stories of how many Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in Non-Indigenous homes where many were faced with physical, emotional and sexual abuse and many never saw their families again.  There was also a formal apology from the Manitoba federal government to those children and their families.

There is a major shift in our Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities toward reconciliation right now through these acts. Through raised awareness and education on our painful reality in Canada and the past issues that still haunt our communities to this day. There is action being done such as the implementation of Indigenous classes and the history being taught in our education systems, the invitations of our traditions into schools and events across the nation.

I also feel as though despite everything, our Indigenous communities are stronger than ever. We are reclaiming who we are as Indigenous people. We are relearning our traditions, our teachings, our languages and becoming increasingly proud in our identities. On top of that, all of us across North America and past those border lines are in a major time of healing and shifting. We are starting to discuss and become more aware of what had happened. We are educating and engaging all Canadians and communities across the globe of our rich history and our progressive ways forward. I am also seeing much interest from Non-Indigenous individuals to truly learn and help in any way that they can to work toward reconciliation . We are all making positive baby steps forward but we must keep going. We have much more work to do, much more healing to bring to our communities, our families and ourselves. We need to work on these new found relationships between all of us, we need to encourage our systems and our nations to take this journey with us. We need to re-establish trust and protect our children, our women and our communities.

This time of shifting is exciting and encouraging to witness. To see the healing taking place, to be a part of educating Canadians about our culture and our traditions through performing at different schools, events and gatherings across turtle island and internationally. I just hope this momentum doesn’t stop. I hope we continue to move forward. I hope that one day my children will see a world where our Indigenous women and men are protected and can feel safe in their own homes, that every community has clean running water, that they can continue to swim and witness the beauty of our lakes and oceans without the fear of polluted waters. I hope my children will see a strong nation and feel proud in who they are. I hope they will feel support from their leadership and governments.  I hope for a future where all Canadians are aware and truly equal. That’s all we can rely on is that hope. We must begin with ourselves which will then reach our families, our friends, then our communities and then hopefully across the nation.

Like I said, much work still needs to be done and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this. I hope this wasn’t too long of a rant but this has been on my mind for awhile. What does this particular day known as “National Aboriginal Day” mean to you? What does it mean to be a Canadian? I would love to hear from you! I also asked this question across my social media and here are some of the answers I recieved.

“Happy to those who join us to celebrate our heritage through good faith and a reminder of what our people have over came and we are still here as a sovereign nation no matter what tribe we come from nation to nation we are all related.” 

“Being proud in who we are. Celebrate our heritage.”

“Free Bannock.” 

“Showing pride that the government actually recognized us for one day!”

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Thanks for reading. Feel free to like, share or leave a comment!

What kind of post would you like to see next? Let me know by clicking HERE!

 

Phoenix, Arizona & The Grand Canyon!

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Back in February 2015, my mom and I decided to pack our things and head down south to Phoenix, Arizona to participate and dance for the first time in the world hoop dance contest at the Heard Museum. It’s an annual event where hoop dancers from all over turtle island gather to mingle, dance their hearts out and represent their home communities. Ever since I had started hoop dancing I had only seen videos of the event on Youtube and I admired the unique intricate routines from established dancers from around the world. The idea of participating in the event myself seemed like such a far fetched dream, so when the opportunity presented itself I was more than thrilled to partake.

3:30 AM Friday morning, we made our way to the airport.
After a long day of travel, we finally arrived in the beautiful sunny Arizona. I was beyond excited to bath in the sunlight and enjoy the high temperatures of the desert landscape. We rented a car and made our way through the winding freeways to find our hotel. We kept seeing various road signs along the way such as Los Angeles and the thought of how easy it would have been to take a drive down to these other various cities excited us. We definitely put that our list of things to do for next year!

IMG_7402The next day began bright and early as we made our way to the venue. Before the day of hoop dancing began, they held a meeting to discuss the rules and answer any questions that the dancers may have had. Then it was time to get ready for grand entry! I was beyond excited at this point, marveling among the hoop dancers I’ve looked up to and only seen in videos. Everyone dressing into their different vibrant beautiful regalia and everyone was buzzing with energy.

Then grand entry began with over 75 hoop dancers both men and women, children to senior, from all across the world dancing together. This is where it all hit me. I was in that moment and felt a strong sense of belonging, like that was where I was meant to be. That overwhelming feeling embodied my whole being, a feeling of pride and happiness. I couldn’t believe I was there, dancing along side with my fellow mentors, those who had inspired me to keep on hoop dancing, those who had such an influence on my life. We were all there in the Arizonian sunlight, dancing  to that sound of the drum that I’ve known all my life. It was truly an amazing experience.

IMG_7406IMG_7416IMG_7418The day continued as they showcased each dancer beginning with the tiny tots then into the youth  and teen divisions. Then they showcased the senior division and then completed with the adult division. Each dancer was marvelous in their own way, dancing in various styles and introducing IMG_7426different hoop formations coupled with their fancy footwork. Throughout the day, all of us dancers mingled and met with each other and talked with the spectators of the crowd. Everyone was so warm and friendly and a mutual acceptance and respect was felt from everyoneIMG_7442. Then it was my turn to dance.

As I waited for my turn, the nerves set in but I kept reminding myself that it was just like any other showcase I’ve done, to just go out there and dance my hardest and even though it may not be the best…the experience would be worth it all. Some fellow hoop dancers came by and gave me some last minute advice and that really helped calm my nerves. I spoke to the northern drum who would be singing for me before walking up to the center and placing my hoops in anticipation. The beat began, the timer started and all eyes were on me. I was full of energy and excitement mixed with nerves but I was more than ready. I danced my little heart out and danced the hardest I’ve ever done before in that center dusty pit under the blazing sun. It felt exhilarating.

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Out of 22 dancers in the adult division I was 15th on the score card and even though I didn’t place I was thankful and incredibly grateful for the experience and for meeting all of the other dancers. I definitely already started making plans for next year, I’m just getting started and it feels amazing. Also a huge thank you shout out must go out to my mother for making it all happen and for supporting me all throughout, without her I wouldn’t have made it there and I am so incredibly grateful and appreciative of everything she had done.

The second part of our trip we took a drive up to the Grand Canyon and the pictures can speak for themselves . . .

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Overall, It was a truly breathtaking trip and instilled a deeper pride into who I have become and who I am as a young indigenous woman. It was beautiful to escape the Winterpeg winter and bath in the warmer southern temperatures and to witness the grand landscapes of Arizona. The trip up to the Grand Canyon and experiencing such a breathtaking view of one of the world’s natural wonders really put into perspective just how beautiful our world can be. I already cannot wait for next year and I look forward to continuing this journey of hoop dancing, travelling and experiencing all this world has to offer.  
Thank you for reading 🙂

 

 

World Indigenous Business Forum 2014!

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The Indigenous Leadership Development Institute Inc (ILDII) in Winnipeg helps organize the World Indigenous Business Forum (WIBF) with a community host in different parts of the world every year. This year it was hosted in Guatemala City at the West Camino Real Hotel in the heart of Guatemala and took place from October 28th – 30th.

The forum’s website states that the forum is a platform that engages Indigenous communities and their leaders in global discussion on economic development issues such as community, industry, academic and government and the varying challenges/successes. The forum operates on the seven generational thinking that provides sustainable prosperity for children and the children seven generations on. The first portion was connecting and networking of indigenous communities and their leaders. The second portion was sharing knowledge and strategies for community development and the third included inspiring diverse speakers from around the globe to motivate future endeavors of economic success.

I had the privilege to participate and listen to the various speakers and it was interesting to see similarities between all nations in attendance such as the hope to alleviate poverty through focuses on investment and financial strategies and the importance to maintain cultural practice to sustain their heritage for future generations. It was very inspiring to see Indigenous leadership participating in this forum through networking, learning and being able to relate to one another. I also believe it was very appropriate and important to have different levels of Indigenous individuals involved in the forum such as individuals at the grassroots level, local Indigenous communities, individuals who owned their own companies and leaders such as the president of Guatemala. It is important to include and engage all members of a community in the dialogue towards economic development for the success of communities in the future and to participate in the learning process toward a better economy with the use of efficiency, effectiveness, self-reliance and sustainability.

I also had the opportunity to showcase the Indigenous hoop dance to everyone in attendance which left me with a sense of pride to showcase and represent my home community and my brother, Jesse Spence, was also able to showcase the grass dance. Youth from Fisher River Cree Nation were also able to showcase their unique styles of powwow dance. I believe we all finished feeling proud to be able to educate all of these different communities in attendance of our culture, dance, songs and ultimately ourselves as individual, unique, proud indigenous youth.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and it truly inspired me and embedded a deep hope that it is possible for nations to come together in peace to learn from each other, grow and help each other toward positive, sustainable economic development. Next year, the forum will be held in the beautiful land of Hawaii. If you have any further questions or would like to become involved in such a wonderful event please visit their website at http://www.wibf.ca. Also feel free to search #WIBF2014 to see a glimpse of this years forum.

Thanks for reading!

Indigenous Hoop Dance

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Hey Everyone! First of all, I would like to apologize for my absence from this blog. Classes have started, I’ve already caught the “change of the season” cold, I’ve been super busy and I had an extreme case of writer’s block and couldn’t think of anything to write.

However, I thought I would discuss the Indigenous Hoop Dance for you all since I think many of you don’t fully understand the reasoning for why I do what I do or what it is that I do. Let me give you some insight into my world…

I was introduced to the hoop dance at 13 and have continued to practice and grow with it over 7 years now. The teachings I was given was that it was used for storytelling, guidance/direction and healing. People would come to this individual if they were seeking guidance and/or healing in their lives and once this individual would dance it would show them the answers they were looking for in order to move forward in positive ways. It was also used for storytelling in the way the hoops intertwine and move to create images and dancing designs of many different things such as animals, things of nature, humans, etc. The hoop dance also symbolizes the importance of keeping a healthy balance in life including the 4 important areas of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual and understanding the negatives and positives that come with it. I was also told that the hoop dance could symbolize deeper meanings such as the circle of life it’s self. Most hoop dancers will have the four directions on their hoops which represents that medicine wheel and journey we take in life beginning as a newborn, throughout childhood, young adult, as an elder and then beginning that circle once again.

These are quite similar to the reasons why I dance and what I keep in mind while dancing. I dance for that healing, not only for myself but for my community and all Indigenous people. We have faced the residential school system, oppression, complications within child and family services, suicide rates among our youth and many more experiences that have led to inter-generational effects and hurting within our communities. One of the main things we are still facing is the 1181+ missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. I dance for them, their families and their communities. I also dance for the showcasing of positive cultural pride, to break down those stereotypes and not only show the beauty of our heritage but also educate those who are willing to watch about the history and culture of Indigenous people in Canada.

I also dance for the youth, to stand up and dance along side of them for sustainable futures and the next generation. I want to inspire the younger ones that they can do anything they set their minds too and that just because you are an Indigenous person does not make you anything less even though negative connotations can in some ways unfortunately make them feel that way. Also, the fact that I am a woman and can hoop dance also gives a sense of that empowerment because of the fact that so many are used to seeing primarily males hoop dancing. It’s something new, exciting and different and I believe that this empowerment is also felt by the younger girls that I teach. I was incredibly happy and looked up to many other women I saw hoop dancing growing up such as Lisa Odjig.  On top of everything and what ties all of that together is the entertainment aspect of why I dance. To make myself and others happy through that storytelling concept and some fancy moves hidden in between. I enjoy the process through learning and watching other hoop dancers and I hope to continue to do this for a long time. I will also be travelling to the world championships in Arizona next year so you can anticipate a blog post about my experience there along with some photographs!

Thank you so much for reading, if you have gotten this far! I will be posting a lot more often, so stay tuned!

Travelled Northern Manitoba

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I’M BACK!

Hello wonderful people! I feel like I haven’t written a post in a very long time & that is true so I am sorry for the lack of content & for my foolish unmotivated ways. Anyways… I have a nice adventure to fill you in on!

During the week of July 27th – August 4th I travelled up north in Manitoba with the family. We drove up to The Pas and visited some family in OCN then caught the train to Pukatawagon, Manitoba which consisted of a slow 12 hour ride full of hyper restless children, bone chilling air conditioning, beautiful northern scenery and the fresh smells of the outdoors. Luckily we managed to keep ourselves productive and occupied through that journey. Once we arrived in Puk we met up with more family; cousins, aunties, uncles, etc! During our stay up in Puk we danced everyday at their powwow which took place at their youth center for 3 days. We all felt so grateful for their wonderful hospitality, friendliness, and welcoming arms. We also had the chance to explore the area. Swimming at high rock, shopping at the Northern, driving up to the airport, carpooling to the sweat/sundance grounds and climbing up the Pukatawagon “mountain” and taking in the sights. I felt so humble and proud to meet so many strong women and family members who I am related to and share ancestry (sorry for the cheezyness). After the trip to Puk we headed back down the province to camp for one night in Clearwater Lake at the Guy Hill Residential School Gathering that was taking place. As we approached the grounds we all sat silent through the drive down the long, twisted, eerie gravel road with nothing but brush and solemness as we thought about those young children that were forcibly taken from their families and taken to this place. Some of my relatives attended this residential school which had one of the bad reputations of horrific abuse. My family and I had the chance to learn about local medicines and how to identify them. We also heard many stories that I will forever hold in my memory and we were surrounded by the spoken language of Cree which I was particularly grateful for since I would really like to learn it. After our stay at the grounds, I left feeling like I had the responsibility to keep the memory of these elders and their stories alive and to further educate people on what was on the residential school system and the effects it still has on our communities today. I also left feeling incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such strong, loving relatives and lucky to have had this experience and meet all those people. After we had left, we returned back to some civilization back in The Pas where we went to visit my grandpa who had passed away approximately 4 years ago. It was a lovely way to end our trip and we are all happy to be back on the road to hit back for home. 

After this trip and the entire experience I felt so much more grateful and humble for the experiences I have had in my life so far and grateful for the chance to see, hear, listen and learn from my family, elders and community. I hope to carry these memories far off into the future and educate others on what I have experienced in hopes of continuing the memory and not allowing our important indigenous heritage/culture fade away throughout the years.

I look forward to travelling back up north to possibly teach and host workshops on our culture, specifying on the hoop dance since their was a great interest from the community for that. I also want to find a way to give back to the community of Pukatawagon for everything they had done for us during our stay. I came home feeling a sense of renewal. I captured much more images of our time up north, if you would like to see more just “like” this post or comment down below requesting them! I must just do an extended post to showcase the beautiful images I had captured throughout our trip!

Thanks for reading! Much Love