Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Elder Tony Cote Awarded SK Order of Merit

He helped create the Saskatchewan Indian Winter & Summer Games, kick-started the North American Indigenous Games (which Saskatchewan finished first in last summer), he's a war veteran and he can still be found every day from 6:30 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon at the First Nations University of Canada working tirelessly at the front desk.

Is it any wonder that Tony Cote is one of eight people who will be recieving the Saskatchewan Order of Merit on November 19th?
Not to those who know him.

As the former chief of Cote First Nation, Cote wanted to get the youth on his reserve involved in something so, as a former athlete himself, he helped create the SK Indian Winter & Summer Games where First Nations youth from all over the province get together to represent their tribal councils and compete in sports from volleyball to track to broomball.

He's also a war veteran from the Korean war and leading up to every Remembrance Day, you can find him visiting First Nations schools and accepting the endless invitations he recieves to attend events honoring our veterans.

The Order of Merit is the province's highest honor and recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the province and its people.

Congratulations to Mr. Cote!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sigh... when can we get past the basics?

Sometimes writing this beat can get very frustrating. 

Don't get me wrong, I love the stories I get to tell and the people I get to talk to--that's all great. But every time I take on a more challenging story, like the one I'm working on now about the Post-Secondary Student Support Program for Status Indian and Inuit students, it seems like I spend all of my 500-800 words on just EXPLAINING what the program actually is or how the treaties come into play. I never get to take it further and examine the actual legal case for 'free' post-sec education for First Nations people or talk about all the practical challenges of being a student trying to live on PSSSP when our funding levels are even LOWER than the Student Loan Program.

Why do I have to do all this basic explaining? I'll tell you why. Because our Canadian education system is failing everyone. I mean it's 2008 and only NOW are we getting taught about the treaties in elementary schools? I can't believe the government even brags about finally doing something that should have been um, maybe right after the treaties were signed? Oh wait I forgot. They were too busy assimilating the crap out of us in residential schools--another story that went untold by the media for wayyyyy to long. 

Even in university, I am consistently disappointed and frustrated with the racist or ignorant comments that I have to sit through in class simply because people are not informed about the basic history of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Canada--in other words, CANADIAN history because it's not just our history, it's yours too because your non-Aboriginal ancestors signed onto the treaties too. HELLLOOOOO!

Yesterday in class, we had a discussion about the representative workforce practice; the idea that there should be more Aboriginal people, women and people with disabilities in the workforce and that hiring practices should reflect this. I was appalled when white males in class actually said they thought they were being discriminated against and couldn't get a job because of this practice. That's total crap. One person even argued the hiring practice was bad because "it makes other workers think oh maybe that person just got hired because of their race." Sigh... the problem there isn't the actual hiring practice, it's the idiots standing around at work talking about the new Indian. It's their ignorant, uninformed attitude towards the practice that is the problem, NOT the practice itself.

In this job, I am constantly--whether openly or more subtly--to speak on behalf of my race, defend my race, comment on my race as the only Aboriginal person in the classroom or the workplace or wherever I am. Why don't any of the non-Aboriginal people write these kinds of stories? Or pose their positions in the form of a question instead of stating it as fact or an assertion? 

Because they don't know better. And they never will if the schools and universities (U of R Journalism School included) don't start teaching journalists and the public what they need to know so I can start writing REAL stories instead of teaching your kids and students.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Out in the Cold Film Panel Steals Show

On Saturday October 25, I attended a screening of the film Out in the Cold at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum here in Regina. The movie was about 30 minutes long and it was about three Aboriginal men left on the outskirts of a city to freeze in winter by police. The film featured awesome actors Erroll Kinistino, Gordon Tootoosis and Regina's Mathew Strongeagle. Both Strongeagle and Kinistino made it out for the screening as well as the film's producer Sarah Abbott.

While the film itself was strong and entertaining, it was the discussion after the film that stole the show. Shauneen Pete, vice-president of student affairs at FNUniv, Nick Jones assistant professor in justice studies at the U of R and Regina police chief Troy Hagen gave their thoughts on the film, racism and policing and then fielded questions from the audience.

The first woman who approached the microphone identified herself as a Metis woman and actually started crying when she talked about the racism she felt from both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities--the idea that she was "too brown" for the non-Aboriginal community and "not brown enough" for the Aboriginal community.

Although she seemed to forget what her actual question was in the end, the emotion she expressed was very touching and demonstrated just how deep the blade of racism cuts people on an individual level--no matter who it's coming from. She said the movie was "like a prayer" and that she found it "very inspiring."

I too found the whole event--both the panel discussion and the film--very inspiring. Everyone on the panel could agree that more events where we encourage real and meaningful dialogue about race relations in our community is a good idea.

Too often we get bogged down in being politically correct or worrying about whether or not we have a right to say something when what's really important is to just start talking about these issues. Period.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Aboriginal Student Centre Tipi Raising Competition

The U of R's ASC hosted the first annual Tipi Raising Compeition this past Friday, October 10th and about 20+ teams participated. It was a mix of students, community members and university staff and faculty.

There were three categories to compete in:
Student Category - team members must be university students only
General Category - team members can be anyone
Women's Category - team members must be women

The winners in each category were as follows:

Student Competition:
1. Metis Power
2. Maheganuk

Women's Competition:
1. Cowessess all girls
2. First Nation Sensations

General Competition:
1. Starblanket Sensations
2. Anybodies

Congratulations to everyone who participated and especially the winners!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Aboriginal Youth Suicide in SK

Right now, I'm working on a story about Aboriginal youth suicide rates in the province. Did you know that suicide rates are five to seven times higher amongst First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth according to the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch? I wasn't too surprised by that statistic.

I really wanted to do this story because of what's been happening in my community. This summer, my 19-year-old cousin threw himself out of a vehicle speeding down a gravel road attempting to kill himself. He survived but now has a brain injury. In Turnor Lake this past August, a 15-year-old girl committed suicide after allegedly suffering from sexual abuse. And in my community, Canoe Lake Cree Nation, two young people killed themselves last year. The young guy killed himself first and then during his wake, his girlfriend went home and committed suicide.

Stories like these are all too common and tragic.

I went into the Aboriginal Student Centre here on campus one day during lunch and just asked everyone there, "who here knows someone who has committed suicide?" Everyone in the centre except one person put their hand up. Some people had lost someone who was just an acquaintance while others had lost brothers, sisters and classmates. One of the people I'm interviewing, Pamela Sparvier (see left photo) lost both her brothers, a brother-in-law and almost lost her sister to suicide. Her sister attempted to shoot herself in the head and instead shot through her neck, severing her spinal cord and becoming paralyzed from the neck down.

I'm waiting for a call back from a researcher at the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre who I'm hoping will be able to provide me with some insight into why the suicide rates are so high, especially as you move north in province.

Check back for updates to this story and in the meantime, if you want more information, check out the following websites:


This story will be in the third edition of Ink. And keep checking our J-School website to see my complete story:


Who will pay for the Aboriginal Student Centre?

I recently did a story about the U of R's Aboriginal Student Centre (ASC) and how its funding runs out in 2009. Currently, the ASC is funded only through donor funding from the Crown Investments Corporation (CIC) and that money is scheduled to run out next year.

As for what will happen after that, nothing is clear.

The good news? Well, I spoke to Judy Amundson, associate vice-president of student affairs, who actually admitted that she thinks the university needs to allocate some baseline funding dollars for the ASC in addition to donor funding so the centre isn't completely reliant on funding from outside sources. She also said she is going to present a budget to the university this year for the ASC asking for just that.

I hope to do an update on whether or not that actually happens after the new year.

My research for this story took me to the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan (via phone of course) to find out how those university's ASC's are funded. It's worth mentioning that I chose those universities to compare to because like the U of R, they have a significant Aboriginal student population. I didn't use the First Nations University of Canada because their student population also accesses U of R services (such as the ASC) and are considered to be U of R students registered through a federated college. As I suspected, those ASC's were funded by both core university funding and donor funding.

One of the questions I asked all three ASC managers, as well as Amundson, was "What message, if any, do you think it sends when an ASC isn't core funded?". All four interview subjects agreed, to varying degrees, that it sends the message a university isn't committed to Aboriginal services and education. It was refreshing (and quite surprising) to hear that even Amundson shared that sentiment.

Now for the bad news. Amundson wasn't willing to provide me with any clear numbers or plans for exactly what she will be doing to get more funding for the centre. In fact, she wouldn't even give me the current annual budget for the ASC so I've put in a formal request for that information through the U of R's Access to Information & Privacy Officer. I put in a similar request at the U of S, just for a comparison.

Like I said, I will be following this story closely to see what happens in the new year. Let's hope the university decides to adequately fund the ASC through BOTH core and donor funding. If it doesn't and the ASC goes bust, then it's the students who use the centre who really pay the price.

For more information on the ASC, check out its website:
If you'd like to read my complete story, check out the second edition of Ink or our website:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Maclean's Article... No not that one.

I recently read an article in the September 29th edition of Maclean's magazine, in the opinion section called "How journalists get in the way of the election" by Andrew Coyne. Coyne critiques the media's coverage of the federal election as "reporting about reporting, campaigns about campaigns" and that "we are all in mortal peril of disappearing up our own backsides." He says that journalists spend way too much time reporting about polls, telling our readers or listeners who's ahead or behind over and over, speculating on on polls and then "whatever space we have left we devote to the strategists." All in all, Coyne believes that too much coverage is devoted to the fluff of campaigns and frontmen and not enough to the actual policies, issues and important questions that result from an election. I won't go on and on about what the article actually says but if you're interested, read it for yourself.

Although I don't usually agree with Maclean's magazine, I think I could have wrote Coyne's article myself... that's how strongly I agree with most of what he says. Coyne writes that what people really want to know about an election is "who are these people and what are they going to do to us?" Plain and simple. As both a voter and a journalist, I couldn't agree more. Especially when it comes to polls. By the time you take into account such factors as margins of error and sample pools, they're pretty much useless. Maybe a poll every two weeks would be okay, especially if it's a well-done poll that is actually somewhat accurate and indicative of which direction popular opinion seems to be heading. Wait, is it actually possible to use the words "accurate" and "indicative" in the same sentence as the word "poll"? I'm not sure.

As a young First Nations woman living in Saskatchewan who is both a voter and a journalist, I must say I am always disappointed with the media's election coverage. None of the coverage speaks to the issues I actually care about like resource revenue sharing between the federal and provincial governments and the First Nations or post-secondary funding for First Nations students. Instead, time is wasted on topics like what sort of vegetable is Stephen Harper or (last federal election) what label is Belinda Stronach's outfit/ who's hockey pro husband is she stealing. Who gives a crap? As a voter, I want to know about their policies, opinions about war, ideas for solving Canada's problems etc. As a journalist, I sure as hell wish more of us would start writing about those topics. If I want to know about fluff, I'll turn on ET Canada or just find some other way to mindlessly destroy brain cells.

Or if media coverage continues its recent trends, I'll just flip open any newspaper or turn on any channel...

Maclean's website, if you're interested, is: