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26 April 2007: “Murray McKenzie, Photographer chronicled life in Manitoba’s North” [Winnipeg Free Press, A7]
Murray McKenzie, one of Manitoba’s best known aboriginal photographers, is dead at 80 years of age. McKenzie was of Cree and Métis origins, born in Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, where he lived until he was seventeen years of age. Having contracted tuberculosis, which was very common among aboriginal people at the time, he was sent away to a sanitarium. To ease the boredom of his convalescence there, which could be years rather than months, his parents gave him his first camera. It worked. Soon he was taking pictures of his fellow patients, and the first steps of his photographic career had begun.
After he recovered, McKenzie worked as a trapper, mill solution operator, and commercial fisherman, but photography was never far from his mind. He even took a correspondence course from the New York School of Photography to look more about the art, and later worked with Free Press reporter Bob Lowery until Bob retired in 1997.
According to his daughter Gayle, one of his seven children, McKenzie sought “to capture the joy in people’s emotions,” and often achieved that goal in the numerous pictures he took, particularly of the children and elders in the aboriginal community, Indeed, as expressed by journalist Jen Skerritt, he “spent a career capturing images of the culture and people of northern Manitoba for the Winnipeg Free Press, Toronto Star and Time magazine.” His work was “displayed in galleries across North America, and he also became the first aboriginal photographer to hold an exhibit in Europe in 1994, when his photographs were featured at the Munster’s Westphalian Museum in Germany.”
Fluent in Cree, McKenzie was proud of his roots and sought to serve his community wherever he could. A long time resident of The Pas, he “taught aboriginal youth about photography and established aboriginal friendship centres in The Pas and Thompson.” He was also one of the catalysts behind the first Cree-language radio stations in northern Manitoba, based in Thompson.
McKenzie wanted to be remembered “for all the good he tried to bring to the native people,” and undoubtedly the greatest legacy he has given us is his photography. Among his favourites was a photograph of four-year-old Jamie Constant, and it is easy to see why in that little girl’s smile. Take a look her photograph and many others at McKenzie’s online exhibit at mysterynet.mb.ca, You won’t be disappointed!
22 April 2007: “Sophia Rabliauskas: Guardian of the Forest” [Winnipeg Free Press, A6, B4]
In April 2007, Journalist Alexandra Paul highlighted Sophia Rabliauskas, the 2007 North American winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is worth $125,000 U.S. Rabliauskas is the first Manitoban to win the award established in 1990 by San Francisco philanthropist Richard Goldman and his family. As she was leaving from Winnipeg with her family for ceremonies in San Francisco and later on in Washington, D.C., she said that it was an honour that all Manitobans could share and that “we should all be proud that somebody in our province is being recognized like this.”
Rabliauskas received the award for the work she and other members of Poplar River First Nation have done during the past eight years to preserve a two million acre tract of boreal forest located next to Poplar River on the east of Lake Winnipeg. A spiritual person, Rabliauskas was inspired by her Ojibway ancestors who preserved the land for us today and by local elders who encouraged the people of Poplar River to show the same respect for the land. Rabliauskas believes the land is able to heal itself, and heal people, too. For her, “The forest is alive.”
Paul and a CTV news crew learned more about traditional Ojibway beliefs as they accompanied Rabliauskas into the forest to a place called Onagyam, meaning First Rapids. She didn't tell them about the bald eagle that circled high above the rapids, letting them notice it themselves, so that it would mean more to them. The bird came down closer, then left, only to return with two more eagles. One of the reporters suggested that the eagles were watching them, and Rabliauskas agreed. The Eagle is the sacred messenger from the Creator. It keeps an eye on the people and the forest, so, its presence is “a good sign.”
With her deep commitment to the forest, Rabliauskas was a good choice for the Goldman Award. According to Manitoba’s Culture Minister, Eric Robinson, “She’s being recognized internationally for the work she does in environmental protection. I know her personally, and this is something Manitobans and Canadians ought to be embracing.” Conservation Minister Stan Struthers agrees. In his view, Rabliaskas is “exactly the right person” for the award, “quiet and determined” and “as humble as they come.” Testimony of that humility is best expressed by someone from her own community, who sees her every day. According to Frances Valiquette, an elder from Poplar River,
Sophia, when she goes there and she brings back the award, she’s bringing it back for all of us. She’s doing this for the community. She’s not doing it for herself.
Humility has been key the efforts of Rabliauskas and the people of Poplar River to secure from the Manitoba Government permanent protection of their land. Elder Ed Hudson said that the elders insisted on soft-spoken diplomacy to achieve their goal.
Not only has the provincial government been supportive, but Poplar River has now joined with several other communities on both sides of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary to have a much larger section of the boreal forest in both provinces declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This progress has been the result of ten years of effort. Poplar River’s elders warned the younger generation that they would have to work hard to preserve the boreal forest from logging excesses and dams. Heeding the advice, local leaders took the initiative to ensure that the community had a say in the forest’s future. It has paid off. About two years ago, The American National Resource Defence Council led by Robert Kennedy Jr. heard about Poplar River’s efforts and asked to visit. The Goldman Award followed.
The community is in the international spotlight, and it could mean more visitors will be coming to the area. This could prompt eco-tourism and perhaps greater outside help to protect the area. Elder Ed Hudson maintains that much of this has been achieved through kindness, which he describes as the greatest law. As a result, he is careful not to take a strident or arrogant stance with regard to the boreal forest. As he explains it,
It is fitting that Alexandra Paul ended her article with this quotation, not only because it highlights values that have long been associated with traditional aboriginal culture, but also because these same fundamental principles underpin local efforts to save the forest. Respect for the land translates into respect for others, including the government officials that are in a position to make positive change. There is nothing phoney or manipulative about it; it is a natural response. It comes as naturally to Hudson as it does to Rabliauskas. The Goldman Award recognises local efforts to save a forest, but it also quietly acknowledges the respect and grace that its supporters have brought to their cause. We need more of this approach in society today.
November 2006: Lindsay Campbell, Manitoba Aboriginal Achievement Award recipient [Interview transcript]
F.C.I. graduate Lindsay Campbell is a 2006 recipient of a Manitoba Aboriginal Achievement Award. In a November 2006 interview with Adele Lafreniere and Raymond Shirritt-Beaumont, she provided plenty of reasons why she deserves the honour. Lindsay is originally from Duck Bay, a small Métis community on Lake Manitoba, where she was raised by her mother, Gloria Campbell, a teacher working for Frontier School Division. Perhaps the influence of her mother can best be summed up in Lindsay’s acceptance speech at the awards ceremony.
Lindsay’s mother provided an example in both word and deed. She was always,
As a single parent, Gloria had to assume a greater role in the lives of her children, while at the same time bettering herself through education. Her academic studies earned her B. Ed. and a job as a teacher, achievements which have inspired her daughter, who early recognised the value of education. Lindsay’s elementary schooling at Duck Bay involved the usual subjects, as well as sports and music. When she was in Grade Six, she enrolled in the fiddling programme and played for the next three years she was at Duck Bay. She was always “a good kid” with “a lot of friends” with whom she did things. Rather than being bored, they formed their own drama club and engaged in other positive activities to amuse themselves. There was no room for drugs and alcohol, as she was “never that type of person.” This is one reason why she feels she has been successful thus far in life.
Although she did not have a male role model in her home, she had some great teachers, like Bob Clark and Fred Sanderson. Fred she describes as “an awesome teacher,” who “challenged” her and “always pushed” her “to do things.” When it was time for her to leave home to continue school, she chose Frontier Collegiate Institute in part because she just wanted “to experience something new, something different,” and in part because her mother and older sisters Lynn and Maxine had gone there. She stayed for a semester, then tried the school at Winnipegosis, but didn't feel at home, so the following fall she returned again to FCI for Grade 11. From her perspective, it was a good move, because she “could fit in and strive,” there were “a lot of Aboriginal people there,” the “counsellors were awesome,” and “there was lots to do.”
Lindsay has no time for boredom, because she always gets involved. At FCI, she was on a number of committees during the three years she was there. She was on the residence council, first as a representative from her own community, then as treasurer and secretary, finally in her last year as president. Roles shifted as she got older, and responsibilities changed. As a member of TAD (Teens Against Drinking and Driving) she went to the elementary school in Cranberry Portage to help educate the children there on the dangers. Lindsay also got involved in the cultural awareness committee, which promoted dancing, powwows, and cultural awareness generally. Like most Métis, Lindsay lives in more than one world. She remains committed to her Roman Catholic faith, but she has integrated aboriginal healing and the seven teachings into her life. She also maintains a deep pride in Métis heritage through fiddling, which she has taken up again. Her Ukrainian roots, inherited through her grandmother, are also a part of who she is, especially when the perogies are served! What could be more Manitoban than that?
After Lindsay completed high school, she took a summer job in Winnipeg at the newspaper Grassroots, writing articles and doing office work. In the fall of 2003, she began university, which was a whole new learning curve. Lindsay describes that experience.
It was also expensive. There was little help from the Manitoba Métis Federation – mostly tuition and book costs in the final year – and since she was not First Nations, no help there either. Undeterred, Lindsay investigated bursaries and awards, which paid off. In her first year, she received a National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Award, the Manitoba Public Insurance Aboriginal Education Award, and the Helen Betty Osborne Award.
Lindsay was quite prepared to be proactive in finding funds for her education. Her mother was able to help to some extent, but Lindsay did not want to burden her with additional debt. Her alternative was a student loan, which had its own challenges.
After that, it was bank loans and a big student debt to be paid off when she finally has her degree. Still, she feels it was worth it.
Lindsay made it through the first year and took a job at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre, where she has worked summers for the past three years. The Centre has had a powerful impact on her. It is a positive organisation with vision for the future of aboriginal children. It sets up programmes during the year with schools, including swimming, and during the summer holidays has a summer camp involving over seventy Winnipeg schools and 150 children per week. Working in this atmosphere for the past three summers has been a major factor in Lindsay’s goal to be a social worker. She likes to work with children. As she explains it,
Lindsay has been asked to return next year as a senior leader. She has also started work with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg and with Big Sisters. Her focus is prevention, and that is one of the reasons she wants to be a school social worker. As such, she hopes to motivate parents to become more involved in their children’s education, so that children get the encouragement they need from the home.
Another motivating factor in her decision to be a social worker has been her cousin, Cynthia Genaille, whose mother Elizabeth Genaille is also a teacher at Duck Bay. Friends from childhood, they will both be graduating next year in Social Work. Down the road, Lindsay and Cynthia would like to establish their own centre for disadvantaged kids needing a place of refuge as well as educational opportunities.
Lindsay’s ambitions reflect a will to succeed and conviction that a way can always be found to achieve any goal. Inspired by the 2003 Aboriginal Youth Achievement Awards, she set out to prove that she had the qualities that these awards recognise. It took three years, but her accomplishments have been recognised. Her achievement can now inspire future young aboriginal students to do the same.
4 January 2010: Marge Hudson, Berens River, “A lose-lose proposition” [Winnipeg Free Press, D1]
Marge Hudson is a wonderful role model for up-and-coming Aboriginal women. Not only has she had a successful career with the R.C.M.P., but she has also successfully overcome an enormous weight problem and “reversed Type 2 Diabetes and high cholesterol with diet and exercise.” It is a remarkable story, and Shamona Harnett’s heart-warming account of Marge’s journey is well worth the read.
Marge grew up in Berens River in a family of fifteen children. Her father was a commercial fisherman, so there was always fresh fish on the table in addition to the bannock, macaroni and potatoes her mother prepared for the family. Although a bit overweight as a teenager, Marge was relatively fit when she joined the RCMP. However, over the years, a lifestyle of “late-night shifts on the front lines in small-town Manitoba, regular meals of poutine with her colleagues, and inactivity” led to weight gain. Eventually, people who had not seen her for some time, including one of her sisters, did not immediately recognise her.
Then in 2004, Marge learned that David, her husband of 27 years, was dying of cancer. It made her angry, especially when he continued to smoke, but it made her think, too. At 340 pounds, she was in no position to criticise him. Her husband’s condition was self-induced, just like her obesity, and she made a vow that she was going to do something about it, so that she didn’t share her husband’s fate. Harnett sums it up as follows,
As her husband continued to smoke, she began to exercise. It was very difficult, but she lost 30 pounds in the six months leading up to his death. In spite of grief and depression, she pushed herself to get out of bed and go to the gym, where she would often remain for three hours at a time. She has now lost about 210 lbs in total – an amazing feat. “This month [January 2010], she’ll celebrate a few milestones: her 54th birthday, her upcoming retirement from the RCMP just weeks after receiving a medal for 30 years of service – and the four-year anniversary of her weight-loss journey.”
The butterfly has come out of its cocoon. “With slight hands, narrow shoulders and a fat-free size 2 figure, Hudson, five-foot-five, admits that she is not the ‘big boned’ woman she once believed herself to be.” It was simply an excuse. People now seek her advice on diet and exercise. She tells them to avoid eating “anything with white flour, excess refined sugar, or fat.” She makes her own whole-grain bannock, eats five or six small meals a day, and exercises every day. She avoids sweets and chocolates – doesn’t even crave them, preferring salads instead. She’s mentoring a group of women at Berens River on foods, grocery shopping, and exercise, and has even influenced her son, an assistant golf pro, to shed a hundred pounds. Optimistic about the future, she is making plans to join her former personal trainer, Danny Kuster, in starting “a health and fitness consulting business. She wants to go back to school. “And what she’s looking the most forward to in 2019: she plans to run the Canadian Diabetes Association fundraising marathon in July in Rio de Janeiro. As she so aptly puts it, “The word ‘can’t’ is not in my vocabulary. Because I can do anything.”
Discussion: How can Marge’s example inspire young Aboriginal youth struggling with obesity and the problems that it causes? What can she teach people suffering from Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, which are serious health issues in the Aboriginal community?
24 April 2010: “A New Sheriff in Puk” [Winnipeg Free Press, H1,4, 5]
Writer Don Marks did a superb job of profiling Chief Arlen Dumas of Pukatawagan, who was elected in 2008 and has already begun to transform his home community. It’s a big challenge. Marks’ article rightly points out that Pukatawagan was known “for decades” as the “‘Dodge City of the North’”, but “No longer. There’s a new sheriff in town.” Dumas’s election was timely, as Pukatawagan was in crisis. As recently as three years ago, Winnipegers who visited the community were:
shocked and appalled by the overcrowded living conditions. A severe housing shortage had as many as 25 people sharing a small house, eating and showering in shifts. The community had few amenities because a diesel spill caused by faulty equipment installed by Indian Affairs and Manitoba Hydro during the 1970s had contaminated the town centre, causing the band hall, nursing station, school and about 100 houses to be torn down. Violence, substance abuse and poverty prevailed in Puk for decades while the community argued with mainstream officials about who was responsible and who would pay for cleaning up the mess and rebuilding.
These problems have not been resolved completely, but Chief Dumas is well qualified to address them. Born in Pukatawagan and raised there by his grandparents, he gained a love for his northern home that never left him, even during the years that he was away at school on band scholarships. Highly intelligent, he excelled at Lakefield College and later attended Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, where he majored in political science and Canadian studies. Then he came home and was asked to reorganise the nursing station, which had been “plagued by poor administration.” In three year’s time, “Dumas had the nursing station running like a Swiss watch and it remains so to this day.”
This was ideal preparation for the next challenge which came in October 2008, when Dumas ran for Chief “on the promise to get the band out of ‘co-management.” In good journalistic fashion, Marks defined co-management for the reader.
That is an arrangement put in place by the federal government, which forces the community to be co-managed by an outside accounting firm. White it guards against financial mismanagement, it diverts money from community services and slows decision-making. Worse, it is incompatible with independence and self determination.
Dumas was elected and set about immediately with his council to develop “a new governance structure, including transparent and accountable financial management systems.” As a result, Pukatawagan was “out of co-management in four months.”
The next step was a review of the community’s situation. “The manager of every portfolio – health, education, economic development, youth, etc. – was asked to provide a report outlining the state of his jurisdiction, where they wanted to go and what challenges they faced.” This gave the chief and council a clearer picture of the course they needed to take.
Dumas and his council informed Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) that they wanted to work cooperatively with the federal agency to bring about positive change, and this had occurred. INAC approved “every one of Puk’s proposals.”
The results have been encouraging. 42 new housing units have been built, all with local labour, except the project manager. The railway has been upgraded and a waiting station built for the convenience of travellers. There are plans to reopen a saw mill and “turn out log houses for sale intact or as kits.” Land claims are in the works as well.
Dumas is interested in regaining control of the local fishery. At present the bureaucracy associated with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation makes it “so cumbersome and costly to market fish,” that the people “gave it up.” According to the chief, “The lakes are almost suffocating with fresh fish. We are going to get back to that industry one way or the other.”
He’s looking at mining as well. He said to Marks that the band was “ready to negotiate with the mining companies to develop joint operations which will split profits equitably and provide the jobs our community needs...and create the same kind of wealth which created Flin Flon and Thompson and other great communities in the North.”
Marks reiterated the chief’s pivotal role in all the positive developments in Pukatawagan. “Arlen Dumas is a young First Nations citizen, born and raised in his home community but enriched by travel and a liberal education.” He wants the same things for the youth of his community, although he would like them to be able to receive their education at home. To achieve this, he has negotiated with “the University College of the North (UCN) to create a regional centre in Puk.” He has also set up the “Missinippi Challenge”, which consists of “games like paddling, log tossing, marathons and other fitness and fun activities” for the children. It has worked, too. Participation in the Challenge has really motivated them to “do their best.”
All of this has been done in his first 2-year term. Dumas “is proud to share the financial statements of his administration” which include his salary of $64,000 a year. He has also created a report of each portfolio that includes plans for the future in “clear, easy-to-understand English.” He and his council meet regularly in open assemblies with band members to discuss matters of common interest and to receive recommendations.
There are still many challenges, but the community is becoming a more positive place to be, thanks to Chief Dumas. Marks sums it up succinctly in his concluding lines. “With his attitude and education, Dumas is simply doing what a chief is supposed to do. And we simply need more like him.” Based on the evidence that Marks has provided, most readers will probably agree.
Discussion: Don Marks writes thoughtful and thorough articles, and this one is no exception. He described the new chief at Pukatawagan and provided numerous examples of the things he has been able to accomplish since he returned to his home community. What elements from his background prepared him for leadership? Comment on the type of government he has established. What does it mean for a government to be “transparent and accountable”? Why is that important for the citizens of a community? Why does that approach tend to improve relations with Indian and Northern Affairs? Comment on his salary. How does it compare to other chiefs in Manitoba who have had their salaries publicised? Comment on his vision to promote long-lasting economic development. Is he thinking beyond tomorrow? What does the Missinippi Challenge tell you about Dumas’s concern for the children of his community? Why do we need more leaders like him?
16 May 2007: (Calvin Helin) “Fend for yourselves, aboriginals told” [Winnipeg Free Press, A5]
In May 2007, Calvin Helin, who is a lawyer, entrepreneur, and son of a hereditary chief, was in Winnipeg as a guest of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy to promote his vision of aboriginal renaissance. His ideas are set out in Dances with Dependency, a book published in 2006 by Orca Spirit Publishing, a company he created himself when publishers gave him the cold shoulder. In the words of Journalist Alexandra Paul, the book is a “wakeup call to aboriginal people in North America.” Helin believes that aboriginal people have to return to the “values of their ancestors.” In his view, “They need to start working for a living and helping themselves instead of depending on government handouts for a living.” “It’s a law of nature that you have to look after your own interests,” Helin said, which is certainly an indictment of the present system of dependence which has become a “welfare trap” for aboriginal people. He is wary of current initiatives that look to government to emancipate aboriginal communities. “How much self-government is there when somebody else is paying for it?” he asks, a question which is being posed by more and more people in aboriginal country. In his view, “The Private sector,” not government, “is the only place” where aboriginal people are going to gain control of their destinies. His views are strongly endorsed by journalist Don Sandberg, originally from Norway House First Nation, who has long called on aboriginal people to look to themselves rather than the federal government for change. Like Chief Louie of Osoyoos First Nation, Helin is looking to a new direction, but it remains to be seen if obstacles like the Indian Act, the reserve system, and a federal and reserve bureaucracy that benefits from the status quo can be removed to make way for the kind of change that these visionaries believe must occur. Only time will tell. See spiritorca.com for more information on Calvin Helin’s philosophy and fccpp.org for a video presentation on his ideas.
Last updated: May 7, 2010