Atomic Cartoons demonstrated ground-breaking leadership in the production of the animated children’s series Molly of Denali, which airs on CBC Kids in Canada and GBH/PBS in the United States. The program follows the adventures of Molly Mabray, an inquisitive 10-year-old with cultural heritage from three Athabascan groups (the Gwich’in, Koyukon and Dena’ina), as she and her friends explore the epic surroundings and rich Indigenous culture of their fictional home in present day Alaska. Through the eyes of children, this series touches on deeply important topics such as colonialism and the legacy of residential schools, and every story told speaks to resilience, strength and compassion.
By celebrating stories of Indigeneity, family and community life, Molly of Denali provides an important platform to address racism, colonialism and reconciliation. The series champions diversity at every level and serves as an integral resource that every person – of all ages and backgrounds – can enjoy and learn from. Molly of Denali offers an entertaining and informative perspective that humanizes Indigenous experiences, while informing the next generations about cultural richness. It is also grounded in a trailblazing curriculum focused on informational text, a foundational aspect of literacy education. This provides a wonderful journey for children to learn, while also reinforcing hope in their lives.
By producing this series, Atomic Cartoons and GBH/PBS recognized the importance of including Indigenous perspectives at all levels. More than 60 Indigenous crew and advisors were recruited to work on the series – including writing, animation, direction, music and voice work – with many gaining their very first opportunity to secure work in entertainment. Atomic Cartoons has championed a growing movement to celebrate and acknowledge Indigenous voices in all their diversity. As our society understands that Indigenous peoples and cultures belong on television, we will all grow to understand that Indigenous voices belong in every dialogue.
The First Nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) and the City of Kamloops share a vision and commitment toward reconciliation through relationship building that spans multiple fronts and which has become a recognized example for others to follow. For more than a decade, efforts have been demonstrated through collaborative initiatives in areas of protocol, communication, community-to-community and knowledge-sharing meetings, cultural heritage, celebrations, and through shared service agreements including fire protection, transit, and sanitary sewer management. These opportunities are planned and initiated through transparent processes that acknowledge and celebrate commitments and sharing of TteS’s culture, values, and history to the wider public. One of the first official acknowledgements was the signing of the Statement of Political Relationship by the Mayor of Kamloops and TteS Chief in 1991. The ongoing relationship has paved the way for open and ongoing conversations about shared interests and concerns ever since.
The unique partnership approach has allowed both organizations to move toward repeatable successes at the community level by being open and responsive, recognizing that bumps along the way are opportunities to learn, and through building trust and shared understanding. The City of Kamloops and TteS are building enduring legacies: physical spaces (parks and trails) for the greater community to recreate together; culturally respectful and mutually beneficial infrastructure and infrastructure agreements; educating staff and officials in the Secwépemc language culture and history; offering community wide classes in the Secwépemc language; shared governance capacity building; honouring special events; and celebrating the relationship successes community wide. The strategic relationship between the City of Kamloops and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc provides inspiration through its growing successes. Future leaders can look to this relationship as a model and will have the benefit of building on the systems, legacies and precedents created.
The Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP), funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and run by DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, started the process that led to the creation of the Surrey First Peoples Guide for Newcomers years ago, with the intention of addressing the lack of educational resources about First Peoples in Canada, created from an Indigenous perspective. The first of its kind in Surrey, the 46-page guide provides information on histories and current challenges of Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people in Canada, and addresses common misconceptions and stereotypes about the First Peoples, and also celebrates Indigenous brilliance and excellence. Led by Jeska Slater from the Fisher River Cree Nation and her team at Littlecrane Consulting, with illustrations and graphic design by the team at Nahanee Creative, the guide uses a community-centered approach to amplify the stories of land-based Nations, urban populations, and Indigenous champions.
The Guide represents a clear indication of the LIP’s alignment with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides a roadmap to advance truth and reconciliation in Canada. This includes addressing common misconceptions about the First People of this land, a key step in the important work of building solidarity between the Indigenous and newcomer communities in Surrey. Extensive research and a series of community conversations were facilitated to create the resource through roundtables bringing Newcomer and Indigenous communities together, while working closely with several Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and Elders, including Chief Harley Chappell of the Semiahmoo First Nation and Chief Marilyn Gabriel of the Kwantlen First Nation amongst others, as a fulfillment of LIP’s vision to sustain the work of building solidarity. As Len Pierre from the Katzie First Nation writes in the forward for the guide, “The importance of documents like this First Peoples Guide…is a progressive step in the right direction towards learning, understanding and respecting the original and First Peoples of the lands you now call home.” The guide is available through LIP’s website and is offered in multiple languages, making it accessible to all.
Kwuntiltunaat – Kim Baird is an accomplished leader, a respected advocate for Indigenous people, and is nationally recognized for her work in reconciliation. She is a graduate of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, receiving the Distinguished Alumni award in 2012 and currently serves as the University’s Chancellor. Kim’s life work has provided a foundation that will create the opportunity for the process of reconciliation to exist/thrive. This includes acknowledging that First Nations have a right to self-determination, a quality of life equal to all and in partnership with all people.
At the age of just 28 years old she was the elected Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN). She held this important position for six terms, from 1999-2012. In that role Kim’s most notable achievements towards reconciliation took place. On behalf of TFN she negotiated BC’s first urban modern treaty, which came into effect on April 3, 2009. The treaty provided unprecedented benefits and opportunities, and her leadership contributed to TFN being one of the most progressive First Nations in Canada. She says, “true reconciliation” means “no longer being tethered to the Indian Act, and gaining access to financial resources and economic opportunities, and to services and programs for TFN members.”
In the spirit of the BC Reconciliation Award, she believes that respect must go beyond Aboriginal rights and title. It needs to be reflected in laws, policies and in the operations of government and the courts. To support this ongoing quest, Kim now runs her own consulting firm and continues to share her expertise on many public and private boards, working tirelessly to serve her community in both official and unofficial capacities.
Brendan Eshom is a member of the Gitga’at (Hartley Bay) First Nation. He graduated from Prince Rupert’s Charles Hays Secondary School as valedictorian in 2020 and is currently studying in the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia. Brendan is a long-time advocate for Ts’msyen culture and heritage. Brendan took advantage of School District 52’s language education programs to become conversant in Sm’algyax, the language of the Ts’msyen Nation. He became a regular speaker at public events, delivering greetings in Sm’algyax, and providing the English translation of spoken addresses by Elders.
Throughout 2018 and 2019 Brendan worked with Indigenous speakers of Sm’algyax and educators, preparing for the launch of a website dedicated to sharing the language, one word at a time. The site – www.smalgyaxword.ca – launched in 2019. Since then, the online resource has grown and expanded into social media. In mid-2020, Brendan launched a complementary mobile app that further amplifies his mission to document and share the Sm’algyax language. Further developments include a daily text message subscription service and Braille alphabet.
Brendan’s language advocacy work has been widely reported by media and recognized by his community as part of a new generation of Indigenous cultural leadership. Through his dedication to the preservation of Ts’msyen heritage, Brendan is connecting the past and present in a way that builds understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “Part of my vision for this project has been to promote dialogue, both in and about the Sm’algyax language,” Eshom says. “People have all kinds of reasons they want to learn a specific word, and this allows them to share their unique interest with the community of Sm’algyax learners and allies.”
T̓łaḵwagila – Chief Bill Cranmer has been a strong, and vital voice for the sustainment of the ‘Namgis First Nation language and culture. He led the repatriation of cultural objects including masks, bentwood boxes, and regalia that were confiscated under duress in 1921 after a Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch held in the village of ‘Mimkwamlis on Village Island, BC. The confiscation was sanctioned through Canada’s “Anti Potlatch Law” which existed between 1884-1951. Twenty community members were sent to be imprisoned at the other end of the province because of practicing their traditions.
A fluent speaker of Kwak’wala, Bill worked tirelessly to retrieve the appropriated pieces and raise awareness about need to preserve and maintain language, history and culture. The repatriation of the some of the 750 confiscated items has had a significant, positive impact on the community. He has travelled to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere to share the story and present on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations and the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation.
As Chief Councillor of the ‘Namgis First Nation, Bill negotiated economic treaties to develop businesses for his nation to prosper. Bill has spent numerous terms on the Executive Board of the Native Brotherhood of BC and has been an Elder / Cornerpost with the First Nations Health Authority, giving historical and cultural input into meetings. His efforts in the preservation of First Nations’ traditions have gone a very long way towards reconciliation. In a speech at the opening of the U’mista Cultural Centre, which houses much of the reclaimed potlatch items, in 1980 he said, “It’s important to know your past if you are going to fight for your future.”