Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn

Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn (Otahkotskina) is an Indigenous engagement leader in archaeology and academia whose trailblazing efforts have paved the way for subsequent generations of Indigenous scholars and students to thrive in these fields. Eldon joined Simon Fraser University (SFU) faculty in 2002 and helped establish the Department of Indigenous Studies in 2012, serving as its inaugural Chair until 2017. As a speaker of the Blackfoot language, Eldon is dedicated to its preservation. He has contributed his voice to narrate animated videos that incorporate Blackfoot for teaching mathematics. Eldon is now exploring the potential of artificial intelligence to create language learning instruments that allow citizen linguists to participate actively in preserving it. His research explores the potential of machine learning to revitalize Blackfoot and ensure that his generation is not the last to speak it.  

Eldon grew up on a farm on the Peigan Indian Reserve, part of the Piikani Nation. His upbringing nurtured his passion for earth sciences while shaping his professional path. His pursuit of knowledge led him on a learning journey culminating in graduate studies at SFU where he became the first Indigenous student to earn a Master of Arts degree in Archaeology in 1993. He completed his Ph.D. in 2002 at McGill University.  

Beyond his role as an educator at SFU, Eldon served as President of the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) from 2010 to 2012 as the first Indigenous person to hold this position. His contributions to the Missing Children Project and the Brandon IRS Cemeteries Project have been invaluable in restoring the dignity and reclaiming the identities of Indigenous children who died at residential schools. Eldon’s commitment to promoting reconciliation principles resonates in his involvement with initiatives such as SFU’s First Peoples’ Gathering House planning committee. His advisory role and close collaboration with SFU’s senior executives help shape the university’s reconciliation efforts. Eldon’s ability and willingness to bridge different worlds inspires others to join forces in creating inclusive and welcoming societies and organizations. 

Klith-wii-taa, Dr. Barney Williams

Klith-wii-taa, Dr. Barney Williams, a hereditary leader from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, is renowned for his expertise in Indigenous healing and counselling. Fluent in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, he integrates traditional teachings into his work, particularly in the realm of mental health. Throughout his career, Barney has held notable positions as an executive director and social service administrator, specializing in counselling areas that encompass youth, community prevention, crisis intervention, and addictions. His contributions include the establishment of a ground-breaking counselling program for Indigenous peoples at Vancouver Island University. The program served as a model for the integration of traditional healing knowledge with Western approaches, marking a crucial step towards holistic and culturally responsive care.  

From 2008 to 2015, Barney played a vital role as a member of the Survivor’s Committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), offering cultural and spiritual guidance. As a survivor, counsellor, and leader, Barney’s knowledge and personal experiences informed the TRC’s work. As the Elder in Residence, he offered constant support to the TRC staff, and his contributions have been recognized and celebrated by many institutions.In 2017, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Laws from the University of Victoria, acknowledging his exceptional achievements. 

Barney actively encourages personal growth, drawing from his own journey to sobriety. Recognized with the 2022 Courage to Come Back Award, he collaborates closely with First Nations communities, deepening the understanding of addiction and trauma therapy. Barney creates a safe space for survivors to share their stories, preserving the history of residential schools and promoting healing within Indigenous communities. Through reconciliation initiatives, decolonization advocacy, and empowering Indigenous students, Barney embodies Indigenous resilience, inspiring cultural reconnection through community engagement.  

Chief Willie Sellars

Chief Willie Sellars’ leadership embodies integrity, respect, and a commitment to furthering reconciliation. His efforts inspire others to participate in the collective journey of healing and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. A member of the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) of the Secwepemc Nation, Willie was first elected to WLFN Council in 2008. After serving on WLFN Council for a decade, he was elected as Chief in 2018 and is currently in his second term of office. Both as a WLFN employee and an elected official, Willie advocates for reconciliation, recognizing the need for healing from the impacts of colonialism, residential schools, and the Indian Act 

Willie recognizes that building relationships and partnerships in business creates an avenue for reconciliation. His negotiation of three impact benefit agreements with local mines generated employment opportunities and community revenues used to fund programs for WLFN youth, elders, and vulnerable individuals. As Chief and chief negotiator, Willie concluded the first government-to-government agreement under section 119 of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, resulting in the establishment of WLFN’s Unity Cannabis retail chain. WLFN Cannabis enterprises employ more than 50 people, the majority of whom are Indigenous.  

Willie works tirelessly to improve governance in his community transitioning WLFN to sectoral self-government over lands with the implementation of a Land Code under the First Nations Land Management Act and a Financial Administration Law pursuant to the First Nations Fiscal Management Act. The last five years have been transformative for WLFN, with more than $40 million in capital projects and development taking place on WLFN lands during that term. 

Working collaboratively with other orders of government, the public and the Catholic Church, Willie played a key role in the investigation of the former residential school at St. Joseph’s Mission. He recognizes that the revitalization of culture and language is key in addressing the impacts of colonization and residential schools. Willie and his Council have made substantial investments in programs and infrastructure to reconnect the community with Secwepemc (Shuswap) roots using a youth focus. In 2022, WLFN held its first competitive powwow. 

 Willie always strives for the betterment of his people, writing children’s books, dancing in powwows, playing competitive sports, and engaging in various other community initiatives, and promoting unity and mutual respect among all Canadians.  

Dr. Danièle Behn Smith

Dr. Danièle Behn Smith is Eh Cho Dene of Fort Nelson First Nation and Franco-Manitobain/Métis from the Red River Valley. Danièle has dedicated her medical career to serving rural and First Nations communities across Canada. In 2014, she transitioned to a functional medicine practice, embracing a complex systems biology approach to family practice that aligns with Indigenous approaches to health and healing. Danièle has also served as a board director for the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, director of education for the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Health Initiatives Program, and site director of the University of British Columbia’s Aboriginal Family practice residency.  

In 2015, Danièle joined the BC Office of the Provincial Health Officer (OPHO) as Deputy Provincial Health Officer, Indigenous Health, providing independent advice and support to the Ministry of Health on Indigenous health matters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Danièle contributed to identifying and arresting racism in various pandemic responses and policies. This included collaborating with the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) and a coalition of First Nations leaders to establish a data-sharing framework expanding the scope of data shared to better support First Nations-led responses. Other anti-racist actions included advocating for the removal of requirements that the Provincial Health Officer approve First Nations-led pandemic response. Under Danièle’s guidance, the OPHO expanded to include six Indigenous team members, ensuring a strong Indigenous voice within the organization.  

A leader who actively advances reconciliation, Danièle works to raise awareness and promote acknowledgement that Indigenous-specific racism is perpetuated through white supremacist policies and practices that remain hardwired into our systems and processes and impede the health and wellness of Indigenous Peoples. She actively works to uphold the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples by taking actions on specific Foundational Commitments made to Indigenous Peoples (e.g., UNDRIP, TRC, MMIWG & In Plain Sight), being trustworthy in relationships with Indigenous partners, and taking anti-racist actions in all aspects of her work with the OPHO. She fosters relationships and collaborations to identify and eliminate racism in programs and services, while also promoting increased Indigenous cultural knowledge among those with whom she works. Danièle challenges the existing ways of knowing and operating within the healthcare system and society at large to improve the well-being of Indigenous communities. 

The Exploration Place & Lheidli T'enneh First Nation

Prince George’s The Exploration Place (TEP) works alongside Lheidli T’enneh First Nation (LTFN) to safeguard and conserve their cultural assets. In a strong partnership, TEP serves as the designated repository for LTFN’s material history. Together, they have jointly undertaken various initiatives such as developing exhibits, facilitating the repatriation of the return of cultural objects to LTFN and other northern communities, and conducting digitization projects to preserve a vast collection of Dakelh oral histories. TEP and LTFN also prioritize Indigenous programming that aligns with local school board curriculum, and they have future projects in the pipeline including the establishment of a culturally safe childcare centre. These collective endeavours mark significant milestones in deepening the trust and understanding between TEP and LTFN, resulting in a true friendship, and setting an inspiring example to other museums nationwide.   

  Their partnership efforts in creating the permanent gallery, Hodul’eh-a: A Place of Learning serves as a model for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to come together, reclaim traditional spaces, protect cultural assets, and foster a deeper understanding and respect for Indigenous history and experiences. TEP stewards the objects in its collections vault with LTFN maintaining complete ownership. The stories the materials tell belong to LTFN and are told from their perspective. In addition, LTFN has held a permanent position since 1992 on TEP’s board of trustees to ensure the Nation informs museum decision-making.  

TEP’s focus on reconciliation and its partnership with LTFN was achieved through intentional and inclusive efforts. The trust between the two parties has grown over three decades of mutual work leading to a better understanding within their partnership and in the broader community. Museums from across Canada have sought guidance from TEP and initiated similar processes in their own regions. The partnership between TEP and LTFN provides hope that a museum can build the relationship needed to redress a colonial past. The trust and understanding established within this partnership ensure that Northern BC’s museum is a place where cultural learning and practice honour traditions and celebrate a collective future. 

Last Post Fund - BC Branch

The Last Post Fund (LPF) is dedicated to ensuring that no Veteran is denied a dignified funeral, burial, or military gravestone due to insufficient funds at the time of their death. Over 18,000 Indigenous Veterans served in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in World War I, II, the Korean War, Afghanistan and other peace keeping missions - often receiving minimal benefits while facing discrimination when they returned home. In March 2019, LPF established the Indigenous Veteran Initiative (IVI) as part of its mission and in alignment with the efforts of the federal and provincial governments towards reconciliation and building a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples. This initiative aims to commemorate and honour Indigenous Veterans by addressing two key components: the Unmarked Grave component and the Traditional Name Marking component.  

The Unmarked Grave Component focuses on providing grave markers to Indigenous Veterans who have been buried without an existing tombstone. These efforts make certain that their resting places are properly recognized and marked while preserving their memory and contribution. The Traditional Name Marking component acknowledges that some Veterans’ names were changed in residential schools or omitted on their military papers. LPF/IVI takes on the responsibility to add the Veteran’s traditional name to any existing tombstone placed by Last Post Fund, ensuring the acknowledgement of their identity and heritage.  

LPF/IVI collaborates with researchers who are either Indigenous Elders or former CAF members working alongside Elders. These researchers follow specific protocols when engaging with Elders, respecting the cultural and community requirements. The involvement of Elders is crucial as they possess valuable knowledge and information about deceased Indigenous Veterans and their histories. The initiative is significant where resources are limited for grave markers. Often, grave sites may only have a wooden marker as a tombstone which has deteriorated over time, leaving the grave unmarked. The LPF/IVI strives to ensure that all Indigenous Veterans receive a proper military marked tombstone, symbolizing their service, sacrifice and commitment to their community.  

Atomic Cartoons in partnership with GBH

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.   

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and the City of Kamloops

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.