Author Archives: Devinder Deol

Defenders of the Land

Defenders of the Land is a network of Indigenous communities and activists that stretches across Canada.  It includes Elders and youth, women and men, was founded in Winnipeg in 2008.

According to the group’s website, Defenders is the ‘only’ organization of its kind.  The group is:
  • Indigenous-led
  • Free of government or corporate funding
  • Dedicated to building a fundamental movement for Indigenous rights.
From their website:
“We reject the extinguishment of Aboriginal title through treaty, and any interpretations of historical treaties which falsely claim, against the united voices of our elders and ancestors, that we have extinguished title to our traditional territories.”
On June 24, 2010, the day before G20 summit in Toronto, Defenders of the Land and other Indigenous groups, marched in protest against the hosting of the summit on stolen native (Mississauga) soil and made the following demands:
1. Canada must adopt and fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
2. Canada must change its Comprehensive Land Claims policy
3. Canada must stop criminalizing Indigenous Peoples for defending their rights
4. Canada and the provinces must take coordinated action to investigate the ongoing murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women
5. Canada must comply with our right to say no to all activities on Indigenous territories that commodify the sacred: air, land, water, animals, plant and genetic materials, and our traditional ecological knowledge.
The march drew some media attention, but ended up being overshadowed by the G20 riots. The use of media by Defenders (a website, You Tube postings) has been met with limited public engagement.  Despite the group’s ambitious agenda, Defenders of the Land is not widely recognized in Canada.  Some in the left wing media, impressed by the activist agenda of this group, have tried to increase the profile of Defenders; however, this type of publicity and promotion has not been very successful.  The group is a good illustration of how unconventional Aboriginal groups can end up being marginalized by the mainstream media.

Geronimo is not dead – he was not killed in Pakistan

On May 1, 2011, Osama Bin Laden was tracked down and killed by U.S. Navy Seals in Pakistan.  In confirming their kill, the Seals sent a short, coded message to President Barack Obama which read:

“Geronimo-E   K.I.A.” [Killed in Action]

To many Indigenous people around the world, the use of the legendary warrior’s name as a stand-in for the notorious Bin Laden was an insult. For Dallas Goldtooth and Ryan Red Cord of the sketch troupe ‘the 1491’s’ that code inspired more than outrage — it led to a performance poem entitled ‘Geronimo-E K.I.A.’ that has become popular on YouTube.  (the 1491’s hail from Oklahoma and Minnesota).

Click here to play a recent radio interview given by Dallas Goldtooth to Rick Harp, host of Urban Nation Live on Winnipeg’s Streetz FM.

In the interview Dallas describes Geronimo as a powerful symbol of RESISTANCE to American imperialism and development.  Geronimo represents the fight against destructive forces in Aboriginal communities.

Naturally, Geronimo is revered by some, but not all.  Some First Nations dread the man because of his violent ways, specifically towards opposing tribes.  To Goldtooth and Red Corn, the persona and icon of Geronimo represents much more.

Goldtooth explains: there is anger and frustration to what was communicated to the President and the poem is a response to that, but it also conveys the idea that Indian people have not been defeated. In the present, many Aboriginals do significant work towards change, and in doing so they prove that Geronimo was not killed in Pakistan.

Central to the poem is the belief that Indigenous people around the world are part of the resistance that was once displayed by Geronimo.  The video concludes with the following poignant message:

“We chase his legacy, not his truth.  Neither will be caught, but one of them can be made up.”

Why the U.S. military would use Geronimo as a code name for Bin Laden is mind-boggling. Aboriginals have struggled mightily and this incident is symptomatic of the struggle by mainstream America to marginalize First Nations cultures.  The creative use of YouTube to respond to the hurt caused by the insensitivity of the U.S. military makes this endeavor worth studying if researchers are interested in the evolving relationship between Aboriginals and the media.

image source:

RedWAY BC News

RedWAY BC News is a free monthly on-line magazine.  It has been published since 2003 by Spiritlink Communications.

According to the founder of RedWAY, Kristen Kozuback the mission of the publication is to build relationships based on respect and recognition and to celebrate the diversity of cultures, talents and strengths of Aboriginal people..

Many of the recent efforts by RedWAY focus on ways youth can build media technology skills and develop the experience necessary to start careers or businesses as writers, editors, videographers, and photographers.  RedWAY‘s YouTube channel and video productions (made by youth) can be found here.

Here are some of the regular sections from the magazine:

  • JPEN – Job Postings & Employment News
  • From the Streets and RHR: readers helping readers
  • Smoke Signals: a community announcements page
  • International Indigenous News: often self-governance items

Readership Demographics:  most of the readers and contributors are Aboriginal youths who reside in British Columbia – 85% self-identify as Aboriginal; 80% live currently in BC; over 45% are under age 30; 70% have their own social networking site.

Teaching Tip: In coordination with Spiritlink, RedWAY, and the First Nations School Net Program, 7 youths attended the 2008 Gathering our Voices Conference held in Victoria, May 17-20, 2008.  These youths were provided with hardware (laptops, cameras) + software + brainware (training) + spiritware (encouragement and empowerment) and the result was a significant ‘earning and learning’ experience.

Adele Alexander commented on her reflection the conference in a holistic way.  Her posts describe the influence the conference had on her:

  • intellectually
  • emotionally
  • physically
  • spiritually

I found this to be a very interesting way of having students look back at an experience. It transcends the mere ‘lessons learned’ and gets into a more authentic reflection of any experience.  Researchers looking into innovative, grassroots efforts to empower Aboriginal youth through media should definitely take a look at RedWAY.

Common Portrayals of Aboriginal People – Media Awareness Network

Many others have referenced this webpage and I debated not writing about it, but was so impressed with the concise commentary provided that I decided to draw more attention to it.  The site is an introduction to media portrayals of Aboriginals in Canada and the U.S..

One of the most thought-provoking lines on the page comes from Ward Churchill: “Dehumanization, obliteration or appropriation of identity, political subordination and material colonization are all elements of a common process of imperialism,” he says. “The meaning of Hollywood’s stereotyping of [American] Indians can be truly comprehended only against this backdrop.”

The Media Awareness Network is well-regarded for its critical examination of media stereotypes.  I have used their materials on Internet Privacy previously and found them suitable for school-aged teens.  This page grabs student attention by noting that in the early days of film, Italian and Spanish actors often played Indian roles because they had the appropriate ‘skin tone.’  The fact that they aren’t actually Aboriginal was secondary.  The page outlines in very clear language some of the misconceptions that media have either intentionally or unknowingly created:


  • the Indian Princess – there is no structure of loyalty within tribes
  • the Native Warrior – ‘savagery’ stereotypes drive need for colonization
  • the Noble Savage – special spiritual powers not accorded to anyone else

Historical Inaccuracies

  • Dress, practices, spirituality of Aboriginal actors fuels stereotypes

Stereotyping by Omission

  • for example, Chicago has a significant Aboriginal population, but not a single Aboriginal patient has ever been treated on the television show ER

Simplistic Characterizations

  • Aboriginals given few lines and are relegated to minor roles.  In Dances with Wolves, the only voice of significance in the film is an US Army captain – why?

Interestingly, there is some discussion of the role that stereotypes have played in inflaming imperialism.  Wendy Rose’s article from the New Yorker is referenced.  She writes: “there’s a whole school of thought that believes that the stereotypes of Native people and the Wild West must still be maintained in today’s society.”

To suggest that Aboriginals are not still being subjugated by Hollywood and any number of television production studios ignores the glaring realities that this website raises.  On a separate page, the authors raise some excellent questions to trigger student inquiry into relationship between Aboriginals and the media:

  • Who selected or created these images and stories? Why does it matter who made these selections?
  • Whose voices are being heard? And whose voices are absent? Why?
  • Why are certain stories selected for the news and others not?
  • Are Aboriginal people shown as real human beings in films and TV programs or do they seem wooden and two-dimensional?
  • Do depictions in movies and TV shows respect tribal, cultural and regional differences?

The greater questions of authentic voice, authorship, intellectual property, decolonization are not really examined on this site.  The pages are useful in getting students started on the path to understanding, but students will need to push well beyond this website if they wish to engage in critical study.

Weblogs & Research interest – 21st century urban Aboriginal youth

Canadian Aboriginal groups are experiencing rapid demographic change.  Presently, approximately 60% of Canada’s Native People reside in urban settings, and 60% of the overall Aboriginal population is under the age of 25 (UNYA, 2011).

These demographic trends pose a distinct opportunity and challenge.  Aboriginal youth are in a unique position to steer future directions in cultural preservation and development.  My research interest is to determine how urban Native youths, particularly those who reside in Metropolitan Vancouver, have responded to life in a city setting, and to see if this provides any insights as to how Aboriginal identity will evolve in a 21st century landscape that is characterized by rapid technological change.

Specifically, my weblogs focus on the following questions:

  • What currently shapes Aboriginal identity?  Is Native identity still rooted in references to geography, linguistics, and colonialism or has the notion of identity evolved?
  • How are urban Native youths responding to the challenge of defining themselves and being authentic in the realm of two sometimes competing cultures?
  • There is now great socioeconomic and cultural diversity in Native communities. Has there been accommodation for this growing heterogeneity in programming for urban Aboriginal youth?  Are urban Native youth still being treated as a problem?
  • Are Aboriginal educational efforts effective in helping Native youth to preserve cultural knowledge and build a sense of identity?  Is technology helping or hindering this process?

Urban Native Youth Association. (2011).  A brief history of UNYA.  Retrieved from

New Tribe Magazine

New Tribe Magazine

This is a crazy cool magazine geared towards urban Aboriginal youth that is published in Calgary and distributed in Alberta.  It is available for free and online in a highly interactive web presentation.  The magazine is sponsored by the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth that is also based in Calgary.

According to the editor, the mission of New Tribe Magazine is “to promote a positive outlook on Aboriginal living in an urban setting by promoting and sharing information within the community.”

Youth are encouraged to contribute to each edition and judging from past editions there are range of writers who have committed themselves to making the magazine a success.   The publication is filled with artwork, poetry, news stories from the province and abroad, fictional short stories, advice regarding employment, healthy eating, and wellness (to name just a few). Information is provided about local events and opportunities for Aboriginal youth to connect.  In each edition, a young person who is making a difference in the community is profiled (for instance, graphic novelist Mitchell Poundmaker is featured in the May magazine).

Elodie Caron writes a column about Community. Last month, her segment focused on ebooks and readers such as Kindle, Kobo, and ibooks – great stuff !   There are video game reviews, book reviews, and music reviews.  All in all, it is a very comprehensive magazine.

Up to 5,000 copies of New Tribe are printed monthly.  According to the website, New Tribe has become a main source of information and entertainment for the entire Aboriginal community in Calgary and is not just restricted to youth.

This magazine is very well put together.  The online interface is slick and care is put into each edition.  The only concern I noticed was that the magazine has a strong entertainment element and sometimes that gives it a very commercialized and westernized vibe.  Some of the books and music reviewed have nothing to do with Indigneous culture (review of J-Lo’s latest album).  Perhaps, that is not such a bad thing.  After all, current Aboriginal culture does not operate within a vacume.  I am just concerned that the desire to entertain may make the publication less authentic than it aims to be.

‘We Want 2 b Heard’ Aboriginal Youth Perspectives on Homelessness (Video + Study)


This video is a simulation that dramatizes some of the perspectives and experiences of homeless and street involved Aboriginal Youth.

In 2006, the McCreary Centre Society surveyed 764 street involved youth in communities across British Columbia.  A remarkable 54% of the street youths surveyed were Aboriginal.

Interesting quotes from the video:

“Most kids on the street today see themselves in the future with a job.”

“Forty percent of street youths were either living in Foster Homes or Group Homes before they ended up on the streets.  One out of three of these youths are still attending school, even though they don’t have a home to stay in.”

“I don’t want to die here [on the streets] but probably will without help.”

Many of these youths are runaways.  Obtaining food and basic necessities is a daily struggle.  Some of the youth on the street are very young.  Youth reported an urgent need for affordable housing.  More than 1 in 4 reported a disability or debilitating health condition.  These youths urgently need job training (47% wanted this).

Some key findings from the full McCreary Centre report entitled: Aboriginal Marginalized and Street Involved Youth available here:

• A large number of the youth reported leaving home before entering their teen years. 40% of males and 47% of females had first run away at age 12 or younger, and one in three had been kicked out by age 12

• Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth (LGB) were highly over-represented, especially among female participants.

• 47% had gone hungry because they or their parents didn’t have money for food

• Violence was a significant issue for most of the youth. 63% reported having witnessed family violence, and almost 60% having been physically abused.

• 1 in 3 youth had been pregnant or had caused a pregnancy

Only 10% of the street youth interviewed reported having lived on a reserve.  A majority of the youths expressed agreement with the notion that living on a reserve would increase the connection they had Aboriginal culture.

There is so much in this report that is of use to educators.  The fact that kids such as the ones documented in the video are attending school and doing whatever they can to get by is both shocking and tragic.  These marginalized youth come from the most horrific of circumstances and their stories are a compelling reason for reform in social services, education, government policy, and simple everyday human compassion.

One Laptop Per Child Canada

The OLPC has come to Canada.  While touting itself as a highly successful and well-embraced initiative, this controversial pilot program is set to distribute up to 5,000 XO (next generation) laptops to children aged six to twelve in Aboriginal communities across Canada.  The funding comes from major corporate sponsors (Air Canada, Vale, BMO Financial), the Belinda Stronach Foundation, and the government of Ontario.

The slogan of OLPC programs around the world is “it’s not a laptop project, it’s an education project.”  Youth participating in this program will be accessing “culturally relevant” programming with their new netbooks.   The program mentions that Aboriginal youth are the “fastest growing population in Canada,” and have been underserviced through traditional education opportunities.   OLPC has 30 different programs and 8 of them are customized for Aboriginal youth:

  • Owl Vision (Literacy)
  • Swift Feet (Physical Fitness)
  • Healthy Heart (Food & Nutrition)
  • Ekominiville (Financial Literacy)
  • The Meeting Place (Mental Health, Substance Use & Well Being)
  • Calm Waters (Water Safety)
  • Future Generation (Virtual Library)
  • Drum Beats (Science of Sound)

The idea is that children will use the laptops and the culturally designed curriculum above to become more connected with the world, each-other, their culture, and traditions.  Ultimately, this will allow them to be more engaged learners and brighten the future for everyone.

Many of the schools participating in the pilot phase that is set to begin soon are rural schools and spread throughout Canada (13 schools in 7 provinces).   I think the aims of this project are laudable, and some of the books, tutorials, reading links presented in the curriculum are excellent (view here).

I am leery about this pilot because of the history of failure that has marked many 1:1 laptop programs.  The Kelowna school district ran into significant problems when it implemented a 1:1 laptop pilot.  OLPC Canada will have to address all of the concerns (tech support, finances, training) that have plagued past projects plus meet the challenges of being culturally sensitive…that is a tall order for anyone.

híwus First Nations Cultural Program at Grouse Mountain

híwus First Nations Cultural Program

I have taken three groups of students, including Aboriginal youths, to this Education program that is available at Grouse Mountain for a fee.  At the feasthouse (Longhouse) up at Grouse that has been built for this experience, students hear legends, learn some Squamish words, sing songs with Squamish sayings, and of course dance.  The highlight of the day for the students is watching their teachers dance in characters such as Killer Whales and Wolves.  There are videos of our staff doing these dances that make the Elaine dance on Seinfeld look downright respectable.

The elder, Kwel-a-a-nexw (goes by Eddy as I recall) does a great job of orienting students to the ways of the Squamish.  The experience feels authentic, but overly rehearsed. After having experienced it three times, I now know what to expect.  What’s interesting is the time spent recounting the history and practices of the Squamish and other First Nations tribes that occupied the West Coast.

The walk to the feasthouse is done on snowshoes in the winter and this adds to the excitement of students.  Unfortunately, the snowshoes are made of aluminum, so the snowshoeing experience is not exactly true to the original.

In the full day experience, Aboriginal cuisine is served and some craftwork is done.  My students have only visited for the one hour tour, as part of a trip to the mountain, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The website for this program contains tons of useful information and links to British Columbia Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s).

I am not sure what to make of this experience.  As you can see from the website, the program is exceptionally well organized and planned down to the finest detail.  I am just not sure if Aboriginal ancestors intended for Longhouse experiences to be so orchestrated.  For some, the site may be useful as evidence of the commodification of First Nations culture.

Urban Native Youth Association

Urban Native Youth Association 

UNYA is a non-profit society that operates out of 1618 East Hastings Street in Vancouver.  It is one of the few organizations dedicated to servicing urban aboriginal youth.

The organization was founded in 1988 when it became evident that many young Aboriginals were leaving reserves and setting out for life in the big city with few job skills, training, education, or insights as how to seek help.

Like other sources, this organization is quick to mention the rapidly growing impact of Aboriginal youth on Canadian demographics.  They state that “approximately 60% of the Native population lives in urban settings, and 60% of the overall Native population is under the age of 25.”

The challenges of youth who may be detached from their traditional language, spirituality, guidance, support structures, and practices is significant.  UNYA helps Aboriginal youth living in metro Vancouver to maintain some of these connections in a variety of ways and helps young people address some of the really harmful practices that teens can get themselves into.

Here are a few UNYA programs and initiiatives:

  • Cedar Walk – an alternative educational day program
  • Mentorship program to provide youth with positive social, educational, cultural, and recreation opportunities
  • Native Youth Learning Centre: life management skills, assisted computer applications, job search skills, and career development
  • Personal counseling (including wellness, mediation, and drug & alchohol intervention)
  • Residential programs for at-risk youth (Safehouse, Ravens Lodge, Young Bears Lodge, Young Wolves Lodge)
  • Recreation programs (canoeing, reading tepee, Sun Run etc…)
  • Fundraising to build a state0-of-the-art Native Youth Centre in East Vancouver
  • K’wam K’wum Q’ulumuy’ (Strong Young Women) – a 10 minute educational anti-violence video made by 5 young women in cooperation with UNYA.
  • Cree language instruction is available  (partnership with UBC)

As we all know, Native youth are over-represented in areas such as school dropout, incarceration, and suicide.  UNYA is helping to curb these devastating trends and provide positive options for Urban Native youth who otherwise may have nowhere to turn.