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JB the First Lady sits on her favourite bench in front of one of eight Indigenous housing projects in East Vancouver.

Whose first contact was it anyways?

Reporter Wawmeesh Hamilton's take on the recent APTN series First Contact.

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If you want to inform yourself about Indigenous people, communities and issues that impact them, then you’ve got to get to know them.

That was the gist of the recent APTN reality series First Contact. The series brought six settler-Canadians with strong opinions about Indigenous people to five different Indigenous communities where they saw and experienced life in an Indigenous world. The experiences profoundly affected some and changed their views. Others however remained fixed in their racist opinions.

There’s been some conversation about the show in our Urban Nation Facebook group. Vicki George said, “I’m not against this delivery of historical facts and information being shown and accessible to settlers on TV.” Kathy Walker said she had mixed feelings. “The good I see from this show is seeing people transform and grow through relating with Indigenous people. The bad I see is that this show puts the responsibility and work on Indigenous people to ‘prove’ to these others that we deserve respect.”

It also doesn’t ask Indigenous people what they thought of the settlers after mingling with them. Learning goes both ways, after all. I also would have liked to see the series spend more time in urban Indigenous communities, since the majority of us live off reserve. 

Alternatively, I’d love to see a series that shows an Indigenous person from a remote First Nation moving to the city and being around settlers for the first time. I think Lower Mainland Indigenous people would have a lot to say about that. What ideas do you have for ways to explore anti-Indigenous racism through the media?

What you love

Hip-hop artist and cultural dancer JB the First Lady (aka Jerilynn Webster) loves that there are eight Indigenous housing projects in her home of East Vancouver, making Indigenous people highly visible and never alone.

After performing at Indigenous Day in Surrey, she sees the same trend developing there, she says.

“There was more people at Surrey and that’s exciting to see how big the community is and how many of our children and our young families are celebrating who they are and their identity.”

Jerilynn, whose roots are in the Nuxalk and Onondaga First Nations, says when she visits the Musqueam, Tsleil-waututh or Squamish reserves around the Lower Mainland, there’s a familiarity.

“You can go on the reserve and it just feels like your own reserve. As soon as you step onto the street or you see the same similar type of housing,” she says. ”That’s so cool to see.”

People are talking about

  • In this podcast, University of Sudbury assistant professor of Indigenous studies Brock Pitawanakwat, and UBC journalism professor Candis Callison share a nuanced take on APTN’s First Contact.
  • In part two of a Tyee series, reporter Carlos Oen documents how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for Indigenous languages to be saved, but this didn’t include Indigenous sign language.
  • Teara Fraser opened Canada’s first Indigenous woman-owned airline on Friday, Sept. 21.
  • A non-Indigenous high school student in Port Moody who learned about residential schools is helping bring Orange Shirt Day to her school.

Culture connections

Jerome Turner stands in front of a mural outside of the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre.

An Indigenous person can move away from their First Nation and culture, but their cultural identity remains with them, no matter where they live.

Gitxsan citizen Jerome Turner has lived in the Lower Mainland for more than 10 years, and he still identifies strongly with his home nation and culture.

“I identify with being First Nation’s from Gitanmaax. I carry that everywhere I go and being urban Indigenous is part of that,” Jerome says. “It’s definitely a smaller part of me than the way I was raised by my hereditary-chief grandparents.”

Jerome, 41, is married and lives in Port Moody with his wife and children. He works in the film business in the locations department. While he doesn’t go out of the way to show who he is, he does explain it to those who ask.

“I’m Gitxsan and I feel, I don’t know if everybody feels this way about being Indigenous, but that everything I do is Gitxsan,” he says “It doesn’t matter, like when I’m working in the film industry I’m doing it as a Gitxsan person and within those Gitxsan values. I try to take that to everything that I do.”

Living far away from family and day-to-day Gitxsan life can be difficult, Jerome says. He often wonders how other Indigenous people retain their cultures in the urban setting.

“That’s one thing that keeps them Indigenous is keeping alive in their culture. How do they do that here?”

Let’s gather

  • Sept. 26: (and every Wednesday from 6-10pm) the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Vancouver hosts  West Coast Family Night. This week there will be a potluck and the organizers say everyone is welcome bring a song, dance or a story to share.
  • Sept. 26:  Writer/director/performer Kim Senklip Harvey’s “high-energy Indigenous matriarchal” ceremony, Kamloopa, opens at the Cultch to give voice to and “illuminate the power of Indigenous women.”
  • Sept. 30: Mural Kick-off Party at York Theatre from 5-7 p.m. The mural depicts faces in the community, including First Nations, and JB The First Lady will be performing at the kick-off party. No need to RSVP — just show up!

If you know about an event that you think should be included in this newsletter next week, send us an email.

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