In March and June, Treaty 4 News profiled people who are making their mark in the world in the feature, “Ones to Watch”. Our latest installment showcases more First Nations role models who are giving it all they’ve got to pursue their dreams and achieve their goals in life. If somebody you know belongs on this list, let us know!

 

Danette Starblanket

OTW 3 Dannette StarblanketDanette Starblanket has some theories about why Idle No More created so many problems for the Federal Government in December of 2012.

The University of Saskatchewan doctoral student will set out to prove her theories when she conducts research for her PhD.

She says Idle No More confused the Harper government when four women, in response to the omnibus bills C-38 and C-45, founded the grassroots movement.

“Prime Minister Harper wasn’t sure where to go to find out what it was he could do to quell the movement of Idle No More,” says Starblanket. “He didn’t know what Chiefs to go to, he wasn’t able to get the answers from elected officials.”

Starblanket will spend the next two years interviewing government officials, First Nation grassroots people and the founders of Idle No More.

“It was very new type of movement. It was a collaborative effort from communities and people that had just had enough.”

Starblanket was awarded a $20,000 scholarship from the Province of Saskatchewan to assist in her research.

 

Thomas Benjoe

OTW 3 Thomas BenjoeThomas Benjoe is making his mark in the banking world as the Commercial Account Manager, Aboriginal Banking Specialist with RBC.

Benjoe, a member of Muscowpetung First Nation, works with First Nation and Metis governments, their development corporations, non-profits and friendship centres throughout the province.

“It’s a very rewarding job. I’ve always wanted to make a difference and help communities. I wasn’t exactly sure what that would be, but I also wanted to get some experience in the corporate world and match that in with our communities as well,” he said.

He’s also helped the bank with recruitment and retention strategies, and with an internal group that supports aboriginal employees. He does cultural teaching for bank employees, and includes his wife and two children.

“I brought my family out to teach about powwow. My family is very dedicated to powwow,” he said.

Benjoe is also on the board of directors for FHQ developments, providing financial and banking advice.

He has a career path plan with RBC, and his future is looking bright. His advice to others wanting to join the corporate world is to network.

“I encourage others to network as much as possible. Then you’ll get a better understanding of what you may like or not like,” he said.

 

Connie Walker

OTW 3 Connie Walker copyThe first time Connie Walker was interested in journalism was in 1996, during the trial of two men accused of killing Pamela George, a First Nation woman, in April 1995.

“I was in high school,” said Walker, who is from Okanese First Nation. “I remember reading about it in the paper and just being so upset by it. I wrote an editorial for our high school newsletter. that was the first time that I thought about a career in journalism.”

Walker took the Indian Communication Arts (INCA) program at the now First Nations University of Canada, and in 2000, began work with CBC in Halifax as in intern. After that, she moved to Toronto, and has been there for 14 years.

Walker is part of the CBC Aboriginal unit, and has worked on the 8th Fire documentary series and a series on missing and murdered Indigenous women. “CBC has invested so many resources on making this a priority for our public broadcaster. These are important stories that need to be told.”

She encourages others to consider journalism as a career.

“I feel we need more Indigenous voices in the media. I think this is an exciting time to be an Aboriginal journalist in Canada.

 

Fabian Louison

OTW 3 Fabian 3Fabian Louison has found success in billiards, playing 8-ball, 9-ball and snooker.

“I like playing them all. Anything with a pool cue, I’ll try,” he said.

He’s played in the World Snooker Championships in Bulgaria in 2012, Canadian Championships, and tournaments in the U.S.  In May 2015, he won the International 8-ball, 9-ball Championship in Las Vegas.

He began playing competitively in 2000, and usually travels to tournaments with his best friend, Brad Poorman. On the road, they love to play pranks on each other. It’s that spirit of fun and camaraderie that has helped him win.

“No matter what you do, whether you’re playing billiards, golf, anything, have fun. Laugh. Joke. If you’re being too serious, you’re uptight, you make mistakes,” said Louison, a member of Kahkewistahaw First Nation.

He’ll be playing in a tournament this fall in Montana, and tournaments in Canada as they come up. Like all sports, he wins some, and loses some, but he also knows that winning isn’t everything.

“It’s not only the winning, it’s the recognition. The money is always going to be there, win or lose, but when you have a reputation of being one of the best, I think it takes you a little further,” he said.

 

Josh Montana

Josh Montana 3Josh Montana has his sights set on a career in pro ball, either major or minor leagues, but his dream is to play for a team in the major league.

“Either New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays,” he said.

Sixteen-year-old Montana, a member of George Gordon First Nation, is already catching the attention of coaches and scouts. He’s played on several championship teams, and currently plays with the NB Petro Hawks, a Sr A Men’s Fastball team. In August, the team was in South Bend Indiana for the ISC World Fastball Championships.

“Overall, it was a good learning experience for me and I just got good exposure out there playing with the best in the world. Being my age on the field, there’s definitely things to learn from people older than me that have more knowledge,” he said.

Then he went to Fredericton, New Brunswick, for the Junior Men’s National Team camp, a team that is made up of the top 24 players in Canada.

Montana is going into his senior year in high school, then plans to go to college in the U.S. For now, he’s staying focused, humble, and appreciative of what he’s been able to do.

“It’s been unreal. It’s been a pleasure to be this young and travel all over for the sport I love. I just like to work hard and stay humble and stay focused, and stay on the straight and narrow path.”

 

Megan and Rebecca Gurski 

OTW 3 Gurski sistersSisters Megan and Rebecca Gurski, members of Yellow Quill First Nation, have been playing softball ever since they were young children.

“Me and my sister were always playing softball all year round. We’d be in the gym in the winter, and when spring and summer came around, we’d be playing. It was always something we enjoyed,” said Rebecca.

Both play on the Saskatoon Tigers team, have excelled in the sport, and have had their own memorable achievements this year.

Last December, Megan went to Florida for the PanAm Games tryouts. She got the call in January that she was picked for Team Canada.

“I was really excited and happy, and couldn’t wait to play,” said Megan, who played infield and pitcher.

The team came together in June, practiced, played a few tournaments, and went to Toronto for the Pan Am Games, July 19 – 26.  Team Canada made it to the Grand Final Game and won gold over their competitor, Team USA, by 4-2.

For Megan, being on the podium to receive a gold medal was an unforgettable moment. “It was awesome, the crowd was cheering. it was just an incredible experience.”

Rebecca cheered on her older sister, but was also busy celebrating her own victory.  Rebecca plays catcher with the Saskatoon Tigers. The team won their first title in the Senior Women’s C provincial softball championship this year.

“It was a lot of fun. We had a great group of girls. All the teams that we played gave us a hard time so it was always a challenge,” Rebecca said.

The Gurski sisters are staying humble about what’s next for them.

“Just keep trying out, working hard and hopefully I can keep doing what I do. Right now, I’m working for the National Team,” Megan said.

Rebecca is now focusing on school and her education. “I want to start working and figuring out life, but softball is definitely somewhere a part of that,” she said.

 

Drezus Music

DrezusJeremiah Manitopyes began writing poetry at age eight, and by age 12, discovered he could put his words to a beat. He started performing at age 17, and did his first performance in Alberta in 2001.

Manitopyes is from Muscowekwan First Nation, and lives in Calgary.

His first band, Team Rez Official, was nominated for a Juno in 2009. In 2013, he released his first solo album as Drezus Music, titled Red Winter, and picked up the award for Best Hip Hop cd at the Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards.

He second solo CD, Indian Summer, released in October 2014, is up for four awards at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards: Indigenous Entertainer of the Year, Best Hip Hop cd, Best Producer, and Best Music Video for War Path.

“One of my goals is to win a Juno,” he said. “I really want to win in the Hip Hop category. It’s been a big goal of mine.”

He will be promoting the album, and fans can find out where to see him live by following Drezus Music on Facebook, @drezus on Twitter, Drezus Music on instagram or by checking bandintown.com

The 2015 Indigenous Music Awards take place in September, and Treaty 4 News will be there! Watch our Facebook page and Twitter feed for coverage at the awards.

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