The Athlete and Activist: Tracie Leost Amplifies Voices

by: Raven Nesbitt

The stereotypical athlete is usually seen as a jock, obsessed with sports culture with no regards to any other subject, often referred to as “musclehead” or “musclebrain” or even “meathead.” So you don’t usually envision an athlete encompassing both their running shoes and their voice as a way to raise awareness for an important cause.

However, this is the narrative that should be accepted because athleticism and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive. Athletes are allowed to be more than their label and they can use their athletic prowess as a platform for advancement. Advancement for the minority and the underrepresented.

Tracie Léost is a twenty-one year old Metis woman who encompassed both. Léost is a three time track and field medalist, retired hockey player, and indigenous youth coach who uses her athletic gifts as a means of advocating for missing and murdered indigenous women. Since she was seventeen, she has orchestrated numerous events to raise awareness around this tragedy. From donating hair as a way of supporting women suffering with hair loss to creating a mental health club at school, Léost is no stranger to activism!

Tracie Leost posing for her Indspire Interview in 2018.

Leost became interested in social activism after taking an indigenous studies class in 2015. Her teacher assigned the class to research a missing or murdered indigenous woman and to tell their story. She learned that over 4,000 indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered each year since 1980. Léost realizes how this issue has yet to be prioritized by citizens of Canada and the Canadian government. She explains, “People normalized the fact that there were thousands of indigenous women missing and they would just eat their dinner and just listen to it” (Léost, “Manitoba Teen”). Léost recognizes the severity of the issue and people’s inability to do anything. She expresses concern because these women are more than a statistic, these women are mothers, sisters, wives. These women are people and their lives matter just as much as anyone else’s.

Léost realized how each report of a missing or murdered indigenous women was ignored because it lacked the platform to bring attention to the matter. She understood that Indigenous people aren’t voiceless, they just don’t have the means to get heard, meaning that we confuse not being heard with not having anything to say. She recognizes that indigenous youth doesn’t need someone to be a voice for them, they need people to listen, learn, and amplify their voices. So, while the voices of indigenous people are pushed down and left out, Tracie Léost has grown restless and fought back. Tracie Léost made a seat at the table. She forced conversation and amplified their voices as she called attention to this pressing issue.

Tracie Leost running during her marathon. (Manitoba Teen).

Tracie Leost was intent on bringing awareness to this issue, so she planned a four day 115 km run from Oak Point to Winnipeg. She was determined to help her people and protect their culture as much as she could, because it was important to her. She ran through her running shoes until the blisters on her feet got so bad that she had to run in her Moccasins, but it didn’t stop her because the blisters didn’t equate to the pain and suffering of the indigenous women. The same way Léost didn’t let her blisters discourage her from finishing the marathon is the same way she didn’t let her age stop her from leading a movement.

“I wanted to create change and show other indigenous youth that anything was possible” (Indspire, “Tracie Leost”).

Léost raised over $6,000 for the Families First Foundation and amassed worldwide attention. A year later, the Canadian government launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Léost represents those forgotten by the rest of the world, and to many she represents hope because she represents those who’s voices have been ignored.

Since her marathon, Léost has appeared in the music video for Cass McComb’s Run, Sister, Run and spoke on Parliament Hill for Canada Day which ultimately led to her receiving the Indspire award in 2018 which, according to Tess Thomas’s article that highlights Leost’s achievements states that this award is “the highest honour bestowed on indigenous youth” (Thomas, “Métis teen activist”).

Tracie Léost is now in her second year at the University of Regina and studies Indigenous Social Work to continue to advocate for her community. At college, Léost continues her work as she continues with smaller projects to support misrepresented groups like collecting hygiene products for women’s shelters during the holiday seasons. When she’s not acting as a full-time student or a dedicated activist, Léost is able to relieve stress and coach little league hockey, specifically a majority of them being Indigenous youth. She uses her position as coach to encourage indigenous youth to follow their dreams because she realizes indigenous youth, as a whole, are not being represented in the rink.

Tracie Leost geared up and ready to get on the rink.

As Léost interviews for Hockey in Society, she explains why she began coaching indigenous youth. She explains, “Being a successful athlete is only another barrier for Indigenous people in Canada — a barrier we must break” (Léost, “An Interview with Tracie Léost”). In making this statement, Léost recognizes the lack of representation of indigenous people in the hockey rink. She encourages Indigenous youth to push past society’s preconceived notions and break through their glass ceiling. However this call to action was not geared just towards First Nations, but also as a calling towards communities and businesses to make sports like hockey more accessible to indigenous youth. When these Indigenous groups live in isolated communities, they lack the resources necessary and settle with using insufficient equipment which, ultimately, hinder the youth. So, as a hockey coach she has found another way to support one of the communities because she understands the necessity in serving the underrepresented.

Tracie Léost is more than an obtuse stereotype of what an athlete is supposed to be as she excels in multiple activities. In such a sports-based world where athletes receive more attention than crisis, it is necessary for these stars to use their platform to advocate for those whose voices have been neglected. Léost has used her athletic gifts for more than just sports, she has created a platform— so when she speaks, people listen. Léost could not afford to be silent in the face of injustice. We can not afford to be silent in a world of unfairness and inequality.


Indspire. “Tracie Léost.” Indspire, 2018, Accessed 9 September 2019.

Szto, Courtney. “An Interview with Tracie Leost: Player, Coach, Activist.” Hockey in Society, 23 August 2018, Accessed 9 September 2019.

Thomas, Tess. “Métis Teen Activist and Athlete Speaks out for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.” Medium, Malala Fund – Archive, 14 February 2018,étis-teen-activist-and-athlete-speaks-out-for-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-7c34b7eaab55. Accessed 15 September 2019.

“Manitoba Teen Completes 115-Km Run for Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 22 Aug. 2015, Accessed 15 September 2019.

“Tracie Leost – Inspiring Awareness.” Youtube. Uploaded by Indspire, 21 November 2018, Accessed 23 September 2019.

@tracieleost.”Instead of receiving Christmas gifts this year I’m collecting hygiene products for those in need. If anyone is willing to donate please let me know!!” Twitter, 27 November 2017, 7:42 p.m., Accessed 15 September 2019.

Removed and Restored: Kinsale Hueston Calls to Remember One’s Identity

Alexandra Martinez

Imagine being taken away from everything that you hold dear. Your songs, your language, your clothes, your culture all being stripped away from you. Then, it ends but the pain is still there. Everyone believes that enough has been done to repay the ones affected. In reality, these people still live in desolation with their identity robbed. The Native American community has faced these challenges and seem to “carry on” with life. For Kinsale Hueston, this is far from the truth because she knows that Native Americans are still facing injustices to this day. She knows how identity is the main question that yearns to be answered by all Indigenous People affected by their loss of culture throughout their history. 

19-year-old Kinsale Hueston shocked the world with her powerful, revolutionary poetry. In 2017, she was named the 2017 National Student Poet by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and was featured in a Times article, “People Changing How We See the World.” Her poetry is her voice and it acts as a form that “empowers my[Hueston’s] activism”(Hueston). Her art tackles the social injustices facing the Native American community by expressing her beliefs over the violence and sexist attitudes facing Indigenous women and the forced assimilation of Native American culture to white culture (Times). 

Kinsale Hueston posing for the Time’s article, “How Artists of All Ages Keep Their Creative Spirit Alive” (Photo from Times article)

Hueston, a member of the Navajo Nation, began her journey as a poet at a young age. She entered many competitions showcasing her work and was soon recognized by the media on Times. She went to Yale University to seek out what she gains from her writing. In her interview with Vincent Schilling, Hueston explains the different meanings behind her poetry based on the struggles of the Native American population and how “there’s also so much historical trauma with assimilation, and forced assimilation, and forcing Natives to move to cities”(Indian Country Today Schilling). This observation evolves from Hueston’s involvement with speaking out against forced assimilation and how the land she lives on was taken forcefully from Indigenous people. She talks to the Indigenous peoples who have lost their identity from this forced assimilation and how her poetry reaches out to encourage them to seek their roots. 

She uses her poetry to talk about loss of identity in her own family. In her poem “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” Hueston compares her great grandparent’s stories of going to Native American boarding schools with her grandparent’s own stories. She explains how her great grandparents confronted this assimilation and were “branded like animals”(Hueston). This comparison is powerful because Hueston uses this language to show how her grandparents were treated horribly and losing their identity through the branding. On the other hand, her grandparents “didn’t speak a word of English” and (to her imagination) “were laughing because they outlived their torturers and bathed in culture like yucca froth”(Hueston). Interestingly, Hueston shows how her great grandparents lived through forced assimilation and let their culture seem like it was being taken away from them with a single line of numbers etched on their skin. Whereas, with her grandparents, she paints a lively picture of a wedding where they are laughing and spreading their happiness since they have forgotten about the efforts of the forced assimilation and continue practicing their own culture. She likens her grandparents to yucca, which is a symbol for their land and rich culture that remains unaffected and spreads throughout the land. 

This poem’s title is ingeniously named after Captain Richard Pratt’s common saying “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” which translates to his agenda of forcing Native Americans to assimilate to white culture by going to Native American boarding schools. Hueston is juxtaposing her families’ point of view in these boarding schools to Pratt’s own ignorant belief that assimilation is key to having humanity. She is trying to show how their culture continues to live on even through this massacre of Native American beliefs. Before her poem begins, Hueston dedicates her words to the “60,000 children oppressed, abused, or killed in the Native American boarding schools.” She is trying to reach out to the people affected by the torments of forced assimilation and to the people who are ignorant of this piece in history. This dedication is important because she addresses the audience and the gravity of forced assimilation in the lives of Indigenous peoples. As her form of activism, she wants to educate and inform the masses that do not know about the use of Native American boarding schools to constrain Native American youth into losing their identity (Kinsale Hueston). 

Kinsale Hueston describes her journey as a poet (video provided by Alliance for Young Artists and Writers through Vimeo)

Her words and the structure of her poems allow Hueston to show what she stands up for and how she is willing to do it. Her poems have common themes of finding one’s identity, injustices facing Indigenous people, and violence/sexism against women. In another poem, “Monument Valleys, or Our Bodies” Hueston emphasizes the importance of women in society and how their bodies reflect the earth. But, this poem also reflects a darker note in today’s society. Hueston talks about the sexualization of women and how they take “no white man’s will, no pill dropped and drowned in plastic party cups”(Hueston). Hueston is alluding to the fact that Native American women are constantly sexualized and seen as objects in our society. This problem usually goes unnoticed and unbothered so Hueston is exposing this ongoing injustice that still persecutes Indigenous people.  In the article from Indian Country Today, Kinsale Hueston explains her journey as a poet through her experiences at the Aspen Idea Festival, Indigenous Peoples Day event, and the Native American Cultural Center. Hueston describes her time as a National Student Poet as a discovery to what being a poet could mean for herself and other Native American youth (Indian Country Today). Her work inspired others to look at these controversial topics since she was an avid member of her community.

Kinsale Hueston at a protest on Indigenous Peoples Day (Photo by Instagram user @Kinsalehues)

Kinsale Hueston has made essential strides in educating others about the issues that still plague Indigenous people. Not only has she expressed her opinions through her poetry but through her social media platforms and by attending different protests that demand Native Americans their rightful justice. At the Indigenous Peoples Day protest, Hueston confidently holds up her sign, “People over Pipelines.” This sign alludes to the ongoing conflict between the US government and Indigenous peoples where pipelines are being built on Native American reservations. Indigneous peoples are being ignored while their land is violated so it is significant to see Hueston’s participation as an activist at protests. Hueston does not shy away from exposing the truth for she always stands to represent all Indigenous Peoples. Her poetry is a beacon to those who need to find their way back to their lost culture and family. 

 “Woman, this land is mine: a declaration of reclamation as still, as woman, I rise”

(Hueston “Monument Valleys, or Our Bodies”).


Bajekal, Naina. “How 9 Artists Keep Their Creativity Alive.” Time, Time, 7 Feb. 2019,

Hueston, Kinsale. “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Kinsale Hueston Portfolio, 2018,

Hueston, Kinsale. “Kinsale Hueston.” Kinsale Hueston,

Hueston, Kinsale. “Monument Valleys, or Our Bodies.” Kinsale Hueston Portfolio, 2018,

Hueston, Kinsale. Vimeo, Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, 24 Sept. 2019,

Schilling, Vincent. “Kinsale Hueston, Navajo, One of TIME Magazine’s ‘People Changing How We See the World’.”, Indian Country Today, 8 March 2019,



Recognition and Reconciliation: How Riley Yesno is Fighting for All Indigenous People

Victoria Kelly

When other countries talk about Canada, they typically talk about it with a sense of admiration. They see Canada as everything they want to be and more – the kindness of its people, its universal healthcare, and its forward thinking. 

But Canadian Aboriginals experience a very different Canada from the one we see in its reputation. Indigenous Canadians experience poor living conditions, higher rates of murder and sexual assault, and a government that insists they cannot change. They live through the effects of authoritative powers who think, despite their non-Indigenous status, that they have the ability to decide whether or not reconciliation has been achieved. 

The Canadian government believes the small steps it has taken towards reconciliation are enough to erase the past of suffering that Canadian Aboriginals were forced to endure, and the current issues they still face. 

The fact of the matter is, the Canadian government will never be able to erase the past, and their efforts have hardly begun to delve into the reconciliation that Indigenous Peoples deserve. Riley Yesno, a 19-year-old member of the Eabametoong First Nation, is fighting for the reconciliation that Indigenous Peoples have been calling for for years. She is also working to boost underrepresented Indigenous voices through her work in journalism to bring more awareness to their unique perspectives. 

Yesno advocates that, in order for true reconciliation to occur, the Canadian government needs to start anew. She also argues that apologies do very little good if the country is not willing to put effort into reformation on behalf of Indigenous people. 

“Instead of trying to make room for them in colonial systems and institutions that were never meant for Indigenous people to exist within, we need to find the willingness to tear it all down and reimagine what a nation that respects truth might look like—and then build that nation.” (“Before”)

Canada has made land acknowledgments and given Indigenous people more spots in Parliament, but this does not make up for the reality that treaty rights are repeatedly violated and that many Canadians do not believe that Indigenous communities should have power over their own affairs (“Before”). Yesno addresses the Canadian government in her article “Before reconciliation is possible, Canadians must admit the truth”, pushing the point that true reconciliation with Indigenous people is not possible without the reconstruction of the government to respect the fact that Indigenous people built the foundation of Canada. Her tone conveys the fact that she is hopeful that reform will occur, though she is truthful in saying that, “We are nowhere near the year of reconciliation; we likely won’t even see that utopian year in our lifetimes” (“Before”). 

Yesno’s expectation that she will not get to experience reconciliation for Indigenous Canadians reflects the attitude of the Canadian government towards the topic. She does not argue that they are an inherently “bad” country, but rather that they need to work harder to uphold the values they boast and that are reflected in the reputation of the country. Yesno hears words such as “tolerance, diversity, progressive, multicultural, and nice” (Yesno qtd. in “Why”) used to describe Canada and its people. Meanwhile, the Canadian government works to placate Canadian Aboriginals instead of working to create a culture and society in which they are prioritized in the same manner as other groups. Until the government changes the ways in which they think of reconciliation, Yesno believes that the use of such words to describe Canada minimizes the struggles Indigenous People face every day. She says, “To call it [Canada] good is an erasure of all the people who suffer within the same borders every day” (Yesno qtd. in “Why”).

Reconciliation, in Yesno’s eyes, conveys the expectation that change will occur. While the Canadian government has made steps to honor reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, it has done very little in working to teach Indigenous history in schools or decreasing food insecurity in Native communities. There are a number of ways Canada could continue to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous people; the issue Yesno has identified is that the Canadian government is blind to the need for continuation. 

Riley Yesno’s Ted Talk – It’s Time to Re-imagine Canada’s “Nice” Identity

(University of Toronto – March 2019)

In her Ted Talk on the reputation of Canada and how it is inaccurate from the point of view of a First Nations woman and from the perspective of many Canadian Aboriginals, Yesno addresses the fact that Native communities are harshly underprivileged. She recounts memories of growing up in a mold infested home and brushing her teeth with boiled water due to contaminated water sources being the only water sources Indigenous communities were offered. Yesno’s ardent tone implores her audience of non-Indigenous Canadians, and non-Indigenous people in general, to entertain the idea that the ‘nice’ Canada “has never been the Canada for all” (Yesno qtd. in “It’s Time”). Many non-Indigenous people have expressed that they believe that Yesno focuses on only the negative about Canada. With determination in her eyes and an unwavering voice, she counters that living in Canada as an Indigenous woman is not a pleasant experience, recounting details such as the wage gap between Indigenous women and white men and the disparity between Indigenous women in Canada’s population and the amount of murdered or missing women they make up.  

Yesno also touches on what non-Indigenous people can do as allies. She describes an experience after a speech she gave in Stockholm, Sweden during which a Pakistani woman came up to her and asked what she could do to help. In response to this memory, Yesno says that being an ally to Indigenous people is not about speaking out. It is about “listening to the marginalized people that you seek to ally yourself with and taking whatever they say to heart” (Yesno qtd. in “Why”). Alliance with Indigenous people is about stepping back and hearing what they have to say, not interjecting the perspectives of non-Indigenous people into their struggles.

Yesno on the Prime Minister’s Youth Council (photo of “Riley Yesno” (right) from Twitter user @neha_rah)

Riley Yesno also served on Prime Minister Trudeau’s Youth Council, where she advised the Prime Minister and others, from 2017 to 2019. While she had previously experienced discrimination from others in the First Nation, feeling as though her voice and perspective were not supposed to be heard due to the fact that she is white passing, this experience allowed her to embrace her identity and become an advocate for Indigenous people. 

In an article published by CBC News on Yesno’s journey, Yesno says, “I also realized there was probably a lot of people like me who don’t feel like they fit in for one reason or another, or they don’t feel like they fit into this sense of cultural identity, or that their voice doesn’t matter. That’s when I realized that voice needs representation, and I would love to be that voice of representation for that group of people” (Yesno qtd. in “How”). Yesno realizes that the issue of cultural dissociation extends beyond herself into a large group of people who struggle to identify as Indigenous due to their outward appearance. Members of this group are often outcasted due to the fact that they do not face some of the blatant forces of discrimination that “Indigenous-looking” people do. However, this in itself is an act of discrimination coming from inside Indigenous communities, and Yesno is working to put an end to it while also seeking reconciliation for all Canadian Aboriginals. 

Reconciliation is, in Yesno’s eyes, dealt with by Indigenous people every single day; because of this, she says that reconciliation is to be carried out by non-Indigenous people. Indigenous people have done more than their part. However, while she addresses her audience of non-Indigenous people in an interview with Haley Lewis of TVO, with an assertive tone in an effort to hold them accountable, she also realizes that there are some issues on which she shares their apprehensions. Yesno says, “They [non-Indigenous Canadians] couldn’t even articulate what real, meaningful reconciliation is. I don’t know that I could, either” (Yesno qtd. in “Why”). She recognizes that reconciliation is a hard thing to define, and that it may not have the same definition for every Indigenous person. However, a common theme in the many different definitions of reconciliation is change – whether it be in the way the government is run or in the way Canada is seen by outside eyes. 

Despite her personal difficulties defining reconciliation, Yesno acknowledges that every day she reconciles that she is “everything Indian Residential Schools dreamed she would be” (Yesno qtd. in “Why”). She must come to terms with the fact that she is far closer to the world of non-Indigenous Canadians than she is to the First Nations community. Similarly, each Indigenous person must reconcile their own burdens every day.  

“We cannot feel guilty for past actions or past wrongs. All we can do is feel responsible for correcting them and making sure that they don’t happen again” (Yesno qtd. in “It’s Time”). 

Riley Yesno is a strong figure in the fight for reconciliation for the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. She is a representative for those who feel as though their voice is lost in the crowd, and she works to ensure that they know that it is not. Yesno stands for reconciliation that leads to change, and nothing less. 

Works Cited

Yesno, Riley. “Before Reconciliation Is Possible, Canadians Must Admit the Truth.”, 14 Dec. 2018, Accessed 23 September, 2019


“How Riley Yesno Gained the Courage to Speak up for Indigenous Rights | CBC Radio.” CBC news, CBC/Radio Canada, 18 Aug. 2017, Accessed 23 September, 2019


“It’s Time to Re-Imagine Canada’s ‘Nice’ Identity: Riley Yesno: TEDxUofT.” YouTube, 13 May 2019, Accessed 23 September, 2019


Lewis, Haley. “Why This 19-Year-Old Student Wants You to Think Critically about Canadian Identity.”, 26 Feb. 2019, Accessed 23 September, 2019

Tunchai Redvers: A Social Justice Warrior

Tunchai Redvers: A Social Justice Warrior

Rebecca Raphaelson

          Can you describe yourself in just 150 characters? This is all that is allowed for an Instagram bio to show your followers who you are and why they should follow you. Tunchai Redvers describes herself as a “social justice warrior”; these three words perfectly encapsulate her spirit and meaning. Most people would associate the word warrior with violence and aggression, but Redvers flips the idea of this concept and makes it peaceful. She uses the notion of warrior-hood as a medium for spreading positivity, hope, and self-love.

          Tunchai Redvers is a modern and inspiring 25-year-old activist for Indigenous communities. In her bio, she also tells followers her Indigenous affiliation is Dene and Métis, and she identifies as queer/two-spirit (@denewanderer Instagram). Redvers is constantly taking action to empower Indigenous youth and give them hope, which is important because everyone should feel valuable and confident.

          Tunchai grew up in the Treaty Eight Northwest Territories in Canada. She belongs to Deninu K’ue First Nation. Tunchai and her brother, Kelvin Redvers have risen to become leaders pushing for change for Indigenous citizens. Tunchai earned her degree at the University of Guelph, and she has had massive success since then. She has earned the title of one of the Top Ten Drivers for Change in Canada by MTV and We Day. She also received the Lawson Foundation’s Emerging Leaders Award, and all before she turned twenty- three (We Matter).

Tunchai Redvers with her new book, “Fireweed” (@denewanderer Instagram)

          Tunchai released a book of short poems and prose titled Fireweedthat released over the summer of 2019. Fireweed is a pink-purple colored plant that spreads rapidly in areas that have a lot of wildfires. Redvers explains that fireweed growing is a signal for other plants to start to grow. This natural observance of fireweed parallels with Redvers’ interpretation of fireweed being “the healing cycle of the natural world” (Cohen). Additionally, fireweed can represent Redvers because just like her, fireweed is native to the Northwest of Canada.  

          Redvers uses the hashtag #Indigenouslit on her Instagram posts to describe the type of writing in her book. She writes to inspire all young women, but most specifically women who are Indigenous. She continues to be a social justice warrior even in her writing, where all her topics are geared to making positive impacts on her readers’ lives. This book is a form of self- expression that Redvers uses to project her ideas about healing, hope, and empowerment. She expresses herself throughcaptivating poems that are pieces of art. The short poem pictured below can be found in the Fireweed book, and it is a great representation of just one of Redvers’ several inspiring messages. 

A poem by Tunchai Redvers from the Fireweed book (photo from the @Kegedoncepress Instagram) 

          It can clearly be seen that Redvers uses literary devices to enhance her writing by comparing herself to stars. This displays the motif of natural world elements being used throughout the collection of poems, just like the title of the book demonstrates. While it may be interpreted many ways, Redvers conveys the idea that life is not hopeless.Even if you feel “broken”, helpless, or down, there will always be someone or something that can bring you back up and heal you. The “thousand dimming stars” represents the darkness and hurt that one may feel inside, while the moonlight is representing the light and positivity. The moonlight will help them out of their dark situation and bring them into a better and brighter place. The poem sends the message that past experiences that may have been negative do not have to define their life forever. Redvers fights to spread hope among as many people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as she can possibly reach.

Redvers with her We Matter merchandise hope hat. (@denewanderer Instagram)

          Hope is a huge factor in another one of her actions to be a warrior for Indigenous communities. The organization We Matter is a suicide prevention platform to inform and support Indigenous youth who feel like their lives aren’t important. People in similar situations send in videos of inspiration, and they can also post other media forms like artwork and writing. People everywhere are encouraged to sign up and take the hope pact on the We Matter website. This pact is a form of unity, and its goal is to remind youth that everyone goes through rough times, and they are not alone in their struggles (Ponciano).

         In a YouTube video posted to the We Matter Campaign site, Tunchai tells her own story and gives words of advice. She says, “I was eleven years old when I started having suicidal thoughts. And for many years, I had suicidal thoughts. I was bullied really badly, I’ve been in abusive relationships, I’ve been emotionally and verbally abused, I’ve experienced trauma. I have trauma in my family. I have addiction in my family. When I was fifteen, I took a lot of pills and ended up in the hospital… In taking those pills I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to stop hurting” (YouTube).  She goes on to say that all she needed to do was reach out to someone about how she was feeling, which could persuade people having suicide thoughts watching this video to reach out and save themselves. The video appeals to other Indigenous youth because they can see that many Indigenous people deal with the trauma they are experiencing. Tunchai sharing her own experiences is impactful on viewers struggling with similar issues because they see that Tunchai was able to find light and positivity, and they can too. Even though it will be a difficult journey, it is a better option than taking their own life. The first-person narrative video is effective in Tunchai expressing her message because viewers can see her vulnerability. The video is better than writing her story because people are able to see her emotion and feel a personal connection.

        For a person as optimistic and devoted to spreading positivity to others as Redvers is, it is hard to imagine that she was once so distressed. Along with the personal trauma she was dealing with, Tunchai struggled with her Indigenous identity. In an Instagram caption, Tunchai passionately writes, “As an Indigenous girl growing up, I never saw myself represented on tv, in movies, in the magazines… If I did, it was in negative news stories or very stereotypical portrayals. I struggled with my identity and ideas of worth and beauty” (Instagram @denewanderer).  Redvers’ words show how much of a heavy impact that these media portrayals really do have on Indigenous youth.

Redvers appearing on a billboard in the Toronto Eaton Centre for a Nordstrom campaign (@denewanderer Instagram)

          Even though Redvers used to struggle with her identity and beauty, she is now able to proudly show everyone who she is. A huge billboard in downtown Toronto is proof of this feat. Redvers exudes confidence in these statement shots of her modeling for Nordstrom. This campaign was, “meant to promote diversity and inclusiveness” (Cohen). A world-wide company as big as Nordstrom breaking barriers on Indigenous people being represented in the media is taking a huge step in the right direction, and Tunchai is at the forefront of the movement. Redvers is a warrior in her own right, as she is valiant and courageous in all her work to spread good vibes amongst Indigenous communities. Hopefully Indigenous youth won’t feel the way that Redvers used to as a child now that they have such a strong, positive, self-accepting role model – a true social justice warrior through and through. 





Works Cited: 

Cohen, Sidney, and Alyssa Mosher. “N.W.T. Indigenous Yout News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 21 July 2019,

Redvers, Tunchai. “About Us.” WE MATTER, We Matter, 2019,

Cohen, Sidney. “N.W.T. Woman Reps Her Dene/Métis Identity in Nordstrom Ad Campaign | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 12 Feb. 2019,

Ponciano, Carmen. “Siblings Create ‘We Matter’ Campaign for Indigenous Youth | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 1 Dec. 2016,

Redvers, Tunchai. Instagram Caption. @denewanderer 4 Feb. 2019. Accessed 14 Sept. 2019.

We Matter Campaign. “Tunchai Redvers- We Matter Campaign.” Youtube, 28 Nov. 2017,



Tecpatl Kuauhtzin is Paving the Way for Indigenous Language Revitalization and Preservation

Ella Morgen

Picture of Tekpatl Kuauhtzin from his I20SP Spotlight interview

Tecpatl Kuauhtzin is a twenty-one year old college student at the University of California, Los Angeles whose involvement in youth activism began at a young age. He was “born into the movement” of Indigenous people fighting for Indigenous education, the preservation of ceremony and tradition, and the promotion of visibility for Indigenous people (“I20SP”). Kuauhtzin’s work takes many forms, most notably acting as a translator, representing Anahuacalmecac before the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and most recently, photography and videography. After completing his undergrad, he plans on furthering his activism by pursuing environmental or Indigenous law while incorporating photography and videography into his interest in Native land rights and environmental protection. 

There is often an assumption that Indigenous languages are dying and unsavable, but Kuauhtzin is determined to preserve and document his tribes’ culture through language as well as oral stories and healing through art. While mostly raised as a Nahua, Kuauhtzin is a member of the Nahua, Tsalagi, and Cucapá tribal nations and grew up surrounded by a diverse and rich culture. In addition to his own familial affiliations, he often saw family and elders from many nearby nations which contributed to his knowledge of Indigenous languages. Because of his talent and passion for language Kuauhtzin became a translator and worked for his Nahua grandfather and A:shiwi, Hopi, Haudenosaunee, etc. elders. His involvement as a youth in language revitalization and preservation in association with his participation in the youth’s United Nations group and student council created several opportunities for him, including speaking on behalf of Native youth within his community at the UNPFII (“I20SP”). While representing his preparatory school, Anahuacalmecac, Kuauhtzin presented on his vision of language revitalization and encouraged greater support towards Indigenous communities.

Kuauhtzin’s vision of language preservation is multifaceted and presents Indigenous communities and the diversity of their collective. He eloquently describes his process saying  “with every click of the shutter button a story is being told, otherwise, [it] may have never had the opportunity or platform to be shared. I am fortunate to have quite a few friends that create art in a similar way, and with them I heal.” His use of photography and videography represents a visual depiction of his work as a representative and translator. Additionally, as he describes it, his connections to other Indigenous youth encouraging art as a form of healing and communication helps grow his platform. Many of his photographs center around his friends, relatives, and elders to showcase the variance within his tribes. Kuauhtzin’s art is key to his mission of language revitalization and preservation.

A cultural exchange between Anahuacalmecac student Delegate Tekpatl Kuauhtzin (Azteca Mexicano) and Megan Davis, (Australia) (“Anahuacalmecac Delegation”).

Kuauhtzin’s establishment as a representative for Indigenous youth was an emergence for his public activism. The initial UNPFII meeting was organized to address cultural loss, specifically in transnational urban contexts. As a follow up there was an expert group meeting on Indigenous languages as a way to “promote intercultural dialogue and affirm Indigenous peoples’ identity” at the UN headquarters in New York, the second international expert group meeting on Indigenous languages organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), designed to build upon a previous meeting held in 2008. 

In the meeting there were two points that were proposed by the youth as a recommendation to all states:

“(a) Take adequate constitutional and other legislative measures for the recognition of indigenous languages and develop policies and programs that strengthen the daily use of indigenous languages at all levels, in public and private institutions, within and outside indigenous communities;

(b) Ensure adequate funding for the preservation, revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages and cultures, recognizing the cost of implementing programs and projects in remote areas (“Tlayecantzi”).



Essentially, Kuauhtzin desired government action to recognize Indigenous language and create well-funded programs to help develop and preserve Indigenous language. In the United States, there have been educational programs designed and created to teach students solely in specific Indigenous languages, yet they are uncredited institutions and are not given government backing to sustain themselves. Despite Kuauhtzin’s push for the government to recognize the importance of Indigenous languages and instill opportunities for educational policies that are no longer English-only, the results were disappointing at best. As Kuauhtzin’s father puts it “no known public agency of the state [will] conduct and accurate census” of the children who speak Indigenous languages and all reports ignore impacts of state violence or acts of genocide as they pertain to the loss of language (Tlayecantzi). The combination of ignoring relevant issues and continuing fear of differences made it almost impossible to both gain any funding or legislative measures to preserve Indigenous language. 

Indigenous language speakers are dwindling due to combinations of assimilation and the Western educational systems that are not designed with the interests of Indigenous people in mind, but Kuauhtzin still has hope. In an Instagram Post he states “Hay ch qa’ sii’em siye’yu mukw mustimuxw. Uy’skweyul yul’ut” meaning “Thank you respected ones of this place. It is a good day to learn” as a message to other Indigenous people to speak their language often. If they do not know their language, then he broadcasts that today is a good day to learn. Kuauhtzin clearly believes the preservation of his Indigenous heritage is partially his responsibility as a member of Indigenous nations. In fact, I would even argue that it is everyone’s responsibility to work towards saving Indigenous languages, whether that means learning more about the languages or supporting movements to preserve them.

In addition to his interest in Indigenous law, Kuauhtzin frequently uses art as a medium for communication. His primary platform is Instagram and other social media sites which allow him to reach other Indigenous youths but weakens his opportunities to connect with adults, especially Indigenous ones with the prevailing impact of the digital divide. Additionally, his Instagram is clearly designed to accommodate a range of audiences but most of his work targets other Native youth who wish to make a difference by providing possible organizations to get involved with and ways to preserve Indigenous culture. 

Kuauhtzin most used form of art is photography. His Instagram is full of his own pictures ranging from beautiful landscapes to thoughtful images of his friends, family, and other Indigenous people. 

“The best shoots are impromptu and in the moment. They’re genuine. I’ve purposefully taken a step back from planning things. As some of you know, I’ve respectfully declined your portrait requests and senior shoots. I want to explain why after some reflection: Sometimes as artists we can get caught up in producing, we forget to be intentional. I try to ask myself; What story am I telling, and why? What can I do to tell said story better? Am I respecting my subject’s image (landscape/relative)? More than anything, photography is a language to me. My work is an extension of my world view. I am absolutely flattered and grateful for all interest in my work and I could definitely use the extra money as a university student, but I choose to be project oriented. Story driven. Creative. Myself. Even if that means being broke” (Instagram). 

Kuauhtzin’s describes his work as an “extension of [his] world view” and utilizes his photography as a form or communication. The language he creates to tell stories of the people he meets is beautiful and awe inspiring.  In his work towards language revitalization, photography echoes the message of preservation. But photography is not his only medium, Kuauhtzin has published poetry and directed several short films. Only one short film has focused on language revitalization, posted on his twitter. The short film includes a cycle of Indigenous youth speaking in their language. There are no subtitles or explanations, but it beautifully showcases the diversity and variety in Indigenous languages. His most popular short film, about the misuse of Indigenous people in advertising and sports propaganda, gained Kuauhtzin the invitation to join the Indigenous 20-Something Project and was one of his gateways to more serious photography. His photography today often includes a caption that simultaneously introduces the subject while also introducing their languages. 

UCLA practice soccer field was full with indigenous people from all over. During the event several elders remarked about the significance of indigenous children as they represent the future of tribal traditions (Farr).

His involvement in preserving traditions continues with dance and oral traditions at UCLA. He now organizes the yearly UCLA Pow Wow. The Pow Wow is an opportunity for the 0.04% Native population at UCLA to showcase their culture. Kuauhtzin remarks that “[Indigenous people are] not even a full percentage and we host the second largest event on campus.” Going further to explain that “A lot of our people are being erased right now [and] a lot of people don’t even know Native American people still exist. That’s a question that we get asked a lot here at Pow Wow – Are you guys real Indians? Are you guys actually Native people? Do Native people actually exist still? Because a lot of people think that we have been wiped out, but I think Pow Wow is an example of our resiliency and how we managed to survive” (Farr). Art takes many forms and dance, music, and various oral traditions are some of the few found at a Pow Wow. Language may not be the focus, but the culmination of cultures creates a rich environment that encourages revitalization.

Many of Kuauhtzin’s efforts have been towards preserving Indigenous cultures, providing platforms to others through his own social media. As a member of several organizations including Urban Native Era which is a collection of youth attempting to give 7th generation Natives a voice and vision, Natives Outdoors who support outdoor gear designed by Natives, and The Standing Strong Project which travels to communities to photograph people giving them both a platform and an opportunity to tell their story, Kuauhtzin fights to reclaim traditional knowledge and identity in the midst of an ever changing world by redefining when it means to be Indigenous. The culmination of Kuauhtzin’s interest in Indigenous law to gain support in the revitalization of language and art as a language to communicate inspire others to support and preserve the languages of Indigenous groups.

Shkeman tikitos ka maske tikmatis ititlantohke

Not even until our last breath of life will we give up


A selection of images and captions taken from Instagram

Joanna Mixpe Ley
Ometeotl (Duality, Balance, Harmony)
The word Ometeotl, if literally translated, means ‘two energies’. In Nahua epistemology, Ometeotl is expression of self and of community. It’s balance of this world and the next, masculine and feminine (Ometekuhtli & Omesiwatl). A reminder to men that without women we are nothing; there can be no harmony.
Kyoni Mercier
(Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde)
Tumala tumala tumala nayka munk manaqi łush (tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow I will do better)
“A very old song one of our elders would sing in the fields while she worked, for myself it reminds me to work hard and that when I wake up I try to be better than I was yesterday.”
Joanna Mixpe Ley
Ometeotl (Duality, Balance, Harmony)
The word Ometeotl, if literally translated, means ‘two energies’. In Nahua epistemology, Ometeotl is expression of self and of community. It’s balance of this world and the next, masculine and feminine (Ometekuhtli & Omesiwatl). A reminder to men that without women we are nothing; there can be no harmony.
Being a student is hard. Being a creative student is harder. I’ve really been thinking about my major lately, what I want to get out of it and how I can use it to help. Whether that be communities, individuals or animals. Here’s a photo of the vast Pacific waters in front of a tiny man resembling how I feel right now. Up for interpretation 🤷‍♂️
Gary Manson / Xulsimalt (Snuneymuwx)
Hay ch qa’ sii’em siye’yu mukw mustimuxw. Uy’skweyul yul’ut (Thank you respected ones of this place. It is a good day to learn).
The act of introducing yourself to relatives, originals, and caretakers of a territory is important to being indigenous. Learning and speaking your language is too. If you are able to, and haven’t begun, today is a good day to start learning.
Monique Castro (Diné)
Hózhó (Balance, Beauty, Harmony)
To truly understand the meaning of the word Hózhó and all it encompasses, you need to be able to grasp the beauty of the Diné language and its epistemology. The word Hózhó is more than just a word; it’s a way of positioning yourself humbly in relation to the world. Hózhó is something you strive to achieve, the way you live your life.

Work Cited:

“Anahuacalmecac Delegation Attends United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Languages.” Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, 21 Jan. 2016, Accessed September 19, 2019.

“Anahuacalmecac Student Council – Toanauamachtihkehweyetlahtokan.” Anahuacalmecac Student Council – Toanauamachtihkehweyetlahtokan – Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, 25 Feb. 2016, Accessed September 19, 2019.

Farr, Daniel. “Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 33rd Annual UCLA Pow Wow – The: Corsair.” The, The | Corsair, 7 May 2018, Accessed September 19, 2019.

I20SP. “+SPOTLIGHT: Tecpatl Tonalyohlotl Kuauhtzin.” I20SP, The Native Wellness Institute, 14 Sept. 2017, Accessed September 19, 2019.

Kuauhtzi, Tecpatl. “TEKONA: Directed by Tomas Karmelo Amaya and Shalene Joseph.” Facebook Watch, 21 Aug. 2019, Accessed September 19, 2019.

Kuauhtzin, Tekpatl Tonalyohlotl. “Tekpatl Kuauhtzin (@Tekpatl) • Instagram Photos and Videos.” Instagram, Instagram, 27 Nov. 2016, Accessed September 19, 2019.

Kuauhtzin, Tekpatl. “Tekpatl Kuauhtzin (@Thetekpatl).” Twitter, Twitter, 30 Nov. 2018, Accessed September 19, 2019.

Tlayecantzi, Marcos Aguilar (Azteca-Mexicano). “Radical Regeneration.” Radical Regeneration, Semillas Sociedad Civil, 10 May 2016, Accessed September 19, 2019.


More Than a Model: How Ashley Callingbull Is Standing Up For Indigenous Peoples

By: Kaitlyn Heyt

Tall, thin, perfect makeup, flawless hair, and gorgeous outfits: that is what comes to mind when hearing the word “model.” Most people would assume that someone who competes in a beauty pageant has no real substance or deeper purpose beyond their good looks. They believe that someone who wins a beauty pageant cannot also be someone who is deeply invested in truly representing their culture, being an activist for their people, or making a positive impact on the world around them. 

But, someone who wins a beauty pageant can be more than just their outward appearance. A model can also be someone who uses their platform to inspire change and to advocate for the movements and ideas they believe in. A model can give representation to a minority as well as provide these individuals with inspiration and empowerment. 

Ashley Callingbull is currently proving this to the world through not only her impressive modeling and acting career, but through her activist work. Callingbull is a 29 year old from the Enoch Cree Nation of Alberta, Canada. In 2015, she was the first Indigenous woman to be chosen as Miss Canada. She later went on to become the first Native woman to win the Mrs. Universe Competition (White). Callingbull decided to selflessly use the media attention and interviews she received after this milestone victory to call attention to Native issues. 

Callingbull receiving her crown after being named Mrs. Universe (Photo from a Huffington Post article)


As a Native woman, Callingbull understands first-hand the lack of representation this group receives. Issues Native women face, such as increased rates of sexual assault, are often ignored and tossed aside by most people, including those who work in government. Instead of idly sitting by and allowing this mistreatment and denial to continue, Callingbull is bringing attention to these issues Native women are currently facing. Callingbull uses her platform to urge Indigenous people to vote, as well as to bring attention to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement (MMIW). The MMIW movement works to spread awareness and fundraise for Indigenous women who face various types of violence. This is incredibly important because “four out of five Native women are affected by violence today” (“MMIW”). This is an astounding number of women. But, what is even more astounding, is that most people do not know about this issue. Callingbull is working hard to change this by raising awareness.

This work that Callingbull is doing goes beyond typical philanthropic work. She is an advocate for weighty subjects that most people would prefer to ignore. The easy option would be to remain silent: not risking your career, fame, or reputation. But, in breaking the silence and ignorance surrounding Native womens’ treatment, Callingbull is not only an important activist, but a champion of Native women everywhere. Callingbull shows the world that Native women are powerful, brave, and fighters. As a champion of Native women, Callingbull is a source of hope. She is hope that the stimga surrounding sexual assault against Native women will not go on forever as she inspires more brave voices to speak out for change. 

Callingbull’s dedication to advocacy for Native women stems from the hardships and experiences of her childhood. At a young age, she was physically and sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend (Petz). This left her terrified, hurting, and lonely. In addition, she faced racism from other kids at school. They bullied and taunted her for her heritage, at one point, even throwing rocks at her. 

After facing such traumatic experiences, it would be easy for someone to hide from their true identity. It would have been easier to pretend to be someone else and run away from their past. But instead of running away, Callingbull decided to turn to her grandparents for support. In doing so, she grew close with her culture, which allowed her to find a sense of strength, purpose, and belonging. “This is my true identity. So I pushed myself into the culture, I embraced it in every aspect of my life” (Callingbull). Through this healing she received from her culture, Callingbull used it to fuel herself to be successful. Now, she urges other Native youth to turn to their cultures for hope and strength. 

“Never be ashamed of being First Nations or Indigenous from any other part of the world because that is who you are and that is what shapes you as a human being” (Callingbull). 

Through her work and advocacy, Callingbull is able to show the world the importance of having pride in one’s heritage and believing in themselves. 

This love Callingbull has for her culture is infectious and permeates all of the work she does. This motivation is evidenced in one TED talk she gave at a REDx event, titled “What I Know Now.” Callingbull begins her speech by discussing her past and her story. In doing so, she establishes an emotional, honest, and raw connection with the audience. Callingbull moves on to discuss the work she is now involved in, providing a sense of not only her accomplishments but the advocacy and charity work she is a part of. Callingbull begins to pursue her purpose of the speech: encourage others to engage in volunteer work and help those around them. “There’s a bigger picture than you. Everything is bigger than you. The more you can give back to the community or your people, you’ll be able to make a big change” (Callingbull). As someone who is not content sitting back and patiently waiting for change, Callingbull engages a tone that urges her audience to get involved. This tone highlights the severity and extent of the issues Native women are facing. 

“Enough is enough. How many sisters do we have to lose for people to care about us?” (Callingbull). 

This highlights not only the essence of Callingbull’s work, but the essence of her character as well. This essence is passion. Callingbull shows the world, through all of the amazing work she does, how to be fearless in working towards a goal. Whether it be advocating for the MMIW movement or urging Native youth to connect with their culture, Callingbull reveals her passion. This passion serves as inspiration for those around her as she spreads her ideas and fights for what she believes in.

Callingbull during her REDx talk (Photo from First Nations Drum Newspaper)


Callingbull is not only an advocate outside of the fashion competitions. Instead, she uses her style and fashion choices during the competitions to bring attention to the issues she feels are important, as well as to provide an accurate representation of her culture. Upon arriving at the competitions, she did not try to hide her Native identity, despite standing out from the other contestants. “When I got there, I didn’t blend in with everyone else. I wore First Nations designer clothes. I wore buckskin. Everything I wore was basically telling everyone, ‘she’s Native and she’s proud of it’” (Callingbull). Despite the desire we all have to conform, she decided to face this fear and uncertainty, standing up for her culture. Callingbull serves as a role model and sends the message that it’s important to always stay true to yourself. This is important for Native youth to see as they often struggle with their identities. In addition, she uses her style to accurately portray her culture, informing people and increasing awareness surrounding Native traditions and fashions. “I’m going to represent my people as best as I can and I’m going to do it in a proper way” (Callingbull). She is boldly confronting the idea that Native styles, such as headdresses, are solely costumes without deeper cultural meaning. She shows the proper way to represent a culture and shows the world the importance of properly respecting Native traditions and clothing. 

One example of an outfit Callingbull competed in was a red dress that had faces of various Native women on it. This dress represents Native women who were murdered or missing, bringing attention to the MMIW movement (White). This dress reveals how Callingbull shows the world that there is more to fashion than just what is on the surface level, just as she shows the world there is more to Native culture and identity than on the surface seen by the world. Similarly, Callingbull shows the world that there is more to Native women than being seen on the surface by society as solely sexual objects. Native women are resilient, strong, and beautiful — as represented by this dress. 

Callingbull in a dress representing her culture (Photo by Facebook user @ashleycallingbullofficial


Callingbull has also joined the We Matter Campaign, providing an inspirational video message to Indigenous youth, showing them that they can accomplish great things while embracing their identity. Her empowering video can be found here:

Callingbull holding a sign supporting the MMIW movement (Photo from National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls)


Callingbull’s work is continuing to pave the way for more Native women as she serves as a positive role model and a source of hope. Callingbull is providing representation, as well as inspiration, to those who need it most. She has demonstrated to the world exactly what it means to be a courageous, empowered, and selfless Indigenous woman. 

“I’m proud to be a First Nations woman and I’m not going to care about what anyone else says about me. I’m going to be proud until the day I die” (Callingbull).

Callingbull shows us all that with strength from your culture and the power of advocacy: anything is possible. Change is on the horizon. 


Works Cited

White, Samantha. “Former Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull on Speaking Out Through Style.” CBC News, 21 Jun. 2018. Web. 5 Sep. 2019. 

Petz, Sarah. “First Nations Mrs. Universe Winner Shares How Culture Saved Her.” CBC News, 19 Feb. 2019. Web. 5 Sep. 2019. 

“Ashley Callingbull, First Nations Woman, Wins Mrs. Universe, Fighting Stereotypes.” CBC News, 31 Aug. 2015. Web. 5 Sep. 2019. 

Callingbull, Ashley. “What I Know Now.” REDx Talks, 2016. Web. 12 Sep. 2019. 

“MMIW.” Coalition To Stop Violence Against Native Women, 2019. Web. 12 Sep. 2019.

“Ashley Callingbull – We Matter Campaign.” We Matter Campaign, Youtube, 16 Dec. 2017. Web. 14 Sep. 2019.