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National Indigenous Peoples Day: Reflecting on Heritage, History, and Healing with Indigenous Business Owner Ryan Deneault

Posted On Jun 14, 2023

National Indigenous Peoples Day is just around the corner, and no better time than now, to celebrate and learn more about the rich and diverse cultures, voices, experiences, and histories of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. This day, which falls on the summer solstice, June 21, is an opportunity to recognize the contributions and achievements of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world. But, it's not just about celebrating - it's also a time to think about the past and how we can do better for the future.

In line with our unwavering commitment to inclusion, diversity, and equity, Kelson Group, as a provider of apartments aimed at improving residents' lives, embraces these principles in all our endeavours. Recognizing the significance of Indigenous Peoples Day, we have dedicated this space to an important voice of an inspiring Indigenous business owner Ryan Deneault, CEO of Healing Between Worlds who can offer a distinct perspective, enabling us to broaden our horizons, enhance our learning, foster greater understanding, and evolve as individuals.

Ryan, an assimilated Skeetchestn Band Member and fourth-generation settler in the interior of B.C., currently lives in Tk’emlups te Secwepemc on the other side of the river from Kamloops. Just last week he launched Healing Between Worlds, to help others find their healing path, teach about Canada’s history through an Indigenous lens and Truth and Reconciliation, and share his journey through addiction to wellness and recovery.

On the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day, Ryan reflects on his family history, which intertwines with the broader history of Canada.

“It is my honour to be asked to write to all of you in commemoration of National Indigenous Peoples Day. Today, I will talk a little about my family, share with you a truth about the history of this country from my Indigenous family’s lens, and then talk about some questions to ask yourself as you navigate this day,” Ryan expressed.

Ryan's mother, Helen Askew, achieved national acclaim as a figure skater, representing her British heritage in competitions across the country. However, her upbringing was marked by challenges, with distant and hardworking parents, leading to an emotionally unavailable and abusive environment at home.

Ryan's father, Wally Deneault, holds Indigenous heritage and pursued a career in hockey as a goaltender, even attempting to join the prestigious Detroit Red Wings in the late 1960s. Wally's own childhood was difficult, as his father's untimely passing at a young age strained the family dynamics. Ryan's maternal grandparents, Dave and Mary Askew, originated from Salmon Arm, B.C., before establishing Shamrock Meats in Kamloops. Meanwhile, his paternal grandparents, Albert and Ann Deneault, were members of the Skeetchestn Indian Band and Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, respectively. They managed a cattle ranch within the Skeetchestn Indian Band, where a unique connection developed between Dave and Albert, as Dave would often travel there to purchase cattle long before Ryan's parents crossed paths.

Yet, the Deneault family's story holds deeper layers, reflecting the struggles faced by Indigenous communities in Canada.

One night, after his shift from his railway job, Ryan’s grandfather, Albert, was struck and killed by an approaching train while he was taking a pushcart home on the rails. As a result, Ryan's grandmother, Anne, was left widowed and with the burden of caring for four young children, all under the age of five, and expecting another.

Anne faced tremendous hardships and was left to maintain the ranch on her own with no additional income.

“Technically, my grandfather was not on his shift, so the railway did not pay my grandma the death benefit. For her to collect what we would now call ‘welfare’, the federal government required her to give up her status. She had to give up being an Indigenous woman. She had no choice. Once she gave up her status, she was forced off her land at Skeetchestn and moved to Kamloops,” explained Ryan.

Anne had to surrender her Indigenous status, losing her identity as an Indigenous woman.

“There’s always layers to every story depending on how you view it. It is tragic that my grandma was forced to give up her identity as an indigenous woman. I remember, as a young boy my grandma being given the opportunity to get her status back. But the federal government offered to give her Skeetchestn Status. She was so angry – she’d say ‘I am a Tk’emlups te Secwepemc woman, how do they not recognize how disrespectful this is,’” said Ryan. “She never received her proper status from the Government of Canada.”

Ryan acknowledges the multifaceted nature of his family's narrative, recognizing both the tragedy of his grandmother being coerced into relinquishing her Indigenous identity and the subsequent denial of proper recognition by the Canadian government.

Despite the adversities, Ryan takes pride in his family's accomplishments. His father, along with his aunts and uncles, attended public schools in Kamloops, with four of them being among the first Indigenous students to graduate from School District 73. Although his aunt Irene completed her graduation later in life, she went on to achieve a master's degree, exemplifying the resilience and determination within their family.

As National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated, Ryan’s family history serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges, sacrifices, and triumphs experienced by Indigenous communities in Canada, showcasing the rich tapestry of their heritage and the ongoing pursuit of recognition and respect.

On the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day, Ryan not only highlights the significance of the day but also encourages individuals to actively engage in commemorating it. To further deepen the understanding and appreciation of Indigenous cultures, Ryan suggests seeking answers to five important questions:

  1. Which First Nation Indian Band's traditional territory do I live on?
  2. What Nation are they from?
  3. Conduct research on the history of this Band(s).
  4. What is my community's official Land Acknowledgement?
  5. Find a map of the Indian Band's traditional territory and the Nation's traditional territory.

Ryan emphasizes that individuals can access this information through various resources such as community websites, First Nation websites, and by conducting online searches.

“What an honour to be writing to all of you. By seeking answers to these questions, individuals can develop a greater awareness and connection to the land they reside on, the historical background of the local First Nation, and the broader context of Indigenous territories. If you, your community, or your organization would like to learn more, please visit my website at healingbetweenworlds.ca,” Ryan concluded.

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