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  • Writer's pictureRyan Deneault

National Indigenous Peoples Day: Reflecting on My Heritage, History, and Healing

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 Deneault conducting a smudging in Kamloops.

My 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.

My 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.

One night, after his shift from his railway job, my grandfather, Albert, was struck and killed by an approaching train while he was taking a pushcart home on the rails. As a result, my 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.

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." She never received her proper status from the Government of Canada.

My family's narrative, however, is both, of the tragedy of my grandmother being coerced into relinquishing her Indigenous identity and the subsequent denial of proper recognition by the Canadian government, as well as of how, despite the adversities, my family ended up accomplishing so much. My father, along with my 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 my aunt Irene completed her graduation later in life, she went on to achieve a master's degree, exemplifying the resilience and determination within our family.

With the National Indigenous Peoples Day in mind, I want to encourage individuals to actively engage in commemorating it. To further deepen the understanding and appreciation of Indigenous cultures, I would suggest 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.

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

By seeking answers to these questions, you can develop a greater awareness and connection to the land you reside on, the historical background of the local First Nation, and the broader context of Indigenous territories.

As National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated, I hope this little piece of my 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.

If you, your community, or your organization would like to learn more, please visit my website at
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