Michaella Shannon Story: Canada’s First Nations

Photo: Armand Flores

Michaella Shannon was born in Edmonton, Alberta on November 21, 1995. She holds Indian Status with the Government of Canada and is registered at Frog Lake First Nation in Northern Alberta. She currently resides in Calgary, Alberta. Michaella lives a nomadic lifestyle that her ancestors once journeyed and enjoyed. As a FIrst Nations she is ‘grounded’ in all of the ancestral territories.

At the age of four, Michaella made her first move to the city Prince Albert, Saskatchewan when her mother was offered a job at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. Michaella attended daycare, kindergarten and then went on to elementary school. After four years in Prince Albert the family moved to Biggar, Saskatchewan where her mom opened a business.

Michaella found it difficult to adjust to the small town lifestyle of Biggar. She had to entertain herself with a playhouse in the trees and playing with her animals. In winter when the school bus could not drive down the half mile to the house, she was bundled up in a sleigh and pulled to the road to get on the bus.

At school, Michaella experienced bullying and racism. It made it very difficult to gain a sense of identity, a connection to spirituality, and a strong knowledge of her culture. There were times when she feared to go to school because her peers would threaten to beat her up. They threw things at her during class, behind the teacher’s back. She was called a “dirty Indian” or a “squaw” and they would treat her as an outcast.

At age twelve, Michaella started to experiment with makeup. Michaella’s mom thought it was a good idea to enroll her in a program that could help break her out of her shell, build confidence, and teach her how to do makeup and hair. It was called Cat Walk and Camera.

Saskatoon being only one hour from Biggar, Michaella’s mom would drive her to the city twice a week. Michaella was kind of shy and had low self-esteem because of the bullying. Not long after this, Michaella was asked to attend an audition for the television series ‘Rabbit Fall’. The instructor of the course was a modelling and talent agent. She saw Michaella as a perfect fit for the part. Michaella was hesitant at first but as she trained for the part, she became very excited. This was her first audition and she got the part. Michaella was the ‘Ghost Girl’ that guided the main character through life, protecting her and warning her of dangers on her path. This is how Michaella began her close relationship with her mentor Jennifer Podemski. Jennifer was the producer of Rabbit Fall.

Michaella’s modelling journey began with her first photoshoot at fourteen years of age. She attended the Canadian Model and Talent Convention (CMTC) in Toronto, Ontario. Michaella trained hard. And with the coaching of her mother, Michaella was able to master the song that she set out to sing at CMTC. Michaella was now officially a ‘triple threat’ a name used in the industry when you have three talents. Acting, modelling and now singing, Michaella entered into all competition categories including dance. Michaella came home with 14 ‘callbacks’ and a second place trophy in singing.

She started Royal Conservatory of Music vocal training. This lead to joining a musical theatre group, singing the national anthem at events, fundraisers and a country jamboree. Michaella entered the Saskatchewan Music Festival competitions and won not only scholarships, but also placed in numerous categories.

At fifteen, Michaella’s family moved to Broadview, Saskatchewan. Michaella did not want to move. The decision was made for her to attend school in Saskatoon where she diligently completed her schooling, worked a part time job, and spent weekends and evenings doing local fashion shows, photoshoots, commercials, auditions, and special events. She entered  and won the Miss Teen Saskatchewan 2014 pageant being the first, First Nations female to hold this title. As long as Michaella kept up with her homework, the school was very understanding about being absent. Michaella graduated at seventeen with a scholarship from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education.

 

After graduation, Michella competed for Miss Teen Canada and placed in the top five. She was then invited to model in New York Fashion Week.

Michaella was accepted at the University of Saskatchewan. During her second year she was accepted into the Aboriginal Justice and Criminology Program (ABJAC Program) majoring in Sociology with ambition to be a criminal lawyer. She signed up to mentor first year students, sat as a youth participant on the technical working group of National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (NAYSPS), and became an active advocate for her First Nations community.

When the second year of university came to an end, Michaella found herself in an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend of one year was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusing her. Subsequently, Michaella suffered depression and developed high functioning anxiety. She lost interest in everything. She stopped going to school, she stopped modelling, she stopped doing auditions, and she stopped doing all of the things she once loved. Her self-esteem had dropped critically low. Her boyfriend isolated her, making her feel guilty for doing the things she was most passionate about. She hit an ultimate low when she started having thoughts of suicide. Michaella’s mother suspected something was going on and she could see that Michaella’s light was being dimmed.

 

Michaella removed herself from this situation by moving home to her parents who were now living in Calgary, Alberta. She entered her third year of university taking classes online. She went into 2016 with the desire to gain a stronger connection to her culture, spirituality, and identity. She also wanted to strengthen and develop her intuition. A gift she possessed as a child.

Michaella was asked if she was interested in co-hosting a reality/drama television series. The series is about paranormal activity from a First Nations perspective. The show explores paranormal phenomenon and shares First Nations beliefs and protocol in regards to the spirit world. Michaella was ecstatic but at the same time nervous. She attended the interviews for the show and was hired as one of the hosts of the APTN series ‘The Other Side’. A few weeks later filming started. Both of her co-hosts have gifts of intuition. She has learned a lot more about her own gifts. Some people point out that the part on Rabbit Fall, as a ghost, was a foreshadowing for the role as a “Ghost Hunter” on ‘The Other Side’.

In the midst of a busy lifestyle, Michaella finds time to do public speaking and workshops in First Nation communities. She facilitates workshops on alcohol/drug abuse and their close relationship to suicide within the Aboriginal community. This topic is important to Michaella because she has experienced the death of both her eldest brother and sister. She also facilitates workshops on reproductive health, self-esteem, effects of bullying, decision-making, and overcoming negative experiences. Michaella shares her story to let youth know that challenges can be overcome and that they too can reach their goals using mindfulness and focus.

 

Introduce First Nations Community:

Calgary sits on the traditional territory of Treaty 7. Treaty 7 territory is home to the Blackfoot Confederacy or Niitsitapi, meaning “the people.” Treaty 7 is comprised of the Blackfoot Nations: Kainai, Piikani, and Siksika, the Sarcee Nation: Tsuu T’ina and the Stoney/Nakoda Nations: Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley.

There were 11 treaties signed between First Nations and the Crown between 1701 and 1923. Each treaty is with different nations within geographical areas. These treaties were agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties. The major understanding of First Nations is that they were sharing the land in exchange for certain considerations. After the fact, the Crown seemed to be the only party to benefit. Some of the treaty’s were tampered with ‘after’ they were signed. In reality, these are invalid documents from onset.

Before colonization, First Nations tribes lived holistically on the land, in harmony with Mother Earth. Some of the First Peoples were nomadic people, being hunter gatherers. Each time the seasons changed, they would migrate in order to hunt, fish, pick berries, herbs, and certain medicines to survive. Others had stationary settlements with long houses, wigwams, adobe, plank and other houses which were more permanent.

The First Peoples had their own governance systems. Some of the principles of First Nations governance was even used when making the American Constitution. The structures of governance varied from tribe to tribe, as each tribe is virtually a separate nation. An Ojibway is as different from a Lakota as the Irishman is from a German. They all had their own languages and practices. Most First People lived by a matriarchal system where the women were recognized as having the highest authority in a village. Women were called Clan Mothers’ and considered sacred as the ‘givers of life’. The women were the backbone of First Nation societies, communities, and families.

When the Europeans arrived here they claimed they discovered this land. This is not true.  We know that the Vikings (Leif Erikson) was here long before 1492, St. Brendan, Prince Madoc of Wales all were here long before Columbus allegedly landed carrying the Papal Bull.

 

As in all colonization processes the indigenous represent a problem to the colonizers. The ‘Indian Problem’ was discussed many times in parliament. The concepts of the Diamond Jenness theories are still being implemented to this day. Educate, assimilate, alienate, integrate and terminate.

Michaella and all First Nations youth have encountered many challenges. These challenges are a result of intergenerational effects of colonization and in particular residential schools. As a first world country, Canada has a dark history that is a tragic embarrassment. The last residential school closed its doors as recently as 1996.

The very first schools were ‘industrial’ schools where they taught boys to be farmers and girls to be maids. With the passage of the Indian Act in 1876 they actually started to educate the boys. If they got a grade 6 education they were kicked off the Indian lists. Registration as an Indian only indicates who Canada is financially responsible for, it does not define who is an Indian.

Residential schools were created for the purpose of stripping culture, language and identity. The intent was assimilation. Most children never returned home. Children were beaten, abused, brainwashed and raped. They were not allowed to speak their languages or practice their spirituality. They were made to believe that being an “Indian” was wrong. The children’s hair would be chopped off and they would be dressed like white people. Having long hair is sacred to a First Nations person, it is part of their spirit.

The elders tell many stories of abuse in Residential Schools. The Canadian government recently requested to have all these stories destroyed. These records should remain in the files forever so we can remember this history. Many of the churches have yet to issue an apology for their responsibility in these stories. Justin Trudeau has requested that the Pope issue this apology in efforts for reconciliation.

Michaella’s stepfather is one of many residential school survivors who is still able to share his story. Most of his friends from that era have died either by the effects of alcohol/drug abuse or suicide. This is the legacy of these schools.

 

Poverty, sexual abuse, high incarceration rates, poor health, mental illness, alcoholism, addiction, gangs, domestic violence, and foster care are all a result from the effects of intergenerational damage done by Canadian institutions. These challenges are many – loss of identity, culture, spirituality, broken spirits, hopelessness and learned helplessness. All intertwined in a history few want to speak about. Michaella has experienced most of these challenges in her life whether directly or through family members.

Michaella has learned how to heal through writing, public speaking, sharing her story, training other First Nations youth to model, writing music and acting. She is a strong youth leader and role model drawing from ancestral pools of knowledge as taught to her by her Grandmother and other knowledge keepers.

 


Michaella Shannon is a member of Frog Lake First Nations and is the first Indigenous woman to win the title Miss Teen Saskatchewan (2014), as well be the first Indigenous woman to place in the Top 5 of Miss Teen Canada. Michaella is a student, model, actress, singer, and facilitator. She studies Aboriginal Justice and Criminology with ambition to become a Criminal Lawyer.

Not only is she an actively involved student, her previous endeavors include: Host of the APTN television series The Other Side, television series Rabbit Fall, CityTV animation series called Space Stretch, Saskatchewan Tourism, Health Ministry and Teachers Association commercials.

Michaella has modeled in New York Fashion Week, Vancouver Fashion Week, Aboriginal Fashion Week, Montana U.S.A, and South Dakota, U.S.A. She has done photo shoots for numerous designers/companies/magazine covers.

Although Michaella spends a majority of her time with the fashion, film, and media industry, her true passion lies in helping her community and being a positive role model. During National Addictions Awareness Week, and at other events, she facilitates workshops on alcohol and drug abuse and their close relationship to suicide. This topic is important to Michaella because she has experienced the death of both her eldest brother and sister. Michaella facilitates workshops for young women on reproductive health and self-esteem. She speaks to students about the affects of bullying, decision- making, and overcoming negative experiences. She has been called to speak at national conferences like “Honoring our Strengths” in Ottawa, ON.

Aside from Michaella’s modeling, acting, singing, and studying, she spent two years as a peer mentor to first year students at the U of S. She sat as a youth participant on the technical working group of National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy program, is the SheNative and Neechie Gear Brand Ambassador, and is a strong advocate for her Indigenous community.

 

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