A young Cree activist is launching an online video project to share stories of overcoming adversity, hoping to help to break down stereotypes and inspire others to find their voices.
Digital Voices is the brainchild of Alexa Blyan, 18, a member of the Sucker Creek First Nation who lives in Lloydminster, on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The project profiles five young people who have overcome challenges and learned lessons along the way, Blyan said.
“Digital Voices gives you that platform where you can be heard and you can be honest and raw and hopefully inspire other people to keep pushing forward and advancing in their own stories,” she said.
The videos will be released on Blyan’s social media accounts and website starting Saturday.
Blyan’s advocacy often focuses on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The people she has met through her work were the inspiration for this latest project, she said.
“To show people that they’re not alone in their story and to show people that your voice is important and your story is important and it deserves to be heard.”
While Digital Voices includes stories from people from diverse backgrounds, the majority are Indigenous.
“In society, it’s the Indigenous voices that are often thrown to the back burner, so it was important to me to have Indigenous voices represented,” Blyan said.
Strength in storytelling
Sharing personal stories of overcoming trauma is an important part of furthering the conversation around MMIWG, said Edmonton advocate April Eve Wiberg.
A member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation from Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta, Wiberg is a founder of the grassroots Stolen Sisters and Brothers Action Movement.
She said it took her years before she was able to share her own story of being sexually exploited as a teenager.
“I, for many years, went through great lengths to try to hide my shame and that part of my history,” Wiberg said. “After hearing many stories of other survivors of sexual exploitation, I felt strong enough and balanced enough to share my story publicly.”
Wiberg participated in the National Inquiry on MMIWG, which issued 231 calls to action in its final report, released in June 2019.
Canadians can all do their part to put those recommendations into practice, Wiberg said.
“Talk about it. ‘What can we do as a family or what can I do as an individual to help stop the genocide and the violence perpetuated against Indigenous peoples?’ ” she said.
“Even just asking yourself, ‘What will I do if I encounter racism or if I encounter someone experiencing racism?'”
It can be difficult for Indigenous people to share their experiences in a society that tends to stereotype them, said Wiberg.
“There has to be a shift in public perception,” she said. “Our people are blamed for their own murder or for going missing. All of this victim blaming is a result of discrimination and racism.”
Blyan hopes to break down some of those stereotypes by sharing inspiring stories.
“When you’re actually with the person hearing their story and you’re in a moment of raw connection, you learn a lot more,” she said.
“You see it from another perspective, you see it on a deeper level and you can understand what’s behind the stereotypes and what’s behind what you see on the news.”
Seeing young Indigenous people like Blyan advocating for their people makes Wiberg hopeful.
“They’re getting empowered and they’re standing up to those stereotypes,” she said.
Her own advocacy work has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Action Movement is still planning on holding an event on May 8.
The group has organized Stolen Sisters & Brothers Awareness Walks for the last 14 years.
“We don’t know exactly what the event will look like,” Wiberg said. “But there will be something happening and we encourage anyone that wants to be involved to come out.”
Blyan isn’t sure what form her activism will take in the future, but she knows she wants to continue sharing stories.
“In my culture, storytelling was how we taught and it was how we learned. And I think Digital Voices helps to bring that back in a more modern way.”