16 Indigenous movers and shakers to watch in 2016


Brandi Morin
APTN National News
It takes a lot of people to make the world go around. Some people are putting their best foot forward to make sure it moves in the right direction. 2016 promises to be a big year for First Nation, Métis Nation and Inuit peoples across the country.

APTN National News created a list of Indigenous movers and shakers that we predict will be doing big things in the coming year. Here is the list of exceptional up and comers in alphabetical order:


Althea Guiboche-Activist

Althea Guiboche, aka the Bannock Lady, feeds the homeless in Winnipeg and has become a well-known advocate for the struggles they face. The feisty, driven, single mother of seven, currently lives on income support but is breaking stereotypical views about those who receive welfare.

Althea Guiboche

She uses the influence gained by her charity work to speak out against racism and other issues related to First Nations.

Guiboche (centre) at an event in the north end of Winnipeg.

Now, she has her sights set on the Manitoba legislature. In December Guiboche announced her bid to run as the Liberal candidate in her neighbourhood of Point Douglas in inner city Winnipeg. Whether or not she wins, we expect to see a lot more from Guiboche going forward.


Ashley Callingbull-Mrs. Universe

Callingbull made international news headlines after winning the Mrs. Universe title in Belarus last August, the first Canadian and First Nations woman to ever claim the crown. The stunning Enoch Cree Nation model and actress used the sudden notoriety to give voice to the plight of First Nations in Canada and called for the ousting of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Ashley Callingbull

Soon after, Callingbull joined David Suzuki and other celebrities to launch the Leap Manifesto to urge citizens and governments alike to care for the climate and transition away from fossil fuels. She also raises awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women, poverty, inequality and racism.

Callingbull with the Butterflies in Spirit performers after the Fashion Speaks event to raise awareness about MMIW in B.C. last fall.

While gracing the cover of countless fashion magazines and travelling the world, Callingbull keeps a hectic schedule of public appearances and media engagements.


Cara Currie-Hall-Political Activist

One of the co-founders of Rock the Indigenous Vote stormed onto the Canadian political activism scene just weeks prior to the 2015 federal election.

Currie-Hall, originally from Montana Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta., and now living in North Dakota, helped, in her own way, in getting Barack Obama elected as President by helping to create a block vote throughout Indian Country in the United States.

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Cara Currie-Hall

She took her passion and expertise back home this past fall and toured the prairies urging Canada’s Indigenous Peoples to get out and Rock the Indigenous vote. She called Canada’s Indigenous community a “force to be reckoned with” and the strategy was to “Indigenize” the election to make the political parties “talk to us, on our terms.”

On the heels of a Liberal majority elected to government last October Currie Hall continues to stay engaged with the Canadian political scene.

Her efforts have impressed Indigenous leaders enough to appoint her to sit on the International Oversight Committee on Treaty Enforcement and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples committee.

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Currie-Hall (left) with Justin Trudeau during the 2015 federal election


Look for this powerhouse of a Nehiyaw woman to continue taking over the country in the name of Indigenous rights in the year to come.


Cory Nicotine-Activist

Winner of the prestigious, 2015 Everyday Political Citizen award by Toronto based organization Samara Canada, Cory Nicotine.

Nicotine, originally from Saddlelake Cree Nation in northern Alberta is a passionate advocate for youth.

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Cory Nicotine. Photo: Brandi Morin/APTN

During a trip to Africa in 2012 Nicotine said he was intrigued after witnessing a mesh of cultural and religious backgrounds living harmoniously. Meanwhile back at home, the Idle No More movement was exploding across Canada.

These events sparked the inspiration for Nicotine to establish Knowledge is Pow Wow. The program, run out of the iHuman Youth Society in Edmonton helps create understanding and breaks down barriers in Edmonton’s diverse, multi-cultural community while encouraging youth to become engaged with politics. The city recently recognized Nicotine for his work and committed to funding Knowledge is Pow Wow in 2016.


Cowboy Smithx-Actor, director

At the age of just 34 Cowboy Smithx juggles the roles of actor, director and creator/curator of the newly launched Redx Talks speaker series.

Birthed from the desire to share the stories of the ancestors, Smithx who is Blackfoot from Piikani and Kainai in Southern Alberta, is embarking on a journey of “dispelling myths, transferring culture and dropping knowledge bombs.”

Cowboy Smithx

Following the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its recommendations, Smithx is hoping to build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Redx Talks launched last October, bringing in top Indigenous influencers with plans to take the show on tour across Turtle Island.

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Smithx is also promoting his film Elder in the Making inspired by the work of the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society-a group of artists, musicians, playwrights, elders and technicians working to bring the stories of Aboriginal and settler relationships to the mainstream.

Keep on the lookout for a Redx Talks event or a screening of Elder in the Making to come to a city near you in 2016.


Christi Belcourt-Artist

Christi is a Metis artist originally from Lac Ste. Anne Alberta, but now lives near the shores of Lake Huron, ON. Her work has been popping up on the runways of the international fashion scene since the Valentino empire partnered with Belcourt in their 2016 Resort collection.

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Artist Christi Belcourt

The couture fashion pieces feature stunning, flowery, elegant patterns based upon Belcourts ‘Water Song’ painting found in the National Gallery of Canada.

Belcourt uses her art to create awareness on social issues which flows into her advocacy work with missing and murdered Indigenous Women. She is involved with the Walking With Our Sisters travelling exhibit and says the fashion designs help to portray women in a broader light.

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Water Song by Christi Belcourt

Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and up and coming Yellowknife actress of The Revenant, Melaw Nakehk’o have been spotted wearing Belcourt’s designs.

Expect to see more of the influence from this gifted artist in main stream trends in the months to come.


Duane Howard-Actor

If you’re planning to watch one of the hottest movies to come out of Hollywood as of late, keep an eye out for Chief Elk Dog in The Revenant. He’s played by Vancouver based First Nations actor Duane Howard who portrays the stoic leader of the Arikara tribe alongside Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy.

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Duane Howard

Some of the backdrop scenery in The Revenant runs in Howard’s blood who originally hails from the Nuu-chah-nulth territory in British Columbia which means “along the mountains and sea.”

Howard’s story of triumph over struggle is remarkable. After growing up in an alcoholic family, he hit the streets of Vancouver to wrestle with the demons from his childhood and eventually found solace through acting. Starting as a stuntman in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts and Artic Air.

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Howard at the premiere of The Revenant in California

Since landing his biggest role yet in The Revenant, Howard has walked the red carpet in tinsel town with the biggest names in the industry.

Many industry professionals are predicting The Revenant to clean house at the upcoming Oscar awards.  With this type of colossal exposure we predict there are also big things brewing for Howard in the coming year.


Grace Dove-Actress

She is only in her early twenties, but her acting career has been greatly boosted thanks to The Revenant.

With a name as pretty as it connotates, Grace Dove impressed Revenant director Alejandro Inarritu enough with her artistic talents that he cast her as Leonardo Dicpario’s wife. Dove said the experience was a dream come true.

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Grace Dove

The Vancouver based First Nations actress had a whirlwind of a year in 2015. She travelled across Turtle Island to film in Argentina the epic scenes opposite Dicaprio, to recently attend the movie premiere in Hollywood, all the while balancing her APTN sports action show Under Exposed.

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Dove (right) and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from The Revenant

On her sudden shot to international fame and with a bright 2016 on the horizon Dove had this to say via her Instagram account:

“Coming from Prince George, being First Nations, and Canadian everyone is so impressed. I just think I had the vision and this dream and I didn’t let anyone tell me it’s not possible.”


Jody Wilson-Raybould-Politician

She is currently one of the most powerful politicians in Canada. Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Kwakwaka’wakw Liberal Member of Parliament is the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

From Vancouver, BC Wilson-Raybould is no new comer to the world of politics. She is the former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Crown prosecutor and advocate for Indigenous rights.

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Wilson-Raybould being sworn in as Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada at Rideau Hall in November

Working alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould will play an integral role in reconciliation initiatives and the establishment of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Politics runs in her family. Wilson-Raybould’s father Bill Wilson helped fight for Aboriginal reform in Canada’s constitution.

This is the first time a First Nations person has held the title of Justice Minister in Canada and Wilson-Raybould will be carving out her mark in the nation’s political history in 2016.


Marilyn Jensen- Dance troupe manager, teacher of First Nation governance

Marilyn Jensen is Inland Tlingit and Tagish Khwáan from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation; belonging to the Dakhl’aweidí Clan under the Tagish Keét Hít (Killer whale House)  Killer whale crest in the Southern Yukon Territory.

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Marilyn Jensen

Jensen is leading a revival in North West coastal traditions, ceremony, dance and songs. She is the founder, manager and dance group leader of the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers who have performed across Turtle Island with the goal of sharing traditional Indigenous culture with the world.

Jensen is passionate about her work to sustain her Indigenous roots teaching First Nation Governance to students, Indigenous and government organizations throughout the Yukon Territory.

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The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers that Jensen manages

She is also the vice-president of the Yukon First Nation Cultural Tourism Association and a member of the Indigenous Programs Council for The Banff Centre.

Expect big things from Jensen who is pursuing a Ph’d in Indigenous leadership in 2016.


Mike Scott- Motivational Speaker

Mike Scott has a social media following in the thousands. He is a First Nations motivational speaker from Saskatoon, Sask., who is using his story of adversity to inspire youth from across the country. Leaving behind a life of addictions, Scott began a journey of healing and started the Sober is Sexi motto.

Mike Scott

For the past four years, Scott has traveled across Canada and the U.S. sharing his story and encouraging youth to find their purpose and to live a life of sobriety.

He also creates and posts hilarious video skits on social media, one of the most recent being a parody of the romantic pottery scene from the movie Ghost. The video, shared thousands of times boasting over a million views is giving wide exposure to the charismatic, down to earth and genuinely “neechie” personality that is Mike Scott.

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Scott tours schools talking about the advantages of sobriety

He is a hit among native youth and old alike and his rising popularity is sure to open the doors to further opportunities in 2016.


Melina Laboucan-Massimo-Environmental Activist

Laboucan-Massimo is a First Nations environmentalist who is no stranger to the activism scene. For several years, Laboucan-Massimo has been at the forefront of environmental causes and her work continues to stand out. She is a climate and energy campaigner with Green Peace Canada and her endeavours often have the backing of Hollywood celebrities.

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Laboucan-Massimo addressing a Congressional hearing in Washington, 2012

In the summer of 2015, Laboucan-Massimo lead the construction and installation of a solar power panel project in her tiny home community of Little Buffalo in northern Alberta.

Little Buffalo sits near the heart of the Alberta tar sands and has experienced devastation to its lands from oil spills.

The solar project was significant considering it cost thousands of dollars, the majority of which was raised through private donors and fundraising initiatives undertaken by Laboucan-Massimo.

Additionally, Laboucan-Massimo is an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Her own sister Bella Laboucan-Mclean died mysteriously after falling from a condo balcony in Toronto in the summer of 2013.

Laboucan-Massimo (centre) with actors Jane Fonda (left) and Rachel McAdams at a Greenpeace event in BC

Laboucan-Massimo completed her Master of Indigenous governance in December 2015 and is ready to incorporate her training with her environmental work.

She is reaching out to First Nations communities to help create renewable energy solutions and supporting Indigenous initiatives to transition to renewables in 2016.


Perry Bellegarde-National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

Just over a year into leading the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde is at the forefront of talks of establishing a new relationship with First Nations and the newly elected Liberal government.

Bellegarde has the unprecedented task of working alongside the Trudeau government to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, conduct a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, carry out the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and solve the clean drinking water crisis being among the top priorities of both governments.

Bellegarde (at the podium) introduces Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the AFN’s Special Chief’s Assembly in Dec. 2015

Bellegarde is keeping pressure on Trudeau to hold true to his commitments to First Nations and is expecting to see big investments announced in the upcoming federal budget.

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Bellegarde (back left) with the Canadian delegation to the Paris climate talks in Nov. 2015

First Nations Perry Bellegarde is at the forefront of “closing the gap” between First Nations and the Canadian government.                                             

Robert-Falcon Ouellette-Politician 

The 38 year old Metis was elected as the Liberal Minister of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre in October. Robert Falcon-Ouellette had first gained national recognition during his run for mayor of Winnipeg in 2014, which he ended up coming in third. It was considered an impressive feat given he was a newcomer to the political arena.

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Falcon Ouellette campaign with Justin Trudeau in Winnipeg

He is a married father of five, has a PhD as well as two masters degrees and served for 19 years in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Falcon-Ouellette channels a magnetic personality through to his new leadership role in the House of Commons.

He is often seen wearing flowered embroidery and beaded attire to proudly express his Cree heritage.

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Falcon Ouellette on the campaign trail in Winnipeg Centre

Since taking office Falcon-Ouellette has brought Indigenous issues to the forefront and called them one of the most important issues on his agenda to tackle in 2016.


Sheila North-Wilson-Grand Chief, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak

She is the first woman to ever be elected to lead the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). Chief Sheila North-Wilson beat out incumbent David Harper with promises of ushering in big changes and reinstating integrity to the organization that represents 30 First Nations.

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Sheila North Wilson

The married, mother of two has big aspirations to make her mark during her tenure as MKO grand chief.

Originally from the Bunibonibee Cree Nation North-Wilson is accustomed to the lime light. A former spokesperson for the Manitoba Assembly of First Nations and former journalist with CTV Winnipeg, she has temporarily put her TV career on hold.

Chatelaine magazine recently named North-Wilson as one of its 30 women of the year.

She is often at the center of media headlines speaking out about various First Nations issues like missing and murdered Indigenous women, child welfare and, most recently, publicly denouncing racism after being followed under suspicion of theft in a Winnipeg department store.


With a national inquiry into MMIW underway and the Trudeau government’s ambitious goals to build new relationships with Indigenous peoples, North-Wilson has her work cut out for her.

Yet 2016 could be the year that sees her leadership skills take full form.


Tanya Tagaq-Artist

The Polaris prize winner from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut has been touring the world showcasing her unique talents and giving exposure to the culture of the people of the north.

Tagaq, a throat singer, a traditional way of expressing song that her ancestors have practiced for time immemorial, is much more than that.

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Tanya Tagaq

She is an activist, determined to expose hard truths about systemic racism in governments, missing and murdered Indigenous women and proudly supporting the practices and preservation of her culture such as seal hunting.

Her bold, fierce approach spills out into her artistry that has garnered her praise for a one of a kind talent that channels the spirit of her Indigenous roots into the attention of main stream audiences.


Watch for Tagaq to continue breaking new ground and challenging music industry boundaries in 2016.


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