We had the good fortune of connecting with Laura Grizzlypaws and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Laura, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I am from the St’at’imc nation. A small tribe within the central interior of British Columbia. Known as the Salishian People. The community I am from is Xwisten (Bear Clan Community) we are known as the smiling people, My background is truly I believe what has shaped or contributed to my current identity as an Indigenous woman. I was born and raised in Lillooet BC, However, I am a daughter of survivor of the Indian Residential School. I spent a great early years of my life with my grand parents, harvesting, working the garden, our on the land and down the fishing rocks. However, when my Kwekwa7 (grandmother) passed away, my life transitioned to a cycle of neglect and abuse. I was re-homed and placed into the care of the ministry. A home that was unsafe, and did not provide adequate protection and care for my well-being. Thus, this is what led to mental, physical, spiritual, emotional abuse of all kinds, from verbal, sexual, and spiritual abuse primarily in the home and community. These events triggered emotions, feeling, and hardships of anger, resentment, trust issues and jealousy of other homes and families that were stable, safe and secure. I did not have role models in my life that I aspired to, I struggled in school, academics, and ended up in prison. I had people in my life that I never wanted to become. I made a commitment to better myself and to do the complete opposite of what I endured as a child. I had people that didnt believe in me, care for me or provide the love and protection that I needed to be a good human being. As I began my healing journey leaving prison, and when my Spapza7 (Grandfather) passed away while in prison. I re-remembered the basic core principles and values he and my Kwekwa7 shared with me. The tmicw (land), ucwalmicw (how to help one another as people of the land), and ucwalmicwts (through the language). I recalled telling my Kwekwa7 “I want to be just like you”. Kwekwa7 had a strong gentle frame, hard working, self-motivated, storyteller, and resilient. When I began my healing journey and reconciled my past, my childhood, my trauma’s, I tuned back into education, to obtain my dogwood diploma and to seek traditional knowledge systems and support to become a better ucwalmicw to learn the ways of the tmicw, and to learn to speak ucwalmicwts. To succeed in education, but also to succeed in balance through traditional knowledge systems. I have to say this as well, when I struggled in school, I was kicked out in grade 8, and kicked out from the Community Learning centre for struggling with my academics. I returned back to the same Community Learning Centre demanding access to my education. As I clearly stated to the instructor “I need help, I do not understand this question”. The instructor responded, “Look on the computer, do the unit over again if you don’t understand”. I repeated the unit, failed again and again. I asked for help again, and was neglected. The last time I asked, he refused to come to the table to help or guide me through my struggles. I threw the book, the table, to the side, and stormed out of the building and he told me never to return back again.

However, I did return, as I reflected back on my prison experiences when the Instructor encouraged me to do coursework instead of labour work. I refused and denied the offer, until one day he told me, “You didn’t fail!” The system and those teachers failed to take the time to teach you.” So i took that memory, I returned back to the Community Learning Centre and stated those words back to the teacher that refused to step up and help me. He had nothing to say to me. Another instructor, stepped forward and said, “I will help you”.
When I graduated with my Dogwood Diploma, the same instructor that denied to assist me, asked me ‘What will you do now that you are done school?”
My response, “I am going to school to become a teacher” His response, “You better think of something else, that will be too hard for you to do”.
I walked away, never looked back.

There will always be someone that does not support, encourage, believe, or have faith in you. I experienced the harshest experiences from childhood abuse, neglect to becoming homeless and locked behind prison walls.

What I had learnt was that, I had to believe in myself and hold myself accountable for the outcome of my life. I am not responsible for my past, but I can be responsible for my future.

I firmly, believe we can succeed, through our cultural traditional values and build solid foundations, reclaiming our identities in balance through education and business sectors.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
LAURA GRIZZLYPAWS ARTIST BUSINESS STRUCTURE I am on a mission to advocate powHERfully for the cultural survival of distinct identities by honoring self-determination, empowering individuals through political leadership, resilience and artistic skills. The key areas of my arts is central to balance. Balancing Indigenous Cultural Expression and Communications through education, dance, and music. I have gained education and cultural knowledge, broadening my understanding of the significance in maintaining personal wellness based on the notion of wholeness and inter-connectedness, celebrating the fundamental Indigenous concept of balance (mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally). I have been on many travels, teaching, dancing, singing, speaking and sharing with others globally from Europe, to Peru, across the US borders, to western and northern parts of Canada.

I honor my own self-determination through cultural traditions, education, politics, and leadership and my own personal health and wellness.  Breaking the stress of oppression means living through our values, beliefs and philosophies.  Culture is not in the past. It is now.  It is not stagnant.  It is alive.  It is not in a museum.  It is vibrant, full of stories, arts, music, dance and the experiences we live and our Indigenous knowledge systems.

What I want People to Know.

1. Interactive Song & Dance

Everywhere you look, Indigenous dance is captivating world and there has never been a better time to bring movement and energy to your organization. Song and dance workshops will provide an ideal way to introduce children or your community to the concepts of Indigenous, theatre and art forms of culture in a safe fun moving environment. From the drummers beat to traditional and contemporary art forms of rhythms, improvisations in our dance workshop will bring new -learning experiences.

2. Oral Traditions

Oral tradition is information passed down through the generations by word of mouth that is not written down. This includes historical and cultural traditions, literature and law. Explore some oral traditional examples. We have stories to tell, stories we have lived from the inside and out. Creation stories have shaped our communities with landscapes and traditional laws and teachings evident in our stories passed on from countless generations. Indigenous stories and stories of the people around you are unique, and valuable to your family and your community. You can discover, preserve unwritten history using oral history techniques and skills.

3. Grizzly Bears Protected Species

The Grizzly bear plays a prominent role in the community of St’at’imc as a protected species both in cultural and ecological as an umbrella species. If we protect the Grizzly bears, we are also sustaining and ensuring the continuance of cultural survival into the future.

4. In Language Holds Life, In Language Holds Death

Language holds a vast ray of information of thousands of years of culture and how we relate and connect to the land and to each other. It is a powerful indicator of a tribal groups identity, it is an important way to maintain links within one’s own cultural past, present future identity.  Sadly, within the next generation or two diverse languages will become extinct if Indigenous peoples do not pick up the momentum and capture and reclaim traditional languages as a means of reclaiming culture.

5. St’at’imc Seven Laws of Life:

Health; Happiness; Generations; Generosity; Power; Compassion; Quietness
This section focuses on the following Lessons:

• Understandings one’s personal identity
• Who am I?
• What are my values in life?
• Medicine wheel to health and wellness
• What is True Happiness?
• Why do we focus on past, present and future generations and how do the choices we make impact generations?
• What does it mean to be Generous?
• How can you use Power as a tool to success?
• What are the differences between Compassion and pity?
• What are the values of Quietness and how can bring more of this into our lives.

6. Singing Workshop (Voice lessons, Singing, Leadership)

Learn how to sing enchanting songs. Whether you’re an instrumentalist who has never sung or an experienced singer looking for a new experience to strengthen your voice, this workshop is was designed to meet you where you are. Join Grizzlypaws as she helps you get started to express your voice. Grizzlypaws discusses the history of Indigenous singing to provide some context to the learners, and then helps you understand and play with your vocals. She also demonstrates physical exercises to build core strength—which can improve your singing—sound, pitch, and melody.

Topics include:

• The history of singing in Indigenous culture
• Understanding your vocals
• Caring for your voice
• Building core strength
• Developing the correct mental approach to singing
• Teaching songs to sing together

7. Live Performances of Grizzlypaws Songs

Focused on the Four Albums Released by Grizzlypaws

1. Hear Me
2. We are the Children of the Land
3. Come Home (Indigenous Music Award Winning Album)
4. Muzmit.stumc (Prayer Songs)

8. Resilience Topics: Overcoming Trauma; Sexual Abuse, Anger & Violence; Neglect; Incarceration; Education Challenges School Failures

Resilience is the ability to recover and bounce back from adversity and hardships, feeling stronger and more capable to cope than ever before.
Resilient people demonstrate great flexibility, high energy, mental agility and consistently perform at their highest level. They have strong relationships and support networks that help them to amplify their productivity and results.
The beauty of resilience is that it gives hope and strength to those who may have similar challenges and or barriers to overcome.

9. Education Leadership

a) Inclusive Education & Indigenous Pedagogy Teaching and Learning
b) Lifelong learning is a collective responsibility
c) Understanding Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy and the historical and contemporary conditions of Aboriginal education in Canada
d) Education Skills & Training impacting First Nations Economy
e) Resilience in Education (Balancing Indigenous & Non-Indigenous Paradigms)

10. Grizzly Bear Performance: Song, Dance and Creation Story

“She crouches, she bends, she bounces, bells jingle, she turns, she stalks, she stands tall, paws extend skyward, she pounces, she shakes the imposing head of the magnificent – and heavy- grizzly bear regalia draped over her.” – Wendy Fraser Bridge River Lillooet News

The Bears name is Grizz both Grizzlypaws and Grizz are from the community of Xwisten. Grizzlypaws and Grizz evoke the days when grizzly bears once roamed the land with no threat. With the declining number of Grizzlies, Grizz now marks his ancestral footprints to provide hope, sustainability through cultural education to empower, promote and to increase awareness of cultural identity, community and family values.

11. Women EmpowHERment

Women are the foundation of family, community and cultural sustainability. Women empowerment is to motivate and develop women by promoting their participation in all areas and sectors, to build stronger families, community and economies, improve their quality of life; remind them of their strengths and gifts as mentors, mothers, sisters, daughters and leaders. EmpowerHERment to women encourages women to take action and make their own decisions by breaking all their personal rules that the society and their family and even religion/culture had created for them. It is to inspire them to be independent in all aspects from thought, mind, decision, health and wellness and to bring equality into their life.

I have to admit it is NOT easy. I am a single Independent parent of four and actually work at Thompson Rivers University as the Indigenous Educational Developer, so balance is so important and key to the success of my small artistic business.
Balancing family, horses, work, and self-care were all essential and important.

One of the greatest challenges, is support, When I first started to really launch my business and the vision of my work I wanted to offer, having, extended family and even your home community, did not honour or recognize the work or the vision. There are still stereotypes as a female Grizzly Bear dancer, that, “women do not belong in leadership positions or roles of great significance. But what really kept me strong and focused was the support from my family members and mentors. To keep moving forward. I had to believe in myself most importantly, never give up on myself, my children, my family. There will always be someone, or even more, that don’t believe in our vision or purpose, what is most important is that we had to believe in who we are, and what we are capable of achieving. I wanted to shake mountains, I wanted to create magic, I wanted to give back to community and I wanted to demonstrate to our children and even our Elders that we can succeed through our culture and we can create opportunities to celebrate through the arts of music, dance, and the art of storytelling and be successful in this modern world without abandoning our identities.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First of all, I would be picking them up from the airport! I would also give them the best bed to sleep in, in my home! hahahaha

Because I am an early riser breakfasts are ready at 7am. daily
Lunches @ noon Dinner @ 6pm with three snacks in between meals.

We do not live in a city, we live in the country, in the mountains. So it is an isolated area. However, there is wifi, internet access, * no landline, no cable, not close to any stores 14km out of a local town, and 2hr drive from nearest city
* Everyday shared responsibility of watering and feeding horses,
* Daily walks if not on an outing.

Peanut butter chia with oats
with a Wonder shake

Lentil Soup

Lunch Lemon and Herb Chicken
Roasted cauliflower, baked courgette batons

White bread toasted with salmon spread.
Spring Salmon, Green vegetable salad

Evening snack
Alpro Soya Milk, with Chocolate Protein Cookies

Walks on the property ranch (beautiful property of horses, mountains and river valley) 2x a day. Morning and Evening stroll after dinner.

Day 1.
Horsemanship skills and training
Ride to the River Beach with horses for a picnic on the waters.
Horse swims on the beach (riding from home property to the river (3.5km)

Day 2
Xwisten Fishing Grounds, Walk along the Fishing Camps along the richest part of the St’at’imc Territory
with a salmon BBQ for Lunch
Visit the Historical Sites and the modern S7istken (underground home) in the Bridge River Valley.

Day 3
Day Trip
Hike up to Glaciers passing three lakes of Joffre to get to the peak.
Picnic Lunch to be packed (Wind Dried Salmon, bannock, with fruit and water
Expected time frame 6hrs to enjoy the scenery and the mountains. 2hr hike up, 1.5 hr hike down.

Day 4
Rest Day
Enjoy the property on the ranch with the horses.
Home BBQ with Deer Steaks, and Roasts with healthy broccoli casserole
Invite Elders, Qelhcin, Mentors Bradley , and key drummers to share stories, songs and life experiences of the territory.

Day 5
Take a trip up the mountain “Graveyard Valley” and the “Land of Plenty” with Elder Qelhcin & Qwayanak.
Share the historical sites, of what the land used to look like before development and the changes of the territory through the development of the man made dams.

Day 6
Seton Lake A day on the lake
A time to share, visit, and experience the lake with paddles, and lounge.
Picnic packing. Fruits, veggies, beverages, coronation coleslaw

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have always been reflective of my grand parents (the memories) the basic values and principles of helping one another. Also my home community former Chief Bradley Jack, a mentor, and a firm believer of my vision and work. Sometimes if I was feeling completely exhausted or reminded of my purpose, I could always count on him to remind me of my strengths and resiliency. Most importantly, my children, I am always humbly reminded of my children, What do I want them to know, understand, witness, experience and most importantly, what kind of legacy do I want my children and future grandchildren, Even the Indigenous communities to witness in the future of their research projects of articles, podcasts, videos, documentaries of myself. When Creator says that my purpose in life is complete. I want make sure I leave a good legacy of content and knowledge that they can access, fulfil and share.

Website: www.grizzlypaws.ca

Instagram: @l_grizzlypaws

Linkedin: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/laura-grizzlypaws-799234a3

Twitter: @lgrizzlypaws https://twitter.com/lgrizzlypaws?lang=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=laura%20grizzlypaws

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb5z9m2fJCl5o_SvSRrAmqA

Image Credits
Maggie Woo Photography (2 images – of Grizz and I sitting on the floor and the image of me looking into the camera with black top on) Levi Blackwolf (Image of me dancing on the floor, image of me with children) Jonah Greenman (Image of me standing in front of the mic)

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.