Skip to main content

Staff Spotlight

Meet Cindy Carusi

By Staff Spotlight

Many of you know Cindy Carusi as our ever-helpful, always cheerful Chief Financial Officer, but many of you might not know how passionate she is about reconnecting with her Secwépemc culture and language.
She is so passionate about it, in fact, that Cindy takes any chance she can to jump online and learn from the many Secwépemctsin teachers we have in the surrounding area.
An intergenerational survivor, Cindy’s mom was a Residential School survivor who saved Cindy’s sister from the same fate.
Cindy is also our latest winner of the Dr. Cindy Blackstock Award, which you can read about on the last two pages. Dr. Blackstock is also a woman Cindy describes as her hero.
Here’s a bit more about Cindy:

Q: What brought you to the agency?

A: I worked for Shuswap Nation Tribal Council as a student and we did the books for SCFSA. I always wanted to work here.
Q: How many years ago would that be?
A: 16

Q: What did you know about the agency before you were hired?

A: I like the idea of helping children, supporting our First Nations children. Just seeing the potential that people can have with the support, because not everyone has that kind of support in their life.

Q: Can you talk about your own family history?

A: My mom was a Residential School survivor, and she had nine brothers and sisters, all of whom were very close. And her nine brothers and sisters were almost removed by the child-welfare system. But her older sister and her sister’s husband took the kids and ran when they heard the child-welfare officials were on their way. My mom’s mom passed away when she was 14 so her older sister and brother-in-law took on that parenting responsibility.
My mom overcame many challenges having attended Residential School. She held anger, hurt and heartache, and she was still able to prevent my sister from being taken to Residential School. I may not have been taken because I was younger, but my sister for sure would have been taken. My mom took her and ran with her.

Q: Do you have memories of those times?

A: I do have memories from my childhood, both good and challenging ones, but I choose to focus on the good memories. Attending Residential School created a lot of different emotions for my mom, but for the most part she did an amazing job considering what she went through and she did everything she could to protect us. My mom was my best friend and helped me raise my two daughters.
Because of my mom’s experience with Residential School, she didn’t see the value in school. When I was in Grade 7, I quit school and she said, ‘That’s fine. If you don’t want to go there, you don’t have to,’ because she had such bad memories of school. I was allowed to quit school, but I had to go to work. So at 10 I went to work at the Oasis Hotel and then at 12 I went to work at the Husky waitressing a graveyard shift, and she was OK with that. I received my education in life and didn’t graduate from university until I was 40.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: I love the idea of what we’re doing for the children and families. I love that we are now able to offer Prevention services. I love the language and the cultural aspect, too, because I missed out on a lot of that as a kid. All of this is new to me, I’ve never had that in my life.
I take pride in making sure that this funding is protected. We want to make sure it goes to our people because that’s who it’s meant for.

Q: You talked about how Dr. Cindy Blackstock is your hero. Can you elaborate?

A: My first boss called us the poor cousins across the river. We had no funding, we couldn’t offer training, and we couldn’t offer raises. MCFD even offered us their used furniture. And then Cindy Blackstock took it upon herself to fight the federal government.
She’s just so fierce. Because of her we have all these programs — the cultural program, increased early years support for children. They say one to six is critical for a child’s development, so now we have a team of people working with our one- to six-year-olds. There are so many little ones who require support and now we can work with them. We couldn’t do that before. We had minimal funding, so we could help a triage of a few children and just skim the top of the need, but we’re doing so much work now and that’s because of her. She went to court but it wasn’t about money for her. It’s about helping our people.
She’s just amazing. She really is.
The Province is still funding our operations based on number of children in care with limited funding to support families and prevent children from entering care and that’s just discriminatory and wrong.

Meet Transition Coordinator Maddy Mccallum

By Staff Spotlight

Q: What brought you to the agency?

A: The day I moved here, there was all these job postings and people were like, ‘You need to apply for this job. You need to apply. You’re perfect for this job.’ I said, ‘I don’t want a job. I have my career.’ And they insisted, so I applied and I got the job. The Creator sends you down a path for a reason, and I said, ‘OK, Creator, I trust where you’re taking me.’ And I’m really glad in the role as Transition Coordinator. When I see the young people, and they hear my story is similar, I said, ‘OK, I know my Creator put me in this role.’ And I don’t know how long I’m here. I don’t know what the path or the journey because I’m a listener, and I really trust where the Creator guides me.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background.

A: I went through a lot of stuff when I was a kid. I needed to leave my Métis community in Northern Saskatchewan so I hitchhiked to Alberta at 12 years old and found my dad. He was shocked when I was there. He’s my greatest teacher and my best friend. I cannot live far from him. But he was on this journey to healing his experience with Residential Schools. Then he brought me to Mission, which wasn’t the ideal place to be living. He was with a partner and I left him and I’ve been on my own ever since I was 13. That’s why being here, it’s familiar. I see the young people here and I’m like, ‘That was me.’ I know what you’re doing. I know where you’re going. I know what that feels like.

My First Nations workers in school would always tell me, ‘You’re gonna do something with your life. Right now it’s hard. But you’re not this person that you’re being on the street.’ Because, of course, I had to protect myself do all these things, trying to have a tough exterior. But they always told me, ‘You’re gonna do something.’ And I said, ‘I’m not even good enough to do anything.’ Yvonne Chartrand, who I call my mom, is one of my many moms on this journey. She runs a Métis contemporary dance company called “V’ni Dansi”. She’s the first one who saw something in me.

Q: Tell us about dance and how it became such a big part of your life.

A: I’ve always been a dancer since I was little. They say I came out dancing. And in my community in northern Saskatchewan, a Métis settlement, I was told as a kid to dance like the elders. I had to dance in the parades. I had to dance in the community dances. I never got to play but I now know they were preparing me. It all really started when I met Yvonne, who was friends with my dad. She asked my dad if I was a dancer, because she had seen me jumping on the trampoline. And she then asked me to come and ‘jig’ (jigging is a traditional Métis dance that has its roots in French, Irish and Scottish dancing) in one of her shows, and then she invited me for a couple other shows, and then from there it kind of organically happened.

Q: And that led to bigger opportunities?

A: Yeah, that’s when it got bigger. And I started to go on stages and to conferences, and be invited to talk to groups and schools. And I’m a part of a modeling agency that just started, Supernaturals Modeling. But even before that, people would ask me, ‘Hey, Maddy, want to come and model my clothes?’ And it’s mostly for Indigenous designers. And I said, ‘Sure why not?’ For me, everything I do is about sharing the energy, even through a photo. I know they say we should live in a world where we don’t need to be resilient, but we do, unfortunately. So it’s to show that strength through the images and show young Indigenous youth from my community that if they want this, they can do it. I was once a little bush kid who didn’t think I was gonna do anything. And I’m doing it all.

Q: You said that dancing saved your life more than once. How?

A: Anytime when I was a kid, when there was things going on, I was the kid dancing at the dance parties that used to come to the north, or the community dances. I was the kid that was out there by myself. For me, it was my freedom. No trauma could come near me. No sadness, no, nothing. It made me so happy. And it helped me through all of my traumatic childhood experiences. And then into my teen years I didn’t dance as much because I was homeless. Dancing through all of that, it was the only time I felt free and I felt normal. I wasn’t the foster kid. I wasn’t the street kid. I wasn’t the messed up kid. I was just me. I was Maddy the Dancer.
And then into my 30s, I ended up with cancer, and had a major surgery at 35 and I danced through it. I have a documentary coming out called Dancing Through. And it’s about how I dance through the whole experience and how it’s been my medicine. It has been amazing.


SAY magazine article

Documentary website

Maddy’s website

Meet Tristen Schneider

By Staff Spotlight

Q: What brought you to the agency?

A: Honestly, it was my dream to live in British Columbia. I worked in Jasper National Park (as part of an Indigenous interpretive team for Parks Canada) for four years and it really enticed me and my soul, being this First Nations woman living on reserve, coming from a small community. I was always told by my parents to leave the reserve and get as much opportunity as I can.
My biggest thing is that it’s really important for me to have young people in these types of roles. It’s really important to create space, and take up space, for young people. And being vocal about it.
One of the other reasons why I took this opportunity is that I have younger cousins who look up to me and I have a community that’s looking up to me. It’s really important to be a role model for my community, to be proud of the community that I come from, too.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background
My community, Shawanaga First Nation, Ojibway territory, is located two-and-a half hours north of Toronto, along Georgian Bay. We only have roughly about 600 people registered for the community, and only 200 live on reserve, so it’s a pretty-knit tight community. One of the famous things that we’re known for is Francis Pegahmagabow (the most highly decorated Indigenous soldier in Canadian military history and the most effective sniper of the First World War).
In some of my previous work prior to coming to the agency, I was employed with the Chiefs of Ontario, working with a political advocacy body. I worked with indigenous youth 18 to 29 around suicide, life promotion, mental health.
It really all stemmed from me being a part of my community Youth Council, that’s how I got to where I am today — being involved from the local level. And then I started making connections, I have really good relationships with a lot of the chiefs back in Ontario. So it’s like my network has been expanding. And that’s one key thing why I wanted to come to B.C., is because networking and relationship-building are important. So when it is time for me to go home back to Ontario, let’s say I’m working in my community, then I could be like, ‘Oh, let me call this person in Kamloops. Because I know they know that they have more information or maybe help support my community in this initiative.’

Q: Who inspired you on your journey?
A: My grandfather on my mother’s side, Roger Jones, was a well-respected elder back in Ontario. He did tremendous work with the homeless population. My grandmother, his wife, was part of the Indian day school. What I can recall as a child was living at my grandparents house every other weekend or every weekend, so for me, I really grew up obtaining that older soul.
In terms like of leadership, it was my Uncle Howard. When I was younger, just before our national Aboriginal Day, I went to go see him. He was just newly elected chief and I was about 10 years old, and I wanted to have fireworks on Aboriginal Day. So I asked him, and he said, ‘No problem, Tristen.’

So so the next day comes along and we received word that he had a massive heart attack, and he passed away. So, of course, we didn’t celebrate Aboriginal Day, but a couple of weeks passed and we went into a big lodge, which fits about 50 people, and we were doing a ceremony for him. At the end of the ceremony, an elder mentions that Howard said that he had something to do before he went, he said that somebody wanted fireworks. So we went outside of the lodge, and what I remembered is that they set off fireworks, and I started crying because even though he wasn’t there, he made that promise to me. So by showing that example of leadership, that helped guide me in some of the work I did, and just how strong the connection I have to my community and how strong the connection I have to my homeland.

Q: What do you like most about your job as community liaison?
A: What I like most about the job is really understanding what a community liaison is, in particular, understanding the Prevention contracts, because this is a completely new playing field for myself. One thing in particular, is really learning child welfare. And one thing I’m really thankful for is being a part of the Simpcw jurisdiction process, because I get to see how they’re going to be creating their own child welfare jurisdiction for their community. What I really do appreciate, though, it’s just being in a different nation, and learning how the people work.