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Brayden Day Chief (middle) conducts a video podcast interview with Arnie Bellis, spokesperson with the Indigenous Resource Network (right).

Five questions: with Brayden Day Chief

A business student and entrepreneur, this young Indigenous leader wants to make a difference through inspiration, mentoring and sharing opportunities.

Brayden Day Chief is currently a student at the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta. He’s also steeped in his Indigenous culture and traditional knowledge. But his true passion is communication – helping others tell their stories through a very modern medium: video podcasts.

Brayden Day Chief uses video podcasts to help his Indigenous community tell their stories and perspectives.

1. What inspired you as a youth?

I grew up on the Blood (Kainai) reserve, part of Blackfoot Nation of southern Alberta. I drew inspiration from my Mom, who is a teacher, and my Dad who is a born speaker and storyteller – from him I learned to be comfortable speaking to people no matter who they are.

I was also very fortunate to learn my cultural heritage from my grandparents. My grandfather Winston Thunder Chief gave me the Indigenous name Itoomo, which means ‘Man Who Walks First.” This powerful name has been in my family for generations and I’m honoured to carry it.

After graduating from high school I worked for my Dad’s construction company. One year I was a groundskeeper, my job included our local school buildings. One day I went inside the school to get some water and came across a video company making a film, using local youth. They asked whether I wanted an acting part. I’d never done that before but I took a chance. In the end, that film opened doors for me I could never have imagined.

Read more: Natural gas and oil development a pathway for Indigenous self-determination: report

2. You’re now pursuing a university degree?

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Brayden Day Chief’s family tipi incorporates traditional images.

Yes, I’m in third year of a business management degree with a focus on Indigenous governance. I’m also interested in public speaking and developing my skills as a video and graphic designer. I’m pursuing those opportunities through the Indigenous Resource Network.

3. What’s been your experience with the oil and natural gas industry?

Tamarack Valley Energy has developments within the Kainai lands. In my experience they want to work together with our community to share benefits and find opportunities. The CEO Brian Schmidt has been a personal inspiration and mentor. He’s an advisor, a volunteer teacher helping First Nations realize value from the resources on company lands, and he’s set up a number of programs and initiatives. In 2018, the Kainai people appointed him Honourary Chief.  

I see the resource industry getting more involved with Indigenous people, not just as an employer but also helping Indigenous people learn about partnerships in a non-Indigenous world, and the industry is learning about our culture and perspectives. Together we’re finding balance between development and the Indigenous connection to land and water.

Read more: INFOGRAPHIC: Partnering with Indigenous communities

4. What about your work with the Indigenous Resource Network?

Mentors have always been important to me, including leaders at the IRN. One of them saw me in the film and contacted me to see if I wanted to do more videos and interviewing, so I now have a spot on the IRN’s website devoted to my podcasts of Indigenous people telling their stories. I call this project “Itoomo” – my Indigenous name.

Many people I’ve interviewed are entrepreneurs and business owners, and they have seen opportunities to work with oil and natural gas companies to make a better life for their families and their communities. Through the IRN I’ve also met some amazing people, Indigenous leaders and business people from many fields – I have a front-row seat on Indigenous issues and perspectives, I get to listen and learn. As my grandfather taught me, we have two ears and one mouth. Listen, then speak.

Read more: Supporting Indigenous communities in the oil sands region

5. How do you want to influence the future for Indigenous people?

Through my university education, I want to learn how Indigenous reserves are run, what opportunities exist to make life better for families and communities. That’s no easy task because there are many different opinions. As a people we have a strong connection to Mother Earth, the land and water, we want to keep and protect those traditions. But we also need opportunities for our families and communities.

My internship with the IRN has been energizing and inspiring. I want someday to pay this back as an Indigenous leader and mentor myself. There needs to be an Indigenous lens on decision-making to help ensure protection of land, water and culture. But Indigenous people also need more opportunities to participate in Canada’s economy and I want to help make the right decisions.