At 24 years old, Cheyenne Stonechild has already made a strong impact in the world. As an Indigenous Woman in Canada, Cheyenne lacked the support she needed as a child to learn about her culture and where she was from. Inspired by her own experience to help others, she has paved the way for other Indigenous youth to learn about their culture and history by founding 4 the Generation.
Cheyenne’s mother was a survivor of the ‘60’s Scoop in Canada. This meant she was taken away from her family and sold to a Catholic family in Ontario. After a while, the family decided to put her into foster care where she had two children. As she was a child herself, she was separated from her two children - Cheyenne’s half siblings.
Cheyenne’s mother went back to Saskatchewan to find out about her family then eventually came to British Columbia where she gave birth to Cheyenne. At 8 years old, Cheyenne was taken out of her mother’s custody by child services due to it being an abusive situation.
She moved between multiple homes, unsupported in her desire to reconnect with family. At 16, Cheyenne took initiative and found her biological family. While going through her search, she realized the lack of resources and support to help Indigneous youth learn about their heritage, inspiring Cheyenne’s path to help others.
At 21, Cheyenne was the youngest person to receive funding from the Vancouver Foundation. The goal of her project is to help Indigenous youth get food, treatment, teach them where they come from and offer online workshops about their culture.
We are so inspired by Cheyenne and are grateful to her for sharing so much of her story with our #smashtess community! Keep reading to get to know our #smashtessfam feature more!
What inspired you to help youth who are in the position you were in?
Identity. It felt like I was continuously encouraged and then rewarded into forgetting who I was throughout my childhood in-care of the Ministry of Child & Family Development (MCFD). It's hard to watch it happen to someone smaller and younger than you; what you are viewing is a candle burning itself out slowly from the lack of oxygen.
What would you want our audience to know about the issues the youth you work with face?
Judgment. Many people still believe what's stereotypically remarked about Indigenous People and youth in-care (.e.g. lazy, uneducated, troublemakers, and addicts, etc.) as truth and something factual. People need to go beyond the remarks made at face value and ask questions to people that are knowledgeable enough to answer. Tawow (Welcome)! We want people to know more - so please ask us your questions, not the internet!
What is the biggest challenge you face with your project?
The Provincial Boundaries. The Canadian Government recognizes over 630 Indigenous communities in Canada. Here's the punchline - a large percentage of Indigenous children and youth in-care have become displaced here in BC; initially, they're from multiple Provinces across Canada. Meaning, I'm not working with a single community in BC, but across Canada in a lot of ways.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned about your culture?
I am learning my language - Plains Cree (Nêhiyawêwin). I underestimated how difficult it would be to learn; easily, it'll take over six years to master it. It's hard to compare Nêhiyawêwin to English, I can think of one difference: syllabics - we still use it, and it's actively taught among certain groups.
Where do you see yourself and your project in the next 5 years?
Hopefully, by then, I'll have the opportunity to relax and travel a bit. Not likely... As for the project, I would like to establish a small network of people across the provinces to support the kids better.
You said you’re a huge animal lover. What is your favourite animal and why?
Otters are my favourite, I think they're mischievous yet adorable. There was an issue in Chinatown with an otter and the local koi fish at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, which was super amusing to hear about (for me, at least). That otter would've had to make it out of the water and through bustling streets on the downtown eastside to get the koi fish - twice, two years in a row! How did he even know?
What is your favourite way to wear a Smash + Tess piece?
Smash + Tess is new to me. I can’t wait to wear my Short and Sweet set to the Shameful Tiki in Vancouver!
Your career is very involved. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Free time, I've heard about it (joking). I spend a lot of free time seeing the latest movies in theatres or staying at home and watching Netflix. Sometimes, I try to go out and capture some inspiration from sketching wildlife.
You inspire us, but who inspires you?
Anthony, my uncle, is the biggest inspiration for me. He didn't ask to become someone important in my life, yet accepted it all the same. When I was a kid, he made everything seem uncomplicated. I asked him a question, and he responded: If someone needs help, be there for them if you can.
How can someone who wants your help to discover their culture and history get in touch with you?
The best way to reach me is by sending me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org