Denni is from ʔaq̓am, a Ktunaxa community located in Ktunaxa territory in British Columbia. She grew up in this small Indigenous community, surrounded by a beautiful natural environment to which she is deeply connected. The mountains and rivers, the traditional practices, the culture of her nation—these were the components of her living environment and they are part of her identity, as are the strong matriarchs who raised her and who continue to inspire her.
This community, which Denni carries in her heart, also experienced traumas, the impacts of these traumas have been unintentionally passed on from generation to generation. Many generations of ʔaq̓am children were forcibly sent to the St. Eugene Mission residential school, and these separations affected the entire community in profound ways that have yet to be healed. Emotional distress, loss of culture and different types of addiction have often been a legacy that the community members cope with. When Denni was younger and struggled with anxiety, she refrained from talking about it, telling herself that her struggles were not as important as the struggles of those around her.
One particular tragedy marked her life. Her uncle, barely older than she was, took his life. She was devastated by it. Denni did not know how to deal with his loss. She withdrew, lost interest in school, cut herself off from the world and no longer cared about life. In a moment of clarity, she realized that she needed help, and went looking for support—this enabled her not only to deal with her depression, but to gain the right tools for taking care of herself. She then left her community to discover another part of the world. During the seven months she spent in Southeast Asia, she got to know herself better. She also practised meditation, which proved beneficial for both her body and her mind.
When she returned to Canada, Denni began working for her community as a strategic planner. Through her role in service to her community, she discovered her strengths and abilities. She felt great sense of belonging and sense of purpose in serving her community. Denni lead ʔaq̓am through a successful community engagement process that resulted in the community’s first strategic plan. This plan provided the foundation for many successful ventures for the community including a new school, power generation facility and new businesses and was recognized by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Denni left her community to pursue studies at the University of Victoria where she graduated with distinction in 2015. Since graduation, she has been working for the provincial and federal government on climate change and Indigenous community engagement.
Denni understands that mental health issues should not be trivialized. She knows how important it is for everyone in her community to feel comfortable to talk about mental health and to receive the help they need in order to heal. Denni has also experienced truly difficult moments and time has enabled her to develop her own therapeutic mechanisms for maintaining her balance. Through dance and performance, in particular, she is able to safely express herself and process her journey. This is Denni’s way of highlighting her culture and helping others understand that Indigenous women are important, and Indigenous women have a right to be loved and heard. taxas ⱡat ʔat ȼxanam- Let’s talk.