BCAFN Staff

Vanessa W.

Vanessa West, Chief of Staff

Vanessa (she/her) is a member of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and had served as an elected member of Council from 2001 to 2009 and from 2015-2019. She previously worked as the Treaty Office Manager for the Lheidli T’enneh Treaty Office for nine years from 1998-2007. Prior to taking on the role of Chief of Staff for the BC Assembly of First Nations, she worked with Positive Living North, an Aboriginal HIV/AIDS non-for-profit service organization, transitioning her career from First Nations politics to the social services field. Initially managing the street-level HIV/AIDS/HCV Prevention Program, the Fire Pit Cultural Drop-In Centre in 2007, she then moved into the role of Executive Director, which she held from 2008 to 2018.

To expand her knowledge and understanding around addictions and street- involved populations, she began working for the AIDS Prevention Program/Needle Exchange in Prince George from 2008 to 2013 as an after-hours Intake/Support Worker. During this time, Vanessa also volunteered as a Board Member for the Canadian AIDS Society and served two terms with this national organization.

Vanessa is the proud mother of three children, Jordan, Alexandria and John-Michael. She currently lives in her community with her partner of ten years, Randy, and joined the BCAFN team in April 2018.

Victoria Austin, Executive Assistant

Victoria is Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en from the Hagwilget Village Council. She has resided in the Prince George area for the past 24 years and has worked for Urban Aboriginal Organizations for the past 22 years. Victoria has enjoyed her time with the BCAFN becoming familiar with the processes of the AFN and the regional offices and seeing first hand developments of many projects that benefit our first nation people. It is great to finally be able to meet in-person and see many familiar and new faces in the many meetings in BC and across Canada. The BCAFN currently has a northern BC office located in North Lheidli T’enneh which is the first time the BCAFN has been in the north. Victoria has been with the BCAFN since April 2018.  

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Maureen B.

Maureen Buchan, Senior Policy Director

An Anishinaabe from Bearskin Lake First Nation in Northern Ontario, Maureen has over 15 years of experience working for First Nations Political Organizations. She has a Master of Arts in Indigenous Governance from the University of Victoria as well as an Advanced Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Government from the University of Manitoba

Maureen was formerly an Associate Faculty Member at the University of Victoria and has worked as a Policy Analyst and Specific Claims researcher for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). Other experience includes research work for various organizations including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and Musqueum Nation.

As co-founder of Sparrow-Grant Consulting, Maureen has provided policy, political, and strategic advice for a number of BC First Nations. A proud mother of two, Maureen currently resides on Musqueam Territory.

Jaime Sanchez, Special Advisor to the Regional Chief

Jaime has over 15 years working with First Nations in BC focused on building capacity, policy and strategic advise, natural resource management and negotiations with the Crown and industry. Some of his accomplishments include establishing a centralized mapping office, providing certified aboriginal land use planning training, co-designed and delivered a First Nations Referrals Officer Program, as well as assisting with multi-million-dollar negotiations for energy projects and reconciliation agreements.

Jaime is a Registered Professional Planner (RPP), and Member of the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), having graduated from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in 2005 with a degree in Environmental Planning, with a focus on First Nations Community Planning.

As a first-generation Canadian living with his two sons in Snuneymuxw territory (Nanaimo), Jaime is passionate and dedicated to being part the reconciliation needed in Canada. His own family was displaced due to the military dictatorship in Chile in the 1970s, which has informed his drive and passion for seeking solutions to conflicts and restitution of historic wrongs.

Jaime S.
Melanie L.

Melanie Lyons, Finance Manager

Melanie is a Certified Professional Accountant (CPA, CA) and a member of Katzie First Nation in Pitt Meadows, BC but grew up on Katzie IR#2 in Langley, BC. Katzie is a part of the linguistic family that is the known as the downriver dialect of Halkomelem, the language shared by the peoples residing on the rivers and shores of the Salish Sea. q̓íc̓əy̓ means “the land of the moss,” and is also the name of the village site on the Fraser River near the present day community of Port Hammond.

Melanie has worked with Alberta First Nations in an audit role and as a Financial Controller. Melanie has also worked with many First Nations throughout B.C. and across Canada in her previous role with the First Nations Financial Management Board. Melanie currently lives in Prince George, B.C. and joined the BCAFN team in May 2018.

Annette Schroeter,  Communications Officer

Annette (she/her) was born to Anishinaabe and German parents in Prince George, BC and is a member of the Muskrat Dam First Nation located in northwestern Ontario. Most recently she worked for the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council as the Communications Coordinator and has also worked with First Nations communities in northern Ontario in a liaison capacity. Annette has a Master of First Nations Studies and Bachelor’s Degree in History and Anthropology from the University of Northern British Columbia. She also holds a Bachelor’s of Design from Emily Carr University of Art & Design.

Annette S.
Patricia R.

Patricia Rojas, Regional Climate Change Coordinator

Patricia is the BCAFN’s Regional Climate Change Coordinator. She has worked for over 15 years with indigenous peoples focusing on the protection of collective rights, social and environmental justice, and self-determination.

Her experience providing technical and strategic support to indigenous communities includes: policy analysis and political advocacy related to mining, climate change and environmental issues; engagement with mining companies and governments; and, reform to Peru’s water protection and governance laws. Other experience includes measuring carbon footprints, teaching and curriculum development.

She received a Master’s Degree in Sustainability, with a speciality in Policy Analysis, from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Barcelona, Spain); and a Master’s Degree in Social Management from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, and a Bachelor Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cajamarca.

Patricia is a first-generation Canadian from Peru, and her extensive work experience has been primarily in Latin America and Europe. She is passionate about climate and social justice for indigenous peoples and believes that these are intrinsically linked. She is excited to work for BC’s First Nations because she believes that indigenous peoples’ values, knowledge and systems of governance are essential to address climate change.

Sarah Froese, Senior Policy Analyst

Prior to joining the BC Assembly of First Nations as a policy analyst Sarah completed her Masters in Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Here, she developed skills in policy analysis and interdisciplinary technical knowledge, focusing on issues of jurisdiction, governance, and community engagement in the context of the climate crisis, environmental impact assessments, and renewable energy. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Psychology from the University of Manitoba. 

Sarah grew up in a Mennonite community located in Treaty 1 territory before moving to Vancouver. She is now grateful to be residing on the unceded territories of the Xwməθkwəy̓ əm, Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh, and Səlilwətaɬ peoples. Sarah enjoys being active in her community, listening and learning, practicing Argentine tango, and spending time outdoors.

Sarah F.
Joanna P.

Joanna Prince, Administrative Project Support

Joanna is a member of Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation and has worked with Indigenous groups and people for the last 27 years in a variety of roles that include: administrative positions, an intake worker for family support, resource social work, aboriginal group home support worker, aboriginal child in care liaison, office management, and event coordinator. She has also worked in a variety of physically demanding jobs such as tree planting, wild pine seed collection, tree nursery work and residential carpentry. Joanna brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience related to social issues and stigmas that Indigenous peoples have experienced on and off reserve, particularly related to youth

Joanna has also worked in a variety of physically demanding jobs such as tree plant nursery work, residential frame carpentry, and collecting pine seeds in the forests in Northern BC. Joanna’s hobbies consist of hiking, snow shoeing, snowboarding, camping, mountain biking and travelling the globe.

Sophia Iliopulos, Regional Water Coordinator

Prior to joining the BCAFN team, Sophia was introduced to the multi-faceted aspects of First Nations governance including researching and writing policy, engagement and facilitation as well as negotiations and relationship building with government and industry in her work with the McLeod Lake Indian Band as the Chief's Executive Assistant. She holds a double major in International Studies and Political Science with Honours from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). Her interest in water conservation grew when she was selected to be part of a youth capacity-building mentorship program with the Fraser Basin Council as part of the Fraser Salmon and Watersheds Program. She also co-hosted UNBC's Environmental Radio Show which was a weekly program that addressed topics on climate change, environment, and water in BC and beyond. During her undergraduate degree, she worked at the City of Prince George as a certified Water and Wastewater Operator where her passion for water stewardship continued to evolve towards a more holistic understanding of water cycles and water security. She is a second-generation settler with predominantly Greek and Irish ancestry. Sophia was born, raised, and currently resides as a guest on the unceded territories of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation.

Sophia I.
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Rochelle King, Policy Analyst

Traditionally, Odwęhǫháhóh (Covered in Flowers) is a member of the Gayogohó:no⁷ (Cayuga) Nation and of the Ganyáhdę: (Turtle Clan). Her familial territory is Oswe:gęi⁷ (Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation) and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation in Ontario. She is a band member of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, who now resides as a guest on the traditional unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples.

Since 2015, Rochelle has worked in various positions for a number of First Nations organizations. Most recently, she worked as a Coordinator for Parent and Community Engagement. She worked to significantly expand and improve support, resources and services for First Nations communities and First Nations schools by implementing parent and student programs that ultimately enhance students and school success. In 2020, Rochelle graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from University of British Columbia.

Rochelle is very thankful to be joining British Columbia Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) as the Policy Analyst to advocate for First Nations women, girls, and First Nation people who identify within 2SLGBTQQIA+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) community and is beyond excited to continue to work for First Nations communities.

Sarah Behn, Economic Development Policy Analyst 

Sarah is a band member of Fort Nelson First Nation and a community member of West Moberly First Nations, both located in Northeastern British Columbia. She has a Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurial Management from Royal Roads University. Prior to joining the BCAFN, she worked as an independent consultant, focusing on grant writing and project management for First Nations in BC. She is passionate about economic equity and reconciliation within economic development. 

As the Vice-President of the Canadian Geoparks Network, she continually works to elevate First Nations' priorities and voices in UNESCO designated spaces nationally and internationally. Sarah is a proud mother of two sons, residing within Treaty 8 Territories.

Sarah B.
Landon W.

Landon Wagner, Policy Analyst 

A proud descendant of the historic Métis Nation, Landon Wagner currently resides on Treaty 6 territory in Saskatoon, SK, the traditional territory of Cree peoples and the homeland of the Métis. He completed his master's degree in Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in 2021 with a focus on the intersections of identity, indigeneity, and land conflict. His research has centred on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the intricacies of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in both Central African and Canadian contexts. He currently holds a position as a sessional lecturer and researcher with the University of Saskatchewan. He is passionate about furthering reconciliation and Indigenous rights and greatly appreciates the opportunity to do so as a part of the BCAFN.

Candace Aksidan, Administrative Support Worker 

Candace (she/her) is a proud member of the Nisga’a Nation from the community of Gitlaxt’aamiks. Although she didn’t grow up in the community she is from; she is doing her best to decolonize herself through her language, culture, and sobriety.  She has spent most of her life living on the unceded territory of the Lheidli T’enneh, where she currently resides with her husband of eleven years, Mel, and their three children.

 Candace has started the transition into  administration with many transferable skills, after working in the customer service industry for over fifteen years. Throughout the pandemic, she has gained interest in Indigenous issues and what Canada, Indigenous people, and the rest of society are doing regarding reconciling these issues. She does her part by spreading awareness of indigenous people’s hardships and issues when necessary, as she has faced many of these herself.

She listens to her late Ye’e’s (grandfather’s) advice in everything she does: “Be fearless, like the grizzly.”

Candace
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Marc Storms, FNLC Cannabis Policy Analyst

Over the last eight years, Marc has worked extensively in the Indigenous Cannabis Industry, having met and collaborated with business and Provincial, Federal, Municipal and First Nation governments, across BC and Canada. Having co-founded an Indigenous Cannabis Cultivation company in 2015, Marc as CEO and CMO, was responsible for developing the model that ensured all decisions were made through an Indigenous lens and were consistent with advancing Indigenous Reconciliation. Through this enterprise, Marc has met with the Provincial Cannabis committee, the Minister Farnworth, representatives of the AFN and BCAFN, the Federal Minister of Health, has supported the development of new policies in support of Indigenous participation in this industry, and has spoken on the topic at conferences.

Having been trained as a Harvard Negotiator, mediator and conflict resolution provider, Marc is very aware of the often-challenging nature of governmental and organization relations in terms of the politics surrounding the advancement of Indigenous rights, and has made a life-long career of working to advance Indigenous social and economic equality and opportunity.

Matthew Norris, Senior Policy Analyst

Matthew Norris (he/him) is Nehithaw (Cree) and a proud  member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in northern Saskatchewan (Treaty 6) and and lives on the unceded and traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh Nations. Matthew is President of the Urban Native Youth Association in Vancouver, BC and has nearly a decade of experience advocating for Indigenous rights across a wide-array of policy and governance areas, as a policy professional, community leader, and academic.

He is a PhD student in UBC's Department of Political Science’s International Relations Program with a focus on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, under the supervision of Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot. He is a graduate of the Masters program in UBC's Political Science Program with a focus on Deliberative Democracy, Climate Justice and Decolonization. Matthew has been highly active in the Indigenous community on campus; being the founding president of the First Nations Studies Student Association, an organizational member for the 2012 Global Indigenous Conference, and a graduate with a double Major from UBC's department of Political Science and First Nations Studies undergraduate programs.

Matthew has been previously employed by the City of Vancouver as a Policy and Communications Advisor to City Councillor Christine Boyle, where he has advised, researched and wrote City Council motions on housing policy, anti-racism, the implementation of Indigenous rights frameworks (UNDRIP), and heritage protection policy. He has been previously employed by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and worked with the First Nations Leadership Council advising on a wide-array of provincial and federal policy and its impacts on Indigneous Nations.

Matthew actively writes and presents on issues and policies impacting Indigenous peoples, including in the Tyee, and the IWGIA's annual publication, The Indigenous World, podcasts, radio and community events.

Matthew has previously been an Indigenous Delegate to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, ran unsuccessfully for Vancouver City Council in 2022, and continues to volunteer his time in a variety of capacities including as President of the Urban Native Youth Association, Director on the Board of the BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Member of UBC's Indigenous Strategic Plan Executive Advisory Committee, Co-Chair of the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition and Member of the Indigenous Climate Adaptation Working Group for BC Climate Action Secretariat.

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Kristi

Kristi Denby, Environment Policy Analyst

Kristi (she/her) is a researcher and sustainability professional whose diverse career has led her to work on water and land reform policy research in South Africa, sustainable and regenerative tourism training and development across Canada, environmental assessments with a focus on Indigenous community impacts in Northeast BC and Alberta, and sustainable value chain projects in the high Amazon region of Peru. In her, over a decade of experience, she has incorporated a climate change, gender and social justice lens in her work and has had the privilege to learn from and work side by side with Indigenous Peoples in Peru, Tanzania, South Africa and Canada.

Kristi holds an interdisciplinary Master’s of Science in International Development Studies from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. While in Norway, she worked with an international consortium of researchers focused on addressing historically rooted inequalities in water access through making water policies and practices more locally appropriate in Africa and beyond. Prior to joining BCAFN, Kristi’s work focused on sustainable tourism development and training where it became evident to her that the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss were becoming a crisis in BC and around the world. Kristi is proud that her path has led her back to her home province of BC, where she now can weave her passion for reconciliation and social/climate justice issues into her work in incorporating First Nations value systems, knowledge and inherent rights into climate change and environmental policy.