“I’m unbelievably proud,” says Biech. “I get emotional when I think about it,” he says.
Raised in Alberta, first in Calgary and then later in Cochrane, Biech says he had little contact with the Plains Cree communities.
Biech says his family as a whole had struggled with intergenerational traumas stemming from Canada’s colonial policies. Over time, his family became fragmented. In high school, Biech says he began to learn more about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
“They didn’t tell us very much, but I always got fired up,” he says, “because I knew… that’s my family, those are my relatives.”
When Biech arrived at U of T, he took a Canadian politics course with a teaching assistant who was interested in Indigenous studies.
“Again, I was fired right up,” says Biech.
That summer, Biech says he began volunteering at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and met people in Toronto’s Indigenous community that helped solidify his path.
“I didn’t realize how hungry I was for that basic foundation. For that kind of knowledge,” he says.
In 2015, Biech and two friends inIndigenous studies at the Faculty of Arts & Science decided it was time the faculty had a student union to call their own with a constitution informed by indigeneity. This meant creating a group that avoided hierarchies and advocated for decision-making to be collaborative.
By fall 2015, the Indigenous Studies Student Union was born. Now, less than two years later, Biech has moved on to law school, but the student union he helped found is thriving. It has hundreds of members and hosts dozens of events across U of T, including Saturday’s powwow, Honouring Our Students Pow Wow and Indigenous Festival, which is free and open to the public.
“The group is meant to be a symbol of hope, and I think it’s living proof because it shows a small group of friends with a good idea really can change everything,” says Biech.
Inspired by his ancestors — like Chief Poundmaker — and celebrated scholars Freda Ahenakew and Edward Ahenakew— Biech says as he continues to study at U of T, he remains dedicated to standing up for his people.
“It was the greatest gift to me to come here and learn about my people, my culture and other Indigenous cultures,” he says.