Hunter Cardinal

Top 40 Under 40 2018

Photography Aaron Pedersen

Age: 24

Job Title: Director of Story, Naheyawin

Why He’s Top 40: He’s helping organizations re-shape their narratives and business practices to implement the values of the Treaties.

When he needs inspiration, Hunter Cardinal tells himself a story passed down from his elders: When children are born, their tiny fists are closed because they’re the answers to a prayer that was made to the creator from someone in their family or community. “It’s our job as a community,” he explains, “with warmth, generosity, patience and kindness, to open up these hands so that children can share their gifts and answer that prayer.”

He’s always loved storytelling and theatre, and fondly remembers his first performance in a junior-high production of Wizard of Oz with friends. Since then, he’s been inspired by the Indigenous acting mentors in his life – his uncle Lorne Cardinal and friend Sheldon Elter -who proved there was room for him and other Indigenous actors in theatre, and has earned his BFA from the University of Alberta.

However, after entering a prestigious training program at Soulpepper and performing off-Broadway, Cardinal became more aware of the system’s violent nature in privileging non-marginalized members. He and his sister, Jacquelyn, wanted to help fix these broken systems. “We decided to combine my relationship-building and storytelling skills and my sister’s brilliant systems-thinking, and figure out how we could apply Indigenous teachings,” Cardinal says.

In his work at Naheyawin – which helps organizations such as the Edmonton Arts Council look through the Indigenous lens to implement Indigenous principles into everyday processes – he analyzes the philosophies and concepts behind the stories we tell ourselves. “We’re taking seriously our obligations as Indigenous people to not only ourselves and our family, but the larger communities we’re a part of,” he says, “and to come together in that spirit of peace, friendship and understanding that’s inherent in the numbered Treaties that also defines who we are as Canadians.”

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