Whether in work, play, or life, Richard Pellissier-Lush shows up as his full self and endeavours to live a life that inspires others to do the same. Richard, whose Mi’kmaq name is Gitbu Amalkewinu (Eagle Dancer), is a writer, actor, dancer, athlete and leader, among many other things. He is a proud Mi’kmaw man from Lennox Island who has already won lifetime achievement awards, though he’s barely in his thirties.
“I consider myself to be an advocate for my people generally, and for youth specifically,” he reiterated throughout our conversation. “I was fortunate to have many role models and opportunities so I do what I can to pay that forward for other young people.”
Although Richard is likely best known for football (playing and coaching), he takes the related comradery, sportsmanship and leadership with him off the field as well.
“I wear many different hats so every day looks different,” he says. “I could be recruiting for a football team or interviewing knowledge keepers or writing a short story.”
In 2019, Richard was selected as one of eight Indigenous folks across the country to deliver a presentation to Senate. “Senator [Brian] Francis really helped show me what is possible and I want to keep showing other youth that they can do anything too.”
From Senate presentations to songwriting, Richard always finds ways to make sure his voice is heard so that he can share stories of strength and resilience from his community.
“I’m thinking about lots of other ways to get our messages out there through podcasts or music.” Richard’s natural leadership was shining through as he told me about plans for creating a recording studio and having the ability to broaden the scope of his pursuits.
Richard is a team-player and community-builder with big dreams for his people. In his day job, he is an Engagement Officer with L’nuey. In this role, Richard connects and collaborates with Mi’kmaq across the Island in their efforts toward self-determination.
“Self-determination is about being in the driver’s seat in all decisions that involve us as Indigenous Peoples,” he says. “Mi’kmaq have inherent rights and we get to determine our governance structures on our own terms.”
Richard’s work in self-determination isn’t just part of his day job: it’s his way of being in the world. He has forged his own path, on his own terms, and in his own way.
“Sports and athletics didn’t come naturally to me and I had to work and train really hard to get to where I am now.” He credits support from his parents, peers and coaches as major influences to his many athletic achievements.
With any list of accomplishments also comes a list of grief and loss. Richard shared many deeply personal parts of his journey with me as we sat together and we talked about the healing power of story and connection. Like many Indigenous people, Richard is deeply connected to Spirit and he is called on by the Creator through vision.
“When I realized the trauma I was carrying, I knew I had to do something to help myself heal.” As always, he turned to his culture for guidance.
“Though I was in some of my darkest times, I was reminded in my visions that Creator is with me and has a plan for me and my time here.” It is through these visions that many pieces of writing have been birthed.
Richard recalls many instances where he felt he had to hold back tears or not show emotion. This toxic masculinity is rampant in athletics and he grappled with the false dichotomy of having to be sensitive or strong for many years. Then he was called into ceremony with Junior Peter-Paul, where he started to learn that we can, in fact, be both sensitive and strong, simultaneously. “When we connect to all of creation, the medicine flows through us,” he says, “and tears are medicine.”
Richard inspired me with his wholeheartedness and his unwavering commitment to community-building. We will continue to see many great things from him, including a new children’s book which is slated to be published later in 2021. The book explores the experiences of a light skinned Mi’kmaw boy learning his place within the culture and community and it is sure to be an educational and inspirational story for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.
“As Indigenous men, our sensitivities are our strengths.”