Using Her Voice For Change: Frog Radio Founder Denise Halfyard Speaks Up For What Matters
“Family always seems to come to the centre of what I do: family, culture, and learning,” shares Denise Halfyard. A Wet'suwet'en, Tsimshian, and Gitxsan woman from Northern BC, she is a voice actor, a bead artist, and an advocate for missing and murdered loved ones. She’s also proprietor and founder of Frog Radio, an all Indigenous station devoted to indigenous music and also a budding filmmaker.
Frog Radio was born after Halfyard was listening to a podcast by Rosanna Deerchild as she interviewed IsKwé. She fell in love with the music and it started her down a path of exploring Indigenous music. She thought, “There needs to be a place where we can turn it on and there's Indigenous music and that wasn't a streaming service.”
Halfyard thought about starting a radio station but the idea was daunting and she was afraid. She got it started after the death of her grandmother, who had been fluent in her language and knew her culture but didn’t want to pass it on due to the effects of residential school. The radio station was meant to honour her and reignite language and culture, named for her clan. She made a website and did a callout for music online until she assembled 1000 songs. The launch coincided with the day her cousin went missing on the Highway of Tears.
Tears to Hope Society is the non-profit Halfyard's mom created which put a 10km relay run along the Highway of Tears. Halfyard is its coordinator, an unlikely role since she didn’t know anything about relays and didn’t like running. As a former floral designer and someone who likes planning, she excels at scheduling and budgeting, so it worked out in the end.
Their first event was a huge success even with just three weeks to pull it together. After the run, they held a memorial walk and feast. Starting with 56 runners in the first year, then 200, then 600, the event has been opened up to virtual runners too. At each marker along the relay is the photo of a missing or murdered loved one, with information on when and where they were last seen and where they are from. The first four runners have deer hide scrolls with messages of hope that they had off.
“We really wanted to make sure to use photos of them as real people, just really humanize them and show people that these were everyday people who were living in everyday life, and now they're gone. The highway markers serve as a reminder to the runner who they're running for,” she explains.
The goal of the Tears to Hope is to raise awareness for missing and murdered loved ones, and support the families.“So many times people are raising awareness. But I think we don't really think about the families too much because we're just so focused on that missing or murdered loved one. But it takes a lot out of us and so we want to make sure that they're being taken care of, whether it's health or wellness in whatever way we can support them,” she reflects.
“It's been super rewarding, heavy work but so rewarding, just to be able to make a difference and hear from the families that they're so happy that they don't feel alone while they advocate looking for their loved ones,” she continues. The event is inclusive. “It's not just for Indigenous people. It's not an Indigenous problem. It's everybody's problem,” she concludes.
“As you get older, you aren't afraid to make mistakes. You aren't afraid to fail because that's how we learn.”
To prepare her for this work she did a year of business administration at her local college but found it wasn't for her. A hands-on learner, she prefers to learn on the job and figure things out by asking people or googling. Floral design, voice acting and filmmaking are all things she learned as she went. Her first screenplay was accepted into the Indigenous filmmakers fellowship at the Whistler Film Festival.
With the variety of things she does, no two days are the time, whether she’s recording voiceover work, working on a movie or her screenplay. She likes to try things and see if they stick, always trying something new. Over time she’s also adopted an attitude where she likes to surround herself with people who are smarter than her so she can learn from them. She’s also learned to use her voice to ask for help, something she used to struggle with a lot, not even wanting to ask for ketchup packets at a fast food restaurant.
That reluctance she felt is why she encourages youth to use their voices, whether they are more comfortable speaking out loud, writing things down, whatever it takes to get to express themselves and share their perspectives. She encourages them to look for support and ask for help, affirming that there are people who want to be of service, even if they feel very alone.
Now that she uses her voice to ask for help and also to make a living, she’s narrated e-learning products, descriptive video for Bones of Crows, the audiobook for Indigenomics by Carol Ann Hilton, among others. She feels fortunate to be in a place where most of her voiceover work is on jobs relating to Reconciliation.
She’s learned a lot of life lessons along the way that have served her well. “I learned to go with the flow and take every moment as it comes and enjoy it, enjoy that… we're still here, even though by design, we shouldn't be. We are and I'm here to make an impact and change in everything I do, however that may look,” she shares. Her advice for Indigenous youth is, “Don't be afraid to try anything new. We're here for a reason. Use your voice. Be heard. Be seen.”
Family always seems to come to the centre of what she does: family, culture, and learning. Denise Halfyard is a voice actor, a bead artist, filmmaker, advocate for missing and murdered loved ones and the proprietor and founder of Indigenous music station, Frog Radio. She’s speaking up for what matters and sharing her voice with the world after growing up reluctant to speak up for herself. Always learning by doing, she’s doing a lot and she’s doing it all to make the world a better place.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.