Future 40 winners building better Manitoba one ice cream scoop and DNA test at a time

This week, CBC Manitoba is announcing our annual Future 40 list — 40 Manitobans who are 40 or younger, all working to make this province better for future generations.

This group of CBC Future 40 winners are doing that in a wide range of ways, whether by fundraising for important causes or by setting up organizations that fill gaps they’ve noticed in the province’s services.

“Making change is really what we’re obligated to do with the time we have,” said Ben Carr, vice-president of Indigenous Strategy Alliance and part of this year’s Future 40 cohort.

That attitude is reflected in the stories of these Future 40 winners, selected by a CBC Manitoba judging panel based on nominations from the community.

Ben Carr

Ben Carr is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Former Winnipeg school principal Carr is now working alongside Indigenous colleagues to help advance truth and reconciliation in Manitoba.

During his time leading the Maples Met School, which centres learning around the student’s interests, Carr helped improve young people’s educational experiences.

Now, he works at an Indigenous-owned and led consulting firm as a sort of bridge-builder to ensure truth and reconciliation are at the forefront of work undertaken by governments, businesses and non-profits.

“For me, it’s about leveraging whatever gifts you may have, and whatever privilege you may have been blessed with … and ensure that somebody else has an opportunity to achieve good things and, in turn, put them in a position where they’re able to effect change on their own,” Carr said.

He helped secure millions in funding for projects such as the Qaumajuq Inuit Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 

He was also the director of parliamentary affairs for the minister of Canadian heritage from 2016 to 2018, helping to lead on the development of Indigenous languages legislation, as well as establishing Sept. 30 as a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Joseph Chaeban

Joseph Chaeban is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Joseph Chaeban is living the “gouda” life, making cheese and ice cream in Winnipeg.

The duke of dairy developed a passion for making cheese, learning from his father in Lebanon, and is now the brains behind a nationally recognized shop in Winnipeg.

The shop was created as a way to give back to the south Osborne community after people in the neighbourhood sponsored his wife’s family to come to Canada from Syria as refugees.

“I found out that in this location in south Osborne, there used to be an ice cream store here,” Chaeban said.

“[I thought], ‘Why don’t we create ice cream from scratch and really give back by making it really premium, really exciting?'”

He says he’s grown to love Winnipeg in his seven years in the city, which motivates him to work hard.

“We really fell in love. We feel part of the community. They opened up their arms and created something special for us. We try our best to put smiles on people’s faces in the community and really give back as much as we can.”

Dr. Brett Houston

Dr. Brett Houston is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Winnipeg-based hematologist Dr. Brett Houston isn’t squeamish about blood — or at least not blood disorders.

The physician works with CancerCare Manitoba at the only provincial clinic dedicated to elderly patients with leukemia and bone marrow failure.

“To be able to reach patients who are in a vulnerable position and to provide them with care that hopefully provides them and their family members the support they need at this time in their life is a real privilege,” Houston said.

On top of caring for patients, Houston is pioneering a new type of clinic, incorporating research into the routine care of patients, which could catalyze the creation of a hybrid system throughout Manitoba.

One of her current studies involves trialing an inexpensive drug to reduce blood transfusion following major surgery, which could pave the way for a new standard of care following surgery and will help preserve Manitoba’s precious blood supply.

“We hope to provide better care to Manitobans, but also to expand beyond the Manitoba border as well, so that eventually patients throughout Canada and eventually worldwide can learn from what we’re doing here,” Houston said.

Kaarina Kowalec

Kaarina Kowalec is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Scientist Kaarina Kowalec is using people’s genetic makeup to predict how certain illnesses will develop in their bodies, and which medicine will work best to treat it.

The scientist focuses mainly on multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia in her field of precision medicine.

“It’s this idea that not one idea fits everyone. Most public health and health measures are made for populations, whereas we know that each individual varies quite a bit,” Kowalec said.

Learning from the patient’s genes will not only save the health-care system money in the long run, but it will help prevent unnecessary pain and suffering, she says.

“Hopefully [it will] give them some peace of mind that you need this treatment because that’ll give you better odds of having a good outcome, or you should avoid this medication or … this treatment plan, because it won’t work based on your personal makeup.”

Kowalec also works to inspire women and girls to enter the field of science, which has traditionally been male-dominated.

“Once you see someone doing the job you would like to do, you think you can do it. Seeing is believing,” she said.

Filiz Koksel

Filiz Koksel is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

The next time you take a bite out of a plant-based hamburger patty, you can thank Filiz Koksel for making it look and taste like meat.

The food scientist transforms protein-rich ingredients from grains, pulses and oilseeds into plant-based foods that look, taste and feel like meat, and are more environmentally friendly, as they have a lower carbon and water footprint than animal products.

For Koksel, her work is an important way of addressing climate change.

“We may not be feeling this everywhere in Canada, but in many parts of the world, a lot of people are struggling with hunger and food insecurity,” she said.

“The question I’m trying to answer… is, ‘How are we going to feed the growing world population?’ The answer is to have much greater access to protein-rich foods in a sustainable manner.”

Tracie Léost (Golden Eagle Woman)

Tracie Léost is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Métis leader, activist and athlete Tracie Léost unapologetically takes up space, and is dedicated to encouraging other Indigenous youth to do the same.

“We are not only reclaiming and stepping into our power … [we are] owning all of what was always ours,” she says.

The 24-year-old has an impressive track record of contributing to social justice, philanthropic and awareness initiatives. 

From running 115 kilometres in four days to raise money for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people to receiving a youth Indspire award, Léost upholds her responsibilities as a leader by ensuring Indigenous youth have the same opportunities to flourish that she had.

As a first-generation university graduate with a social work degree, she is driven to provide guidance and opportunities to Indigenous youth. So in 2020, she founded Waanishka Movement Inc., a non-profit that exists to help youth thrive.

“I want to make sure that everyone who comes after me gets to achieve minobimaatisiiwin [the good life],” she says.

She credits her family and community for both supporting and inspiring her work.

“Peoplehood is the centre of who I am … but I am nothing without my family, my nation, and my community. And I recognize that in everything I do,” Léost said.

Melanie Lalonde

Melanie Lalonde is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Research scientist Melanie Lalonde has taken a step back from the lab to help other Indigenous students succeed at the University of Manitoba.

The high-achieving Métis scholar authored 20 peer-reviewed publications, discovered a new butterfly species and invented a new method for recovering DNA from ancient dead insects.

Teaching and supporting Indigenous students appealed to her. She landed a job as a program development specialist for the faculty of science’s Wawatay program at the University of Manitoba, which encourages Indigenous students to blend Indigenous knowledge with Western science.

“I love everything about it. I love working with the students, I love seeing them shine and come out of their shells … just seeing them thrive,” Lalonde said.

In her role, Lalonde not only designs and delivers Indigenous science programming, but she also supports Indigenous students by connecting them to resources and opportunities.

“We had a student that came through that was a struggling student, that just blossomed throughout the entire year,” she said.

That student graduated this year and is now employed by one of the agencies Lalonde helped connect them with.

Dustin Murdock

Dustin Murdock is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Right after completing his undergraduate degree in kinesiology, Dustin Murdock opened a fitness centre in his home community of Fisher River Cree Nation.

“A lot of the members in that community haven’t really been in the gym before or practised exercise in that capacity, and creating that opportunity was a really prideful moment for me,” he said.

That business venture led to him completing a master’s degree in physical therapy at the University of Manitoba.

His dream was to open his own practice as a physical therapist that would provide care to First Nations adults, particularly in northern and isolated communities in Manitoba.

Murdock’s vision for the clinic is to put less emphasis on diagnosis, and focus on empowering people and filling a gap in care by offering both health care and lifestyle-based counselling.

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily put his dream on hold — he struggled to get certified due restrictions on the physical exam — but he was able to launch this year.

Rylee Nepinak (Brown Bear Walking)

Rylee Nepinak is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

Emerging Anishinaabe leader Rylee Nepinak (Brown Bear Walking) believes that when you help people, “you bring joy to yourself.”

“When I was a little boy, [my parents] brought me to an elder and passed tobacco.… That elder told me my spirit name for the first time, which is Brown Bear Walking (Ozaawi Makwa Bimose),” he said.

A proud member of Sagkeeng First Nation, his love for community and connection extends much further.

“It gave me identity and it helped me when times were tough growing up in the inner city.”

He is now passionate about helping other Indigenous youth connect with their culture and find pride in their identity.

One of the ways he does that with Anishiative, a group he started in June 2020. The non-profit has land-based wellness summer camps for youth.

Last year, Nepinak embarked on a cross-country cycling trek to raise awareness and funds for the youth of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a community in Manitoba facing a state of emergency due to over a dozen suicides.

He raised just over $30,000.

Most recently, Nepinak founded Sabe Peace Walkers, a community foot patrol that is in the midst of a pilot project with the Osborne BIZ. The relationship-based group patrols the neighbourhood and helps de-escalate conflicts and connect people with resources.

Paul Ong

Paul Ong is a CBC Manitoba Future 40 winner. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

For Paul Ong, the performing arts are about more than just entertainment — they’re a platform to make positive change.

Since 2015, the internationally trained educator has been selling out annual Concerts For a Cause, which gives students an opportunity to share their musical gifts and make social change.

The concerts have raised over $100,000 for local charities.

“It really feels that I am able to fulfil my purpose as a singer, as a performer and as a community member,” Ong says. 

He credits his students for inspiring him to pursue this path.

“Educators are being taught every day by their students.… [They] inspire us to do something for the community and spark change.”

The vocalist has represented Canada twice internationally: at the 2017 Water Cube Cup in Beijing and at the 2015 World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles. He won all categories he competed in.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ong became the first Filipino-Chinese artist to be accompanied by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

“To be recognized ensures that we are on the right path. It feels really great.”