Hi. My name is Catherine Lau. I am general counsel and corporate secretary at MEC. I am also the director of partnerships and sponsorships of Women General Counsel Canada.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the land on which we gather and the many Indigenous peoples that have called this land home long before the arrival of settlers and still do. I personally am speaking from my home in what is now called Vancouver, unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh Nations. Today we have attendees joining us from coast to coast to coast. I would encourage each of us to reflect on our relationship with the traditional territories on which we currently live and work and what we might do in order to further direct the reconciliation process.
Similar to BLG’s Driven by Women, Women General Counsel Canada’s mission is to help women in general counsel and legal executive roles to succeed, recognizing the uniqueness of our position by working together, growing, connecting and contributing. As part of the contributing pillar, we strive to build an advocate for a more equitable diverse and inclusive society.
As a member of the BIPOC community, I am delighted to be here as we continue our celebration of International Women’s Day with a panel of extraordinary Indigenous women leaders. They are citizens of different nations and have filled different leadership roles in their communities and across Canada. It is my great honour to introduce Roberta Jamieson, Independent Director of RBC and Deloitte Canada, as well as Co-Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council of the Canadian National Ballet Company; Hillary Thatcher, Senior Director of Project Development Indigenous Infrastructure, Canada Infrastructure Bank; Alicia Dubois, Chief Executive Officer, Royal B.C. Museum and Sherry Antone, Chief of Staff, Office of the National Assembly of First Nations. Now, I will turn it over to Cherie Brant, Partner and National Leader of BLG’s Indigenous Law Group to get the conversation started. Cherie?
All right. Thank you so much Catherine, I really appreciate your warm welcome and its really great to see so many of our attendees working their way into this session, this is truly an event that I have been planning for quite some time. So, really excited about this.
I am coming to you today from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. I am Mohawk on my dad’s side, my mom’s side from Wikwemikong unceded territory up on Manitoulin Island. So I am super proud to be here and I have to say this is truly an honour for me in so many ways. I first had the idea of this panel when I was bearing witness to a string of announcements in 2020 and 2021 of Indigenous women who were breaking new ground, who were taking on new roles and redefining themselves the last two years. And just a few of them are with me here today. But in speaking to the group they would say that our Indigenous leaders, our change makers are all around us. They’re every age and every station and our culture reminds us if I look to the Seven Grandfather Teachings, to be humble, honest, respectful, brave and to share our truth, wisdom and love. So, I’m going to start with the love. [laughter]
As I have worked in one capacity with each of you over several years, you know, let me start first with Hillary Thatcher. I’ve known you since 2008. We started working together on breaking policy grounds when you were at the Ontario Power Authority. Alicia, we went to the same law school together and frequently would see each other in the underground of Bay Street while you were working at CIBC. And Sherry, I feel like I really got to understand all of your understanding of the difficult webs of politics in Ontario when we got to work together on the Hydro One transaction where First Nations are now, we have 129 First Nations in Ontario that are one of the largest shareholders in Hydro One Limited. But let me say for Roberta. You were the very first Indigenous lawyer that I ever got to meet when I was a law student at U of T and you have been a North Star to me ever since.
So, my idea was to take a moment to hear from our thought leaders, our law makers, our policy makers. Women who sit in completely unique vantage points but have so many similarities. Women who have often had to project an image. Was it out of bravery or respect? Even if that’s not how they felt inside, women who are now being asked for their wisdom, their opinions and their ideas on all sides of the boardroom tables and who may say that the last 2 years has brought a sense of confidence to their truth and a humility when they get a chance to share it.
So, what I wanted to do is have a friend-to-friend conversation with, I guess, 700 attendees [laughter] and see if, you know, we have the opportunity to bring together corporate Canada, every level of government, our financial institutions and public companies. Some of whom feel they are under an incredible amount of pressure to do more, to be bold. Some who feel they are excited about the opportunity to open up their economies again and see how we’ll do it more with a collective focus.
So, let’s, without further ado, let’s kick off our conversation. I really want to start and understand that unique vantage point and start with you Roberta. Inside work, outside of work, tell us what’s special for this moment for how you see it for Indigenous women.
Oh, you’re on mute there, Roberta.
You would think I’d know this after 2 years of COVID meetings. I’m happy to greet you from my home at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Thank you, Cherie for the introduction. Congratulations to BLG for mounting this session. And thanks for a chance to spend this time with these amazing women.
A special moment in Canada for Indigenous women. Well, you know I think it’s a special moment for Canada because more Indigenous women, we’re seeing our faces, we’re, Canadians are hearing our voices in every field: art, literature, business, politics, the Governor General for heaven’s sakes. We are everywhere. And, from my advantage point it coincides, I think, with a new focus on ESG. Certainly, as a corporate director, I’m seeing that. Of course, ESG, environment, social and governance right at the top of the list for individuals, investors, shareholders, everyone in Canada. As well as DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion, which is about saying: you know what, it is to everyone’s advantage to have greater diversity in decision making, in deal making, in really deciding the future of our climate, of people, of the planet. So, I think its happening at a time when those themes are really rising to the fore.
But what I want to say is Indigenous women, Indigenous peoples are different again from the diversity voices and that requires a special understanding of our history, our rights, only our rights are acknowledged in the Constitution. Only our peoples have special relationship with the lands and these things put us, these characteristics put us at a different spot again. So, it’s great to see the change. More to be done. Women, we are the conscience of our nations, of our communities and we know only too well that our people are living in communities with waters they cannot drink. Often in poverty with poor housing. Our young people are still not graduating as they should. Things are changing but it’s glacial. Our women still find their way into human trafficking. If you read The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls report which is still sadly too current, it paints a picture of a part of—this is also today’s reality for us. So yes, we’re doing great things. More to be done.
And you asked us to think about what we should be doing. Number 1: hold up and celebrate role models. I tried to do this for many years as executive producer of the Indigenous Awards. Inspire our young people. They come into this world with so many gifts to offer. We need to nurture those. Secondly, I think we’ve got to share our privilege. Those of us who are in places of privilege, and I’m one of them, we need to be able to mentor. We need to invite others to the table. If we’re approached to take on tasks, often I have to get out my NO button which I have, give other people’s names. Open the door, educate people who are approaching you about the wealth of knowledge amongst our sisters throughout the country. There’s so much more.
I’ll stop on one final note. And that is, find partnerships, work with mainstream organizations that are trying to create change for women. I’m involved with the Prosperity Project as one of the founding visionaries and insisted that they take an intersectional lens to the work we were doing in tracking the impact of COVID‑19 on women and raising, in the consciousness of Canadians, where women are at. And what we found is progress is happening. Yes. But, honestly, for Indigenous women – NOT. We are only 0.3% of women in Canada who are in boards or senior management roles or in the pipeline to get to senior management roles. So, we’re 5% of the population, we’re 0.3% in that picture. So, more to be done. So, above all, keep going. We are changing the country and we’ll change this world and our nations will be uplifted as a result.
All right. Thank you Roberta. There’s so many good points there. I want to give Hillary a chance to talk about her vantage point too and tell me about what you’re excited about this special moment for Indigenous women.
Thank you so much. Roberta’s obviously a very hard act to follow. Well thought out and well articulated. I’m joining you today from the Territory of the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples as well as the home of many Indigenous people, First Nations, Métis and Inuit in the City of Toronto today.
I have very similar comments to Roberta but I’m just gonna enhance a little bit because Roberta didn’t talk about the educational achievements which, you know, she really drove a lot of the work and progress in this space. And so one of the things, from my vantage point is that we’re seeing more and more Indigenous women achieve wonderful outcomes. So 52% of Indigenous women between the ages 25 and 64 have post secondary education. And that’s a tremendous improvement over the last decades. But it’s still too slow to Roberta’s point. It’s not achieving these outcomes as fast as our non-Indigenous counterparties. And so we have to do more.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission actually noted that one of the reasons for the lack of progress or the lack of rapidity in the progress is the need to relocate to get post-secondary education. The lack of guidance. When you don’t have parents or grandparents or aunties or uncles who haven’t gone off to school, to university or college, it’s really hard to think about yourself in a future where you’re going off to do post‑secondary education. There’s lack of culturally appropriate curriculum for Indigenous students and certainly inadequate funding. And so we need to do more and in terms of our application, corporate Canada, you know, all fields need to be able to think about and contribute more to make sure that those gaps are filled for Indigenous people largely.
But what I will say is that we are seeing so many hopeful Indigenous graduates come from many programs. More than half of the Indigenous lawyers in Canada are Indigenous women. More than half of the Indigenous physicians in Canada are women and this is tremendous growth and I’d like to see a lot, more that half of the Indigenous graduates in engineering and business being women as well and so we need to really focus across all disciplines.
But what I will say is that in my work, in public policy, we see more Indigenous women in leadership roles, in deputy minister roles in Ontario and in the federal government, associate deputies. We have in business women in some senior leadership role across—and I know Sherry’s going to talk about this across the political landscape—more Indigenous women and young Indigenous women in leadership roles, political leadership roles. So these are really encouraging signs and I don’t think we can lose sight of the impact of each generation having, you know, a larger group of role models for which to support and encourage us to move forward with academia, which leads to greater work placements and employment outcomes including, you know, looking at ways to close that gender wage gap which is still a threat to all women frankly and but in particular Indigenous women and women of colour.
So we have work to do and without a doubt sponsorship – mentorship is something that many organizations now have in place to support growth but sponsorship is what Roberta was talking about at the end there. It’s a critical component. We need to be able to put the young Indigenous students and women in business into the right seat so that they get seen. And I will say that I think of all of my own successes and progress in the workplace as a result of somebody seeing just a little bit of light and bringing me to the table where I actually had a voice and was able to, you know, make my mark and make a contribution. So, I’m gonna leave it at that but thank you very much for the opportunity.
That’s great. Thanks Hillary. So Sherry, Hillary was talking about you and politics. Tell us about, tell us about what you’re seeing right now and what’s great about this moment for women.
Well, thank you for that and thank you for the introduction and really just thank you for inviting me to be a part of this panel and all of these amazing women. I just, I want to acknowledge that I am currently coming from the unceded Territory of the Algonquin Nation in Ottawa and I’m just really glad to be here.
But also really thank you Hillary for the segue to discussing politics and just from my vantage point, as the Chief of Staff for Office of the National Chief, we really are in such an amazing and special time, not only having more women in elected roles but as Roberta has hinted to, we also have women who are taking over roles in very national and prominent positions such as Mary Simon as the Governor General. In our own communities we’re seeing more women being elected to leadership positions. We’ve had our first in Kahnawake where we had Grand Chief Sky Deer, the first woman elected to that role. We’ve had Grand Chief Gull-Masty as the first woman to be elected to the role of Grand Chief for the Cree Nation in Quebec. And, I guess, more pertinent to the role that I have, we have the first woman who was elected as the National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. So these are big momentous moments that we really do need to capitalize on and really push forward on and help realize for younger women coming up and wanting to be in leadership roles that these are achievable. That they are attainable and that they’re really able to see themselves now through these role models in these positions.
But we aren’t there yet in the sense of gender parity. Right now, approximately 19% of elected First Nations Chiefs are women. About 27% are elected to councils and so there is still a lot that we need to do in order to uplift our women and help and support them and nurture them, and help them to really grow into the leadership roles that they want to take on. And so, I think that there’s been a really great steps that have been taken but as you’ll hear from all of us that there’s still more that needs to be done and not just in leadership roles as elected but leadership roles we need to acknowledge happen in so many different ways. They are a take on various different positions. So, being an elected leader is one element but for myself as a Chief of Staff I would hope that I can also help to inspire those who are looking to be in leadership roles on the technical side and supporting our elected leaders. So, there’s just so much growth that can happen and that has happened and that just finding the mechanisms to create the safety net and the safe space for these women is really something that in our office for the National Chief are really trying to do and help to promote more women into elected roles. Thank you for that.
That was such a great opener and for you Alicia.
Thank you. Thank you to BLG for having me, and you Cherie for inviting me and it is such an honour to be in the presence of these women, remarkable, remarkable inspiring women. I am calling in today from Victoria which is the Territory of the Lekwungen speaking people.
And when I think about my vantage point, I’ve had a shift in career but not a shift in values and it’s interesting because I think that is something that we see very often with our female Indigenous leaders is that what they do is extraordinarily value-based and the commitment to leading based upon those values trumps all other decisions. That’s really the common thread that I have been able to witness in working with – like the incredible women on this panel and so many others that, that we know and love.
When I think about my role as co-chair of the CCAB, what I find—and also my role when I was at the bank, what I find very interesting is the engagement of Indigenous women in business. So, there are 60,000 small to medium Indigenous businesses across the country and more than 50% of them are women-led and what’s interesting is that that positions those companies to have unique characteristics from mainstream entrepreneurs, and that’s that they employ more Indigenous people, they tend to be more in‑place within their communities, and so they’re actually driving regional prosperity within their own communities, and again very much couched with those values.
And as we see with the Indigenous Women in Leadership awards that the CCAB celebrates every year, we have outstanding female leaders that come in government relations, in government positions, so chiefs. We also have world-class athletes. We’ve celebrated ground-breaking entrepreneurs who started as a partnership with their husbands and I’m talking about the Bouchier Group, you know where they ended up growing their team to over 250 people, and all very in‑place in respect of the need for their community members to be part of this solution, and so really celebrating the contribution of their community members as part of their employment. And then also very effectively answering a very much needed place in the supply chain of large industry, so we see that, you know, there’s a place for Indigenous business and I’m always pleased and inspired to see that so often these entities are lead by incredibly strong value‑based women.
And what I love about this situation that we find ourselves in, is that we are answering the call. I mean, as Roberta talked about with ESG considerations and pressures, and with everybody talking about diversity, inclusion and equity and accessibility, the values of Indigenous people – and Cherie talked about the Seven Grandfather Teachings – and I know I work with the Seven Grandfather Teachings on my desk. I know other Indigenous women leaders who do, Tabitha Bull I know is one of them, and this is the way that we bring ourselves to work. It’s the way that we present ourselves and serve others, and that in turn encourages others to also be of service to others based upon those principles.
And I’m always so pleased to see the example that strong Indigenous women set for all members of their teams – Indigenous or not – because it brings a very different worldview. And then on top of it too, the Indigenous traditional values extend beyond the leadership principles and also, especially when you’re working with communities and industry, there’s nobody who understands the rhythms of the environment and wildlife like the Indigenous communities who have lived there for thousands and thousands of years. And what we see with ESG is that this is a significant asset. It is a values-based asset that is marketable, and really for the first time because we’re moving away from that single bottom line economy to a double or a triple bottom line economy where we care about people, we care about the environment and profits are important but not at all costs.
And so when I look at the business landscape and who I see most often engaged, I’m always very proud to be in the company of incredible Indigenous women, so thank you. And there is a lot of work to do, but I’m always very pleased to engage through, you know, conversation and sharing social capital and making sure that we’re opening networks and opening opportunities and experiences to those who, you know, are just up and coming and ensuring that there’s a place for them and that the table is set specifically for them to have a meaningful voice.
This is great. This is exactly the conversation that I was hoping that we would have. You know, all of you women have just come full circle in what we were talking about, so this is wonderful, and you know Roberta, you were mentioning at the outset the difference, right? The difference with Indigenous rights, and you know it makes me always think back to – you know, I have my own views around the differences between equality and equity and often people think that those are two of the exact same things, and you know, when we look at the First Nations context, at the Indigenous context, it’s not always that equality and equity are the same and we have to recognize the unique rights. But I hear so much excitement about everything that’s happening, and the value piece that you’re talking about Alicia, you know, really makes me feel that even for myself I have to say that 18 years on Bay Street now, I didn’t always feel like I could talk about my values in a sense of truth. It was more of a mission, right? It was my vision, it was my mission, it was about being a role model to what we’re talking about here, but I’m finding myself at a level of growth where I’m actually able to be a little bit more honest about where I’m at, so I think, you know, we’re all on this incredible trajectory. And there’s so much to do and I’m also hearing you suggest that, you know, where everybody’s asking questions about ESG, I think the Indigenous communities know how to answer those questions, right? It feels like it’s right in our core, and there’s a lot of the dialogue that we’re looking to be brought into the table, so this is really exciting, and I don’t know if anybody wanted to add on to any of the comments that the other speakers made.
Well, I will add a little bit. To Hillary’s point on supporting more students, I can tell you that in 90% of the students we supported at Indspire through scholarships and bursaries graduated. Ninety percent. There are many more thousands of students who need that and who will achieve.
I loved Sherry’s comments on leadership, Alicia on women in business. Boy, I’m worried they were set back with COVID, but I think they will come back and with a vengeance and continue to grow.
You know, a lot of our people spend a lot of time talking about rights. I find myself talking a lot more lately about – yes, we do have special constitutional status – but we do bring those values, we do bring incredible resources to the table, natural and human, and if we could spend some time in Canada investing in closing the gap in education and labour market, we know that by 2031 in this country we would add 36 billion, that’s with a “b”, dollars to the Canadian economy. So this is about, you know, the tide that needs to raise all boats, as they say. This is not the right thing to do or the just thing to do, this is the smart thing to do, and women, we are smart and we know how to bring people together, work together, create meaningful partnerships, cooperate, collaborate and move forward. So, those are the things I thought about as I listened to my sisters on the panel talking.
Yeah, that’s great. I’m going to switch gears, [laughs], and then we’re going to come back around and talk about some additional takeaways, because we’re all saying that there isn’t enough being done, or that this is a good start and there’s a lot more that we can do, and so I want to make sure that we leave our audience with some understandings on that point and I know Roberta you mentioned some of those at the outset.
But listen, I think that our audience would love to hear a little bit more about, understand our four speakers and understand your growth trajectories, right? Understand what’s been a success story for you, what’s maybe been a hardship story for you. You know, what’s really helped you as you look back now and see was a growth moment, or is there something that’s happened that you know, you look back and look at differently, so maybe it’s from your youth, maybe it’s from your family, maybe it’s from the work that you’re doing or the volunteer work that we all do. So, I’m going to kick this off and see if we can start with Hillary on this question.
There’s nothing like being put on the spot [laughter]. I really appreciate the question, though, and it’s a tough one. I actually went through my roster of experiences and I thought I would approach this from a really positive perspective and not from a hardships perspective.
Roberta mentioned earlier about remembering our place of privilege, and so I’ve been very fortunate throughout my own academic career and my career, as a young woman and now as a more senior member of many teams, to have really great mentors and support.
And so when I started my career, it was right when I was finishing grad school at UVic in Indigenous governance, and trying to make a decision whether to go to law school, which I didn’t do. Everybody else here on this panel is a lawyer, except for me, and I decided to start working at a law firm instead with a Métis lawyer, Mark Stevenson out of Victoria. Tremendous experience and he was the guy that put me on a path to my role in contributing to public government. So he really helped me at a time when I was struggling with, both my identity but also with – I’d just lost my mother, who was my real crux in my life, my guiding light and my inspiration.
So I’d just lost my mother, but he helped me to, you know, to find a path to government, and so I started a role at the Ontario government. And you know, I quickly realized because of his influence, and he spent some time in the Ontario government as well, I quickly realized that being in government, and he was the one who told me this, much to the chagrin of many other folks that we worked with, that I had an opportunity, a real opportunity to influence policy for the better for communities, because things were still really slow moving in government, and in particular at the time in Ontario, you know, we’d had a number of crises. The Ipperwash, you know, shooting of Dudley George was just such a terrible thing that had happened in Ontario and really there was a lot of relationship damage and healing that needed to be done in Ontario. So he really inspired me to come to Ontario.
I moved around quite a bit because I found new opportunities and meeting with communities in Ontario, chiefs and leaders and business leaders from the Indigenous community and really starting to understand where the focus was, and where there was opportunities for growth and it led me to energy, which Cherie led me to you. And so, I think about the work that we did together when I started in the Ontario government in energy and went over to the Ontario Power Authority on the Green Energy Act, and it was really, you know, that’s economic reconciliation, and this was 2008, 2009 before economic reconciliation was a buzzword, as it is today.
But, what we did there was we argued and fought and were brave and tireless and relentless in our pursuit of Indigenous inclusion in clean power that was going to feed Ontario ratepayers an Ontario grid to get us off coal, to build new transmission assets, to build lots of new renewable energy and we did it because we knew that it wouldn’t be done if Indigenous communities didn’t have an ownership stake in those projects.
That was my first stepping stone into what is now – and I’ll link it back to my aspirations at the Canada Infrastructure Bank, my aspirations as a supporter and mentor to young Indigenous people who I’ve hired and who I’ve worked with closely and to the communities I’m working with closely, and to the work that I’ve been doing on ESG, including a recent designation on competent boards, it’s really focused right now on this just transition, and I highlight just transition, to 2050. In order for Canada to meet its obligations, to meet our aspirations and our goals, it cannot happen without Indigenous inclusion, and what we did in Ontario, is like sort of a micro vision of what needs to be done across our country and frankly globally with Indigenous communities around the world, but we need to find a path, and there’s been a number of articles written of late around communities stopping really important and good projects that could have a good environmental impact because they’re not being consulted, because they’re not being included in the economic opportunity. And that inclusion is not just, you know, communities asking for a free ride, it’s really about communities looking for jobs and opportunities for their people locally. It’s about them contributing to, you know, understanding the environmental impact and footprint of the project itself, and it’s about them actually investing in these projects because they believe in these projects and they will see the same returns as private sector for their investments and their hard work on those projects.
And so I’m just going to leave it at that. You know there’s still a lot of work to do but I’m well positioned at where I’m currently sitting and the Canada Infrastructure Bank has impacted investors looking at all of these things and how can we make and entice private sector and public governments to do the right thing around Indigenous inclusion and ownership in projects, and really get us to that just transition for 2050.
Oh my God! Super exciting, and yes, that was an incredible time in 2008, and would love to continue to repeat the model, so I think you know, even – Alicia, maybe I’ll put it over to you on the same question.
Thank you. As so many people will know, Hillary is speaking my language, and the partnership piece is so key. Authentic early stage partnerships, so not once projects are already up and running and then you think, “oh it would be nice to have a partnership but we don’t want to invite people too early because that’ll complicate things, it’ll delay things, it’ll make things more challenging.” Like motoring ahead and then inviting the Indigenous communities in is the wrong way to do it. It’s transactional. And I will be honest, I made my recent career shift because that’s actually what I saw.
There’s a tendency to use the term “reconciliaction”, and I have to say I’ve come to not like that term, because the “action” speaks to transactions, not relationships. It speaks to execution and not patient trust building, and that’s the missing link that our economy is missing, and what I think – and there’s many very good, that’s not every case. There’s many great examples where industry players have really taken that relationship position strongly, but it’s not happening enough, and it will impact Canada’s ability to attract investors and drive their economy.
And the reason that the museum was so interesting to me partially was because they had just gone through a very challenging leadership issue that involved racism, it’s very public, and it involved, you know, Indigenous employees leaving, having worked so hard but not feeling that there was a place for them. My first all-staff meeting, the Grandfather Teachings went up, and I talked about love, you know, and what I really hope to do is to create a space where people come and are able to have an intimate experience where they start to really reflect on truths. Like the real truth of history, the real experience of Indigenous communities and other cultures who have contributed to our regions and our country and who have also sacrificed – not willingly – but have sacrificed for all that benefits so many today. And while we do see education stepping in and supporting the young people as they come up through the curriculum in learning more truth about our history, these conversations need to happen around the kitchen table with families. That’s where we learn who we are and how best we serve and contribute to our societies and how we show up for other people, who we don’t necessarily see ourselves in.
So, you know, so that was really the shift, and going back to those conversations around the kitchen table and touching on something that Hillary said in going back to my path, I was one of the kids who didn’t have somebody around the kitchen table who talked about education. Nobody had gone to university in my family, but we had a neighbour who lived across the street, a woman who was in her 40s, always dressed so smartly in a suit, who had gone to university and she would invite me over on Sundays just for strawberry tea. Alone. My mom wouldn’t come. She would say, “I’d like Alicia to come for a visit alone.” And she wasn’t Indigenous, but she talked to me about geography and sociology and psychology and these words were – these were words I had never heard before. So if we think that the conversations we have with young people don’t matter, they really do. And that’s something that, you know, when I was at the bank, we used to do financial literacy with communities, and my most favourite one was speaking to the young people about education and how to get there, and you know, was always looking for reasons to partner with Indspire because of the work that they did.
And I can tell you my trajectory really changed when I decided to go against what my parents thought was going to be right for me, and I went to university. They actually didn’t think I needed to do it. They didn’t really want me to go to university, but you know, having some inner strength to just take the risk and go, and then getting the benefit of so many champions along the way. I mean, I loved school because I had so many incredible champions who just showed up for me and helped me. I worked very hard but you know, we don’t accomplish these things alone, and so going back to that mentorship and the conversations and the social capital and the networking, and just being open to take a few minutes to have a good conversation with a kid who doesn’t seem to be on that track—it changes lives.
You’re making me think of – there was a speech that I had heard from Mae Maracle at the U of T and she said “My basket is full. I have to start giving my wisdom back, giving my gifts back.” And I completely hear you saying that right now, so I’m so excited for you in your new position. This just sounds absolutely amazing, and I would say, like, the idea of removing the adversarialness out of what is all of the reconciliation work that we have to do has been my mantra.
You know, truthfully I thought that going over to transactions would actually remove it because it was looking to put everybody on a level playing field. But what I do find is we have to bring that policy back, like what Hillary is saying and you know, we’re trying to do that at Hydro One and really excited about, you know, where we’re going.
But it’s actually saying, like, “Let’s not have our discussions in the regulatory process, let’s have our discussions as we plan our projects.” Right? And let’s have our discussions, and let’s have relationship agreements, and so, like, just completely identify with what you’re saying. Sherry, let’s go over to you, and what do you want to add into this conversation? There’s lots to talk about.
There absolutely is, and listening to the words that are coming from our panelists, it’s making me think about a lot of different ideas here. But I wanted to just pull it back to really a personal note from myself.
My inspiration in terms of where I got to and why I’m here today really resulted from one opportunity that was given to me by my grandmother, which was to attend an all‑Ontario chiefs’ conference in the early 2000s. Prior to that, I was not fully aware of First Nations politics. I was not aware or understanding of how our systems run, how our governing systems run, how decisions are made, and so when I had that opportunity to walk into that forum I was blown away. My mind was blown away. I could not understand most of the words in the sense of what is a resolution and it seemed like such a foreign language. [laughter] But that simple opportunity that my grandmother bringing me along was the first step to helping me realize that this is exactly where I want to be, and that this is exactly where I’m going to start shaping, or I did start shaping, most of my educational experiences to help build my own capacity so that I could be the advisor, the chief of staff, the policy analyst, that could really support our leadership in advancing our rights and interests. So without that moment, that critical moment, I might – I don’t know, I would assume I would be here at some point still, but that moment was the critical juncture that changed my trajectory and who I wanted to be.
But I also wanted to note that the systems that are put in place or the opportunities or the funding mechanisms such as what Indspire provided, I really wanted to note that I feel as though I’m a product of what has been put in place. I have utilized the Indspire awards and the funding to help me go to do my Masters, to help me go to law school, and without that, you know, it’s not that – with that support I really felt that I was supported and that I could achieve those dreams, and that I could become the individual that I really saw myself being and growing.
So I think more than anything else I just want to acknowledge that these programs or funding opportunities are so essential. They are so important. But also to broader corporate Canada, creating mentorship programs and spaces for young Indigenous women is so critical to help them just see what other opportunities are out there, and without those spaces, you know, we limit and we put more barriers in front of our Indigenous women. So yeah, that’s kind of where I really wanted to leave that, so thank you.
Thank you Sherry. Over to you Roberta.
Oh dear, there are so many stories. You asked us to think about a story to tell. There are so many.
You know, I’ve got the grey hair on this crowd, so I’ve been around a while and I grew up at a time where at Six Nations, we had an Indian agent, and the Indian Act was firmly in place and my parents ran a greasy spoon called Bobby’s Grill, and on council day, I used to have to come home and serve lunch, wait tables. I was about Grade 7 or 8, and I would wonder, who is this person? The only “non‑Native,” in those days, person in the room, giant cigar, sitting with people all dressed up from my community. It was council day, and the imperious attitude – it was a time when if you went to the elected council meetings, there was an elevated stage on which the Indian agent sat, and the secretary, and the chief was allowed to sit up there as well. And the council faced the Indian agent and looked up about three or four feet. That was what it was like, and I said, “Look, we are the founders of democracy in the Western world. Our people – I’m not putting up with this, I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m gonna change this situation, and I’m gonna get the credentials I need to bring change and recognition to our people.”
Fast forward: I was elected chief in 2001 at Six Nations, and the first thing I did was get a jackhammer and get rid of that elevated stage, which was concrete and turn the whole thing around. No more Indian agent. Chief and council faced the people. We were on the same level. If anything the people were elevated at the back so they could ask questions of us. So I want to emphasize that that said to me the importance not only of leadership, living your values. Our people believe no one is better than anyone else. We all have a role to play.
It also taught me accountability. You need to demonstrate who you are willing to be accountable to, and I think that’s why in my current roles I spend a lot of time talking about accountability. And I love the fact that in a lot of these environments there are increasing mechanisms to hold corporations accountable for what’s our DEI, who are we hiring, what leadership roles are they in. I’m so proud of the openness at RBC and the role that I’m now playing on that board. I was thrilled to be part of Deloitte’s announcement of the first ever reconciliation action plan in Canada in a corporation, and they publish, like, a record. They are transparent and they show every year what we’ve done, what we haven’t done, what we’re working on, and I think I want to really just say – as women we’re often the person at the kitchen table that holds others accountable, and so I really want a shout out to accountability, and if you don’t know what to do, those of you who are working on how to be allies, check out Call to Action 92 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. It’s a great place to start, and it’s all about being willing to step up and support our people, and the majority of our people, of course, are women.
Oh my God, that’s so great. And I do know that Deloitte was the first to do that report, so I do have a copy myself. Looking forward to seeing more. Looking forward to seeing more reports from other organizations.
You know, we have five minutes left, and we have some questions that are starting to come in, and I was going to share my growth story, but I don’t think we have time. [laughs] We’ve got so many good stories here, and I’m getting pretty emotional listening to all of you, so I might have a hard time getting mine out [laughs].
But let me say what I’m seeing here in terms of the questions and the commentaries that everybody’s really appreciating the theme around the Seven Grandfather Teachings, and so I can see that we all picked it up in our discussion today, and you know, speaking to all generations, and so there was asking about additional resources on the Seven Grandfather Teachings that was requested, and so maybe I think you could also search on Google. There’s so much information available on the topic.
Another comment that came through is, it says, “I find it almost sad to say that it is not the right thing to do to promote Indigenous women but the smart thing to do. Why do we always have to find the financial benefits for pushing something forward that is actually the right thing to do?” I don’t know if somebody wants to take a comment on that point. Were you going to say something there, Alicia?
I was tempted to.
Yeah, no, I mean I think it’s – I think it’s a challenge in that – I’m just thinking about different tables that I’ve been around. It’s always, you know, coming back to show me, you know, provide the proposal, right?
Provide me a proposal, demonstrate the points, and in fact we should just be getting on with it, I think is what everybody’s saying, and what I’m also hearing is that there is ample talent in the community and that, you know, we’re all working together to make sure that the names get out about other people who are also available to be sitting at the table.
I mean, this kind of makes me want to talk about targets [laughs] a little bit, right? You know, sort of coming back to public company boards, I know we started our, the beginning of our talks, a lot of statistics, right? A lot more to do, but if you look between the top 60 TSX companies who are setting targets, and then look to the broader TSX, the ones who set targets are actually like 10 points higher in terms of demonstrating their – you know, commitment, right, and so it is about actually making up a plan, right, and you know, maybe we can go back to the points, the three points that Roberta had raised in terms of – and I know we also wanted to share some points on allyship.
So maybe we’ll go around and hear from – who wants to go first and talk about what we think that corporate Canada can do, or governments can do, what are ideas we have? Sherry, do you want to jump in?
Certainly, thank you. I’ve been thinking a lot in terms of allyship, and I think some of the bigger questions and concerns do come from tokenization. We want to make sure that knowing positions are created where they’re simply checking off a box to say that we have the Indigenous person, and when someone is brought on board that they also need to be provided the supports that they really require in order to achieve the goals or the mandate they’ve been sent out to do.
I think quite often sometimes people – they may be set up to fail, and it’s not necessarily intentional, but especially if you’re looking at bringing someone on board to support these – I see new positions coming out around reconciliation coordinators, or relationships with Indigenous peoples to help do reconciliation engagement. Those are, they’re great, but the idea of making sure that these positions have teeth, that they have decision making power, that they have support through advisory councils to ensure that there is, that the shift – the social shift and corporate shift within the culture is actually achievable, is really needed and as well as capacity and funding. So this change cannot happen with one person, and that in terms of allyship we do all have to work together. It is not for the Indigenous people to necessarily lead the way that way, but we need to walk together in terms of the shift that we are making and what we want to achieve.
So I think more than anything else I see that balance that’s really needed, and my recommendation in saying that, I guess, is really making sure that when we’re committing to these types of changes, or these attitudes or the implementation of the TRC recommendations that we’re really putting teeth to it in that those individuals are going to be well supported and not tokenized.
Sherry, thanks. I’m going to go over to you Hillary. Maybe some final words? We’ve just, we’re hitting the end of our session and I know I’m seeing so many comments saying “I wish this was longer”.
Yeah, what I was just going to say, and I’m going back to your earlier comment about targets. We all know that what gets measured gets done, and we need to set ambitious, measurable targets, and we need to push back.
When we have search firms going out for a new position and we have somebody in mind you know, an Indigenous woman or Indigenous person in mind, we want to fill some gaps in our own industry, you push back at those search firms. They have to do a deeper dive. They need to find the talent. It is out there, and so they need to use all the resources at their fingertips because the resources are there as well. And so I would say as a last word on allyship – it takes courage, strength and humility, social action. Think about Catherine’s opening comments about your traditional territory. Where are you located? Where are your businesses located? Who are the communities around you and what are you doing to help support them, and include them in the vision for your industry.
That’s great. Okay, Alicia. Over to you quickly, we’ve got the speed round, and then Roberta. [laughter]
I think that corporations really need to think about what they need to do in order to start to see Indigenous people in all of the different levels of their structure, and start thinking, you know, let’s get to a place where we don’t need the Indigenous markets teams specifically, because the values and the understanding is well permeated throughout the organization, and that takes resourcing, as Sherry said, and it takes investment in people, and it’s going back to the conversations. It’s going back to the development of people.
Not all Indigenous people have, you know, high school, and then you know, how to apply for university, and then you map yourself easily into university. That trajectory is not established for Indigenous people. So by the time Indigenous people hit your corporation, it is near impossible for most people to understand the sheer strength of will, determination, commitment, stubbornness, it has taken for them to get there. These people are worth investing in. I cannot stress that enough. They’re so capable, and they bring such innovative thinking. It’s not innovative necessarily to somebody who understands traditions, but it’s innovative in a way that truly is positioned to support and advance corporate Canada and all of the different relationships that it needs to build to be successful.
Thank you so much, Alicia. I know I would be remiss if I did not say thank you to all of our guests who have attended. I know we’ve gone over our time, and maybe Roberta’s going to give me a pass. I’ll have to take her out for lunch [laughs] soon. On this I am so sorry we went over our time. I think Catherine Lau is going to close us out, and we’ve got some additional information here on the screen. You know, just like super excited to have you all and really appreciate that everybody was able to attend and hear from all of you, so thank you so much everybody. Take care.