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Field Experience: Tseshaht First Nation Councillor "A First Nations Woman in Leadership"

I am a single mom of 3 beautiful children, a student at Vancouver Island University and currently serving my First Nations community as a councillor. My traditional name is Tliniihak, which means the colors of the rainbow and symbolizes “Hope for the Future.” It is important that I share my traditional name because it is what guides me through life experiences. I am a First Nations Woman who appreciates the importance of early and lifelong learning and the benefits of family and parenting support and education. I have completed a Bachelors Degree in Tourism Management with a Major in Recreation and currently working towards the completion of my Master Degree in Sustainable Leisure Management. In hopes to provide better insight into how my educational journey prepared me for this new role, I will share my experience as a First Nations woman in leadership, First of all, it was my intention to work with the BC Centre of Excellence for Young Indigenous Leaders: a small organization that helps youth develop their leadership qualities. This was a training that I completed in 2010 and was hoping to complete my field experience with. However with limited funds and lack of interest, the training was cancelled. At this organization, it would have been my role to organize the training that involved recruitment of guest speakers and participants. Anyway, the reason I share this is because I want to stress the importance of having a plan b for everything. This is something I learned in my experience at VIU and whether it be a school project or work project, I learned the importance of being prepared for any challenges ahead. Therefore, my plan b involved facing my fear to take all that I've learned from my educational experience and apply it in my own community. As a First Nations woman, it can be scary to share your knowledge because everyone in your community is watching and have developed high expectations of your ability to deliver. When I went away for University, my community invested in me and believed in me so I didn't take my education lightly. No matter what the circumstance, I worked hard and never gave up. With a lot of thought, I felt it was my responsibility and duty to serve my community for everything they've done. So when the opportunity came to run for Chief and Council: a government body that reflects and represents our community values, visions and goals, I decided run. During this process, I had to stand up in front of my entire community to share how I'd be an asset to our peoples future. As I embarked on this journey, I demonstrated a strong commitment, self-determination and willingness to learn; qualities that helped me achieve my educational goals. Overall, the opportunity to step into a leadership role has challenged me in many ways. It has pushed me to use my voice, think under pressure and problem solve. In a position of authority, you are expected to advocate on behalf of your community, which requires both good listening and speaking skills; in other words, the eyes, ears and voice to capture the visions, values and needs of your community. This is something that isn’t easy as it looks. When you have the community consistently bringing forth their thoughts, concerns and ideas, you learn to respond quickly and efficiently. Continuously finding solutions to address members concerns and providing the guidance needed to overcome any challenges has pushed me to be more creative. For instance, policies in First Nations communities. This can be a very complex process because policies are required to align with the cultural values and belief systems. In my experience as a councillor,I am learning that policies need to change overtime or else they become ineffective. Gaining a better understanding of how these policies can lead to sustainable outcomes has opened my eyes to policy improvement and development of new policies. Now, I would like to take this opportunity to share a little of what I discussed in my field experience paper.... It has been 18 months since elected as councilor for Tseshaht First Nation. My first initial thought was “what am I getting myself into?” I started to doubt myself because traditionally it is men who serve as leaders or representatives in our community. Although 4 out of 9 women were elected, I still felt intimidated. For many years, men have dominated the leadership roles so this was something new and exciting for my community. Don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that woman cannot serve as leaders but simply saying that attitudes and behaviours have changed. My community has learned the importance of including the visions, creativity, and perspectives of women. They have learned that their involvement can provide the balance needed to manage community wellness. In my culture, it is in a woman's nature to care for their families so it is important to have them involved. As a Tseshaht woman, I am proud to say that my community values our women's perspective and understands the benefits of our women in the management and delivery of programs and services. To this day, the biggest ah hah moment I've had so far is learning that my role as a mother and healer is vital to the decision making process. It is believed that it takes a community to raise a child so as a mother; I feel it is imperative to keep this tradition alive. As natural caretakers, women ensure that decisions will be made while looking out for the best interest of their families. Sustaining healthy families means a lot in my community. We believe that everyone plays a role in raising our children so that is why connections between the grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and children are crucial. It is through our family connections that our traditional knowledge is passed down to younger generations, so as a leader in my community; it’s important that we ensure our family connections remain strong. Family is also essential to the love and support we need during tough times. For example, the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), I am starting to see how DIA is an assimilation attempt to kill the Indian in the Indians. It is a way to control and manage how First Nations families live in this world. Recently, our Nations have endured hurdles such as funding cuts and policy changes, which has ripped and continues to rip our families apart. These types of changes have made it more difficult for our families to live well. It is so frustrating when the Federal Government does not consult with our peoples before making any types of decisions. However, as a result of these types of issues, we’re working hard to provide the guidance and support needed to help our members. In the meantime, we are innovatively seeking solutions that will make up for the downfalls of our programs and services. Although my community has faced many hardships, I'm confident that the tools I've gained from university will add to the positive outcomes. The positive outcomes to sustain the wellness of our peoples and the environment we live in. In the end, it is my hope to build a strong foundation for our children to build upon. I have embraced my role as a councilor and will continue to take every opportunity to help my peoples. I am a proud Tseshaht Woman and will never give up the fight for equality! I look forward to seeing more of our First Nations woman develop into leaders so we can continue to make a difference. Tlecko Tlecko for reading my blog :) And a big thank you to Vancouver Island University for allowing me to LIVE, LAUGH & LEARN!


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