Indigenous Perspectives: Stories from Indigenous Public Servants
Episode 5 - Conversation with Gina Wilson, Deputy Minister of Status of Women Canada and Champion of Federal Indigenous employees

The ESDC Indigenous Perspectives podcasts explore being Indigenous in the Public Service, what reconciliation is for individuals, and what it can be for Canada. In their own words, public servants give voice to diverse experiences - and struggles - around what it means to be Indigenous.

Duration: 16:34 minutes

Transcript

(soundbyte: Gina Wilson)

“And we also need Indigenous perspectives in all of our policies, programs, and operations across the Government of Canada. And those perspectives are valid, they're important and they need to be heard. And this is why Indigenous people should be in the public service in greater numbers.”

(music: “Hoka” – Boogey The Beat)

Indigenous Perspectives. Stories from Indigenous public servants.

Tansi.

This is Indigenous Perspectives, a program where we hope to explore the experiences and perspectives of Indigenous public servants, what reconciliation means to them, and what it can be for Canada.

On this episode, a conversation with someone who has been described by citizens and colleagues as a “nation builder”, “a superstar”, someone who “broke through every barrier that was ever put in front of her” but describes herself as someone who is humble, and who not have “big dreams” as a child, and who never thought that she would ever work in government. She attributes much of her success to her two grandmothers – strong women who were activists and role models within her community, and who played a hand in gently guiding her and giving her many teachings along the way.

GINA:
Hello!

TODD:
Hi, Gina. It's Todd Lyons calling.

GINA:
Todd, how are you?

TODD:
I'm well. So, for someone that may not know you because we're pitching this to the entire public service and even maybe to Canadians in general, what's your elevator pitch – an introduction of who you are and what you do – and that can be you professionally, or just you personally and your overall life mission.

GINA:
I'm Gina Wilson. I'm a mother. I'm a grandmother. I'm a nation member of the Algonquin nation community member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinaabeg. I'm currently Deputy Minister of Status of Women Canada and I'm a dedicated public servant that's worked in both the federal public service as well as the First Nation public service. I also am DM Champion of Federal Indigenous employees in the Government of Canada and my passion is I'm a believer in our youth. And I want them to succeed and I want a better society for them. That's who I am.

TODD:
So in your opinion what does it mean to be an Indigenous executive in the public service? Are there some realities that that non-Indigenous executives or employees might be unaware of?

GINA:
So what it means to me to be an Indigenous executive in the public service and being a leader in the public service is owning who I am as a First Nation Algonquin member, offering my perspective in my daily interactions, and living to my values and the teachings that I've had growing up and incorporating those into my my daily interactions. For an Indigenous executive, sometimes it's about influencing Indigenous policy programs and operations and having that insight and being able to translate Indigenous policy and Indigenous understandings to the federal system or the, you know, being in the federal system and translating that for the Indigenous community. And sometimes it's about being an Indigenous public servant, impacting and influencing non-Indigenous policies programs and operations. So, we do have Indigenous executives in the Government of Canada that work both on Indigenous issues and very much in non-traditional Indigenous fields as well.

TODD:
Now you mentioned bringing your teachings into your work your role. Can you expand on that? That's fascinating.

GINA:
Sure. So, for instance I would say for me I think it's really important to value the wisdom of Elders. So I have mentors who are Elders, who are older public servants, for instance, and even those that are retirees. So valuing those individuals is part of my understanding and teachings and learning from them as part of that. Bringing into the public service the notion of balance and wellness. You know, we talk a lot about mental health but I talk more about spiritual, mental, emotional, physical health as elements of the medicine wheel and promoting wellness and balance in that regard. So that's part of my understandings and teachings that I incorporate into my everyday life. Values such as caring and strength and honesty and respect are very much values that I was taught as a young person. And those are teachings – there are many teachings around that – but there are also a lot of synergies with public service values. So I think that's what I mean when I when I think about my culture, who I am, and how those apply to the public service.

TODD:
Why do you think that First Nations, Metis, Inuit people should consider a career in the public service and what are your thoughts on the GC's recruitment and retention work?

GINA:
Really good question. So, why should Indigenous people join the public service? Well, there are some good jobs in the public service. It's pretty basic in terms of good pay and benefits and that's what we look for in our in our professional career and our lives. But I think if you're also someone who is open to variety and change there's a lot of opportunity for mobility in the public service. Mobility not only geographically, because the public services Canada-wide so one can virtually move at some point to any part of the country, but the different mobility by working in different departments having the opportunity to experience different cultures in different departments is also a great benefit of the public service. And again I think about the values and ethics and how they align with Indigenous peoples in terms of respect and strength and honesty and caring, those are values and ethics that I want to see across the public service as well. And we also need Indigenous perspectives in all of our policies programs and operations across the Government of Canada and those perspectives are valid, they're important, and they need to be heard. And this is why Indigenous people should be in the public service and in greater numbers. We are doing a good job at recruitment. I would say we've made some great strides over the last few years. We have an Indigenous summer employment program that has expanded over the last couple of years. We have managers in many parts of the public service who are finding innovative, creative ways to bring in our talent – the talented young Indigenous peoples across the country. People are trying different things and initiating programs to bring in Indigenous peoples. I think we can do a lot more on the retention side. I think we still have a ways to go in terms of keeping Indigenous peoples in the public service. What our data is demonstrating is that Indigenous peoples are coming in at a good rate but they're leaving once they are in. So that is signifying something about retention and what we need to do and that's the focus of a report called Many Voices, One Mind, and it essentially is a report that describes some of the experiences of Federal Indigenous employees.

TODD:
What can you tell me about your activities and your role as a champion in this area?

GINA:
So, my role as DM Champion of Federal Indigenous employees is certainly to be knowledgeable about some of the issues that federal Indigenous employees have been dealing with and grappling with. And I can say personally that I've experienced that over my last 20 some years career in the federal public service. So being knowledgeable about those issues is the role of a champion. Another role would be to be an advocate for federal Indigenous employees. So being able to hear views and understand limitations and being an advocate on behalf of the many people that I work with across the public service. I also recognize to an extent as well that it's important to have role models and I found myself being in the position of being a role model, being the most senior federal public servant who is of First Nation descent. And that's important to people. It's important young people to know that they can become a Deputy Minister. It's important for young Indigenous people to know that there are senior people in the federal public service who are of Indigenous origin because it's something that they can acquire as well.

TODD:
Speaking just as an individual, as a person, what does reconciliation mean to you?

GINA:
From a very personal perspective being a member of Kitigan Zibi, being a member of the Algonquin nation, for me reconciliation would mean when our nations – our nation of Canada and the Algonquin nation – were able to come to some agreement, some recognition of the territory that we that we live on, on a day to day basis. That is something that is in the future but something that I have every confidence will occur. As a member of the public service – federal public service employee – reconciliation can mean just what we've been talking about: recruitment and retention of Indigenous employees. It means Indigenous employees feeling valued and recognized and when I hear more and more stories of Indigenous federal employees being valued and recognize that to me is a very personal means of understanding reconciliation and perhaps some of the decolonization that we need to to talk about it as well. And then, finally, I would say as a mother and as a grandmother now, it's the young people are very important to me. Increasingly, I think about them a lot. I talk to them a lot. I work with many members of youth from my own community. And to me it's truly, truly important that reconciliation will mean when I see our young people advancing, when I see them succeeding, when I see them acquiring the positions in the world that they should, and that would be a real reconciliation for me.

TODD:
Now when I think about some of the people that I've talked to over the series and outside of podcasting I've observed a sense of sort of misunderstanding and a sense of disconnection involving Canadians at large and the area of reconciliation. What is reconciliation – what can it mean to a typical Canadian who doesn't understand how they could help, or perhaps even why they should help?

GINA:
Yeah, that's a great question and it's a question I hear a lot when I talk to public servants about reconciliation and decolonization and you know people asked, well what can I do. I can't do much. I don't work in Indigenous policy. I don't work on Indigenous programs. I'm a Service Canada employee who works at a desk in an area where there's not a lot of Indigenous people. So, it's really the little things that people can do. For that employee, perhaps they can learn how to, say, acknowledge a greeting in the local Indigenous language or they can learn how the region is acknowledged. I think for a lot of Canadians they've come to understand that there was a residential school in their local area. That might be something to to understand and research. Was there was there a school nearby? And who went to that school? And what is the history of that school? Canadians can learn about their local area and maybe some of the Indigenous communities around them. And a lot of Canadians have had interactions with local Indigenous communities, but understanding maybe a broader diversity. We could do podcasts. We can read books. We can talk to friends and colleagues of Indigenous descent. And we can go to a cultural event. Many, many Indigenous cultural events – everyone is welcome. Or we could join a group or start a group. There's a whole host of activities that a typical Canadian can undertake and many, many Canadians are currently undertaking. And it's heartening to see and I can only encourage it.

TODD:
Do you have any final thoughts to share before we wrap up?

GINA:
Well, I would say that for many Indigenous employees in the federal government but Indigenous employees working in other governments or even in the First Nation public service, it's not always easy to walk in that world and sometimes for some of us it's walking into worlds. There are those limitations that are there and I wouldn't necessarily see it as something that is a barrier, but something that necessarily is something you got to work harder to get somewhere. Finally I'd also like to mention that for non-Indigenous people it's important to recognize at times that there is a bias and sometimes it's a very unconscious bias. You know, I encounter it myself in different areas when I work in different parts of the federal public service. You know, I've learned that I don't understand enough about the Chinese community. I don't understand enough about the Muslim community. I don't understand enough about the LGBTQ2 community and I may have an unconscious bias as well, so I'm trying to further my learning at this time about unconscious bias and encourage everyone else to, and all your listeners. And that's it!

TODD:
That's great. That's good advice we could all learn from. Thanks so much for speaking to me today.

GINA:
All the best to you. More than welcome. It was a pleasure, Todd. Take care.

Indigenous Perspectives: Stories from Indigenous Public Servants is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada

All opinions expressed on Indigenous Perspectives are strictly those of the individual and are not necessarily those of their employer.

Our main title music is by Boogey the Beat.

I'm Todd Lyons, host, writer, and technical producer for this series.

Thank you for listening.

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Download (MP3, 11.0 MB) Episode 5 - Conversation with Gina Wilson, Deputy Minister of Status of Women Canada and Champion of Federal Indigenous employees

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