Wyanne (Kiya) Smallboy-Wesley is a graduate of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program at Coady Institute. As an Indigenous Facilitator for the Calgary Public Library and the Further Education Society (FESA), she works with a diverse network of communities in the Calgary-area to “build a bridge of safety” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and community members. One such example is the Indigenous Workplace Circles she facilitates with FESA.
“We educate the non-Indigenous people on what it’s like as an Indigenous person to go work for them, and how we experience life in the workplace, and outside the workplace,” Wyanne says.
For example, Wyanne says Indigenous employees of non-Indigenous companies often hesitate to ask for time off to attend traditional ceremony – in the case of a funeral, for instance – because they fear that it will jeopardize their job security.
Indigenous Workplace Circle participants work through “difficult conversations” and learn historical context at the local community level, the provincial level with Treaties 6, 7, and 8, and the federal level including the Indian Act.
“We create a safe environment mentality that you can practice and be Indigenous in your workplace – on the reserve and off the reserve,” Wyanne says.
[This support shows that] Canadians are individuals … There are Canadians that want change. There are Canadians who want to be inspired and want to acknowledge Indigenous knowledge. This is the real proof.
Wyanne is a member of a FESA committee on Indigenous literacy and development in the workplace that provides feedback to the Senate of Canada. She also builds bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous area residents through her work at the Calgary Public Library – an institution that was previously known in Indigenous communities for rejecting Indigenous job applicants. Wyanne says that being one of the first Indigenous employees of the library has created an opportunity for healing.
“Canadians are crying on me. They’re literally crying on my shoulder, on my head, from what happened in the past,” she explains.
“They’re looking for reconciliation from me, even if I’m not in their Tribe, because I’m Indigenous and I’m working there.”
Wyanne says she is proud of the community for questioning the status quo and initiating change, and of the organizations she works with for recognizing Indigenous assets and implementing many of the tools she has recommended from her time at Coady Institute, such as the “leaky bucket” and asset-based community development.
“The institutions are changing,” she says. “I’ve seen it. I want to give credit to the library, to the Calgarians, to the Further Education Society, and to the Senate. They are changing.”
Circle of Support
On June 29, Wyanne was one of 11 Indigenous women leaders who released a joint statement in support of Coady’s Circle of Abundance – Amplifying Indigenous Women’s Leadership campaign that launched with a $200,000 donation from Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, and later a matching donation by the Jeannine Deveau Education Equity Endowment Fund.
The statement in part reads, “We have a shared vision for raising the profile of Indigenous women’s leadership and voices in Canada and globally. We know that magic happens when women lift each other up and share their Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, cultures, and traditions.”
On July 7, Coady announced the campaign had raised approximately $650,000 of its $1,000,000 goal.
“It means a lot to me – as a human being, and as a Stoney Nakoda-Cree person,” Wyanne says in reaction to the outpouring of support.
She emphasizes that it can be a challenge for some to trust that the historical human rights abuses perpetrated by the Canadian government – such as the residential school system – are not representative of current citizen-held values.
“[This support shows that] Canadians are individuals. They have their own inspired interests and shared interests,” Wyanne explains.
“This is the proof. There are Canadians that want change. There are Canadians who want to be inspired and want to acknowledge Indigenous knowledge. This is the real proof.”
Join the Circle of Abundance by donating at coady.stfx.ca/indigenouswomen