Aboriginal Women Practicing Leadership

Susan Dion

I work in an academic institution and a few years ago I was being considered for tenure. As part of my process I was required to attend a meeting of my faculty’s Tenure and Promotions Committee and present my case. Reflecting on my first five years working as teacher/researcher in the university, I was supposed to build a case that would prove to the committee that the work I had accomplished met the university’s standard for tenure and promotion. Participating in this Euro-informed practice caused me to think about the work of Aboriginal women who were my mentors and guides. Rather than assess my accomplishments against the demands of the university, I asked myself: “Does my work contribute to and is it informed by the ways in which Aboriginal women practise leadership in our communities?”

My understanding of leadership as practised by Aboriginal women is derived from my experiences working with, reading, listening to, and sometimes observing from a distance the work of Aboriginal women. Aboriginal leadership is informed by what I refer to as the “Four Rs of Aboriginal Education”: remembering, relationship, responsibility and reciprocity. These concepts cannot be separated; they intertwine and inform each other.

As Aboriginal women, remembering who we are, and honouring our ways of knowing and being, is difficult and purposeful work crucial to our survival. We work in relationship with each other, recovering our languages and our ways of knowing. We take our responsibilities to past and future generations seriously. We work cognizant of the concept of reciprocity, never taking without giving back. In this article, I share the stories of women I look to as mentors and guides, women who practise and contribute to my understanding of Aboriginal leadership.

Remembering and leadership

In her book Indigenous Storywork , teacher-educator Jo-ann Archibald of the Sto:lo Nation writes about her learning journey, which began with a dream.

“I needed to learn how to hear what the Elders had told me in the dream. After learning how to listen to the stories, I was expected to use their cultural knowledge and to share it with others, thereby ensuring its continuation. Important knowledge and wisdom contain power, if one comes to understand and appreciate the power of a particular knowledge, then one must be ready to share and teach it respectfully and responsibly to others in order for this knowledge, and its power to continue.” 2



etfo members standing on stage with Sam Hammond

ETFO’s 11th annual …and still we rise conference once again demonstrated the federation’s leadership in educating members about issues facing women and children worldwide.

Classroom full of students overseas

Project Overseas. These words hung in the back of my mind for almost a decade.