Sept. 2020 – (blog) Emergent Youth & Female Leadership in the First Nations Communities – a conversation with Mavis Underwood from the Tsawout First Nation

I had the great pleasure of chatting with Mavis Underwood from the Tsawout Nation earlier this month. This podcast is part of a larger conversation ongoing with Lower Vancouver Island First Nations communities to help build strong relationships, understand cultural dynamics and create constructive employment opportunities with the Lower Vancouver Island industrial sector. I will be summarizing these conversations thru a series of articles to help the general business community achieve a more thourough understanding of the unique & treasured societal complexities of our local First Nations peoples. We will be covering a wide variety of topics and issues.

In a recent email exchange with Mavis she mentioned the following:

“Within First Nations we are experiencing a resurgence, particularly among the Younger Population who are returning to school and post-secondary education and training programs with vigour. It is exciting and I am particularly proud that the path has been well established by many of the Young Women who have been courageous in going back to school and work, navigating issues of child care and transportation in an effort to improve lives for themselves and their children.” 

I reached out to Mavis and indicated that we should have a podcast to discuss this statement in more detail. The following is a summary of that conversation.

The official title on the Tsawout First Nation website for Mavis Underwood is as Councillor on the Tsawout Band’s Leadership Council. But she does and has done so, so, so much more! She has been an extraordinary resource and advocate for facilitating Lower Vancouver Island Industry sector and First Nations relationships. She is a major champion and promoter for young adults. She provides encouragement and support for educational program participation. The bulk of the Tsawout Nation is under 30 years of age (over 50% are under 40 years old). Mavis is integrally involved in developing and progressing the key social determinants of her community’s health and prosperity, i.e., housing, health and education.

Mavis recited the phrase that her community represents the “emerging people, specifically the young people, who were saved from the flood”. The basic concept of this statement reflects:

  • the emerging people being introduced to a circumstance (the great flood) that was coming, they got a warning and they were to be prepared
  • being prepared remains a key part of their teachings – to be prepared
  • but because of a “learned helplessness” and dealing with poverty, people have lost those abilities to be “prepared

So young people are now engaged in being better prepared for the future, i.e.,

  • being educated
  • re-vitalize their role with elders
  • finding a meaningful place in society (high school, college, university) & setting goals, i.e. climate change / action – habitat restoration & protection

So this is where a younger generation is today – young people are showing the direction & leadership forward for their community by being involved with wellness activities, employment & education – “trying to improve the community” and collectively reinforcing KEY community priorities of respecting & learning from history, building self-confidence and maintaining self-identity. Trying hard to re-establish “the continuity of culture, the continuity of teachings” – “taking the past and allowing those experiences to propel you into the future in an important way”.

Further summary of our extraordinary discussion:

  • a younger generation have to take the best of the education system and use those experiences to guide them into the future
    • the challenge has been to accept education as a positive tool, not as a weapon of assimilation
    • the foundation of this education will be the acknowledging:
      • of who you are & where you come from
      • of your identity with family, with community and with other First Nations communities relatives
      • that the history of your existence, your lifestyle and your civilization has not been recorded & not included in curriculum
        • must find a way to reconcile that reality
    • young people are embracing the positive realities of their community:
      • working hard, sometimes 2-3 jobs at a time
      • young mom’s specifically are the leaders within this community and effort
      • young mom’s want to be close to their children, homes & community
  • accessing reliable transportation is a key solution to these issues
  • young women are the living example of a revitalized community leadership
    • they have taken the first opportunities at re-educating – to help their children & therefore find work thru:
      • work and/or post-secondary practicums
      • work experience or work opportunity programs
    • McDonalds was a prime example:
      • women received jobs…showed success…others followed in their footsteps
      • these jobs solved the problems of:
        • flexible hours & shifts (access to babysitting)
        • solving the challenge of getting to work
        • having an employer open to accepting Indigenous people

Mavis reviews her early employment & educational experiences. Employment came knocking at her door. Why?

  • one of the few 1st Nations women to graduate from the public school system
  • always received encouragement & mentorship, strong employment references from her employment experiences
  • do not worry about job interviews and/or rejections – “prepare for this! (referenced “to be prepared”)

Mavis has always searched & strived for a lasting solution, not just band-aid but long-term solutions and therefore promoted the following principles:

  • prosperity
  • self-confidence / awareness
  • independence
    • being proud of who you are – young women in particular understand & embrace this – considered vital to acquiring housing & looking after their children

Young people have stated & indicated that they wish to move beyond the current political & social problems and the burdens of their communities.