Covid-19 Pandemic Self-Reflections on Success & Leadership

My fifteen leadership values and practices

Author, Shelley Wiart (November 2020).


As a Métis woman and health researcher, I first must position myself in this pursuit before I share my Covid-19 Pandemic Self-Reflections on Success and Leadership. As an Indigenous researcher, my positioning honours the “Indigenous ideological understanding of the world predicated on relationality and agency” discussed by Martin (2017). I accept the responsibility to respectfully locate myself within the process of writing and research, and relational to the communities and women that I worked with co-creating Indigenous health research. I am Métis and a board member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NT). I have long-term community relationships in both treaty six (Lloydminster, on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan) and treaty eight (Yellowknife, Northwest Territories) through my health promotions program, “Women Warriors”, and through the co-creation of my Indigenous health research, “Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories.”

It is my honour to collaborate and co-create with Indigenous communities to seek self-determining and culturally relevant solutions to improving the quality of life for Indigenous peoples and express strength-based stories of land, language, culture and community. I am aware of the challenges and rewards associated with co-creating ethical research spaces for decolonized Indigenous health research.

International Women’s Day Indigenous Feminist Panel: Infusing Matriarchy Into the Academy (l to r). Dr. Karlee Fellner, Dr. Jennifer Leason, myself, Ashley Cornect-Benoit, and Dr. Pearl Yellow Old Woman-Healy (March 2020).

A Year of Growth

2020 has been my year of exponential professional and academic growth. A few of the highlights include:

Presented my research: National Gathering of Indigenous Mentorship Network Programs; AbSPORU Virtual Institute 2020; Ełèts’ehdèe-Katimaqatigiit-Nihkhah Łatr’iljil conference; webinars for the Maskwacis Community College Micro-learning Series: The Methodology of Indigenous Digital Storytelling and Indigenous Womxn Write; Panel presenter for ComSciCon on digital storytelling for the Multimedia and Journalism Panel.
Interconnectedness (l to r): Dr. Jennifer Leason, myself and Barb Horsefall.

Western versus Indigenous Measures of Success

Haw! That is what my Blackfoot friend, Billy would say to me after reading this list of accomplishments. It is a Blackfoot expression that means too awesome or too classy or in this case, used sarcastically to say quit acting good! Haw!

My intention is not to act like I’m above anyone else or seek external validation for the work I’ve accomplished this year. I offered you a list of what I’ve done this year. It is a demonstration of the Western way of listing accomplishments — a matter of fact list with the links to the articles, webinars, and awards as evidence of my success. It is how colonial institutions measure success.

These accomplishments are not the wholistic version of my success, nor do they account for the relationships and reciprocity that have brought me here. I have been gifted the teachings of humility, relationships and reciprocity. These teachings mean that anything I accomplish in my life is a result of a group effort on behalf of my family, friends, frenemies, foes (yes, they create the contrast or motivation for my purpose), mentors, Elders, community, and Creator. I alone cannot accept credit for where I am today because we are interconnected and I am a collection of many people’s teachings and efforts. If I embodied the Blackfoot word, “Haw!” my friends and family, starting with Billy, would remind me of the teaching of humility. Humility grounds us. It is the counterbalance to power and corruption. In addition to humility, we need relationships to teach us and help us evolve into the leaders we are meant to be. Being in good relations means we respect and value everyone and everything as important gifts. Our success is a result of our relationships and our strengths come from the collective. Our success means we must reciprocate the time, energy, and guidance put into us by others. It is a system of balance…the giving and recieving of energy.

The projects listed above are driven by relationships and reciprocity. For example, my co-creators on Indigenous Women’s Digital Health Stories gifted me their knowledge so I had the responsibility to share it, hence I did my best to share their knowledge in my research papers and academic article. It resulted in my award for the Barbara Roberts Memorial Award. This award is for outstanding written work by an undergraduate student on topics on women, gender and feminism. I also published an academic article, Decolonizing Health Care in Northern Public Affairs magazine. Another example, my mentor Dr. Jennifer Leason has shared her knowledge and expertise on Indigenous health research with me. I value our relationships, and her wisdom and guidance so I am always willing to reciprocate. I helped her organize the International Women’s Day Indigenous Feminist Panel which was a beautiful and memorable event. It is special to me because it was the last event I attended with a room full of people before the pandemic lockdown in March. As well, Jenn email introduced me to her graduate student, Barbra Horsefall to talk about the methodology of Indigenous digital storytelling. It was my pleasure to help Barb co-create her own digital story for her Master’s thesis and I learned how to adapt my digital storytelling process to a virtual format. Our interconnectedness and reciprocity is a cycle of success for everyone involved.

Medicine picking in Saskatchewan (July 2020).

Balanced Relationships & Healing

The natural world and our Elders teach us to live in balance and to be rooted in relationship. In everything we do there must be an element of reciprocity — you must give in order to receive. For example, before we pick medicines from Mother Earth we offer tobacco and prayers. This balanced approach to life, and co-creation gives me the energy to be highly productive. I do not feel drained from my work. If I did, I would know that one of my relationships is out of balance and I need to examine how to bring it back to balance. We become drained when we are give too much of ourselves. There exists an invisible interplay of energy in the universe and within our bodies that signals if we are in balance. Spending time on the land and connecting to Mother Earth allows us to access that energy field. If you are drained and weary, go to the land and access the energy through your body. There are many ways to heal on the land: lie down on the earth and pull the energy up through your body, talk to the trees, put your hands in natural bodies of water.

My hand in the South Saskatchewan River at Wolf Willow Resort (June 2020).
Myself and the Hon. Premier Caroline Cochrane (August 2019).

Covid-19 Pandemic Leadership Values and Practices

The most important self-reflection that I’ve committed to this year is on leadership, or the lack of leadership during the pandemic. We have witnessed a wide spectrum of leadership values and practices from around the globe. The coronavirus pandemic death toll has served as a gauge for leaders. Internationally, under the leadership of Trump, Americans suffered and hundreds of thousands of people died. The New York Times (December 16) stated the True Pandemic Toll in the U.S. Reaches 377,000. In contrast, under the responsible leadership of Jacinda Ardern, the total coronavirus deaths recorded in New Zealand is twenty-five people. Perhaps it is an unfair comparison given the population and landmass of America to New Zealand, yet the research evidence points to the fact that women-led countries are generally more successful in protecting their citizens against Covid-19.

The gendered leadership observation that women leaders are excelling during the coronavirus pandemic is also evident in Canada. For example, let us examine the crisis management on behalf of the only female premier in Canada located in the Northwest Territories, Caroline Cochrane and Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenney. The current Covid-19 statistics (as of December 19th) cases and death count revealed a glaring difference in leadership abilities: Alberta total cases 87, 581 and deaths 815, in comparison to the Northwest Territories total cases 24 and deaths 0. Kenney’s refusal to lockdown the province cost many Albertans their lives all while ignoring the vocal protests of hundreds of Alberta doctors urging lockdown.

Meanwhile, the GNWT has taken every precaution to protect Northern residents such as entire household doing fourteen-day self-isolation upon a members return from out of province, mandatory masks, and the Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola is telling NWT residents only essential travel this holiday season. They also have a long term strategy for dealing with the second wave: the N.W.T. government announced a co-ordinating secretariat with 150 new jobs to manage the COVID-19 response.

Alberta is in a state of emergency with Kenney asking the federal government, Red Cross for field hospitals as COVID deaths soar and the hospitals are at maximum capacity. He waited too long to set strict lockdown rules. On December 17th Alberta recorded 30 COVID-19 deaths, the highest number ever reported on a single day.

As a current resident of Lloydminster, Alberta with family members and friends living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories I constantly compare both places. I am aware of the gendered difference in leadership because of my positionality as a Métis woman and health researcher, and my teachings of humility, relationships, and reciprocity. It makes sense to me that the Hon. Premier Caroline Cochrane — a Métis woman — is doing a far better job protecting people. I have shared my insight on this topic in a previous post, Covid-19 Pandemic Leadership in Canada: 4 Indigenous Female Leaders. To reiterate, Indigenous women’s leadership is transparent and based on relational accountability to our communities. We understand our interconnectedness; either all of us come together or none of us survive. We put our power and privilege to good use — for the betterment of all society — not just for a few. Indigenous women will lead us forward during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

Indigenous environmental and human rights activist, Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Author, The Right to be Cold (September 2020).

My fifteen leadership values and practices

My Covid-19 pandemic self-reflections on my accomplishments this past year interweaved with my observations of the gendered leadership response to the pandemic and research such as the world needs more women leaders — during COVID-19 and beyond has resulted in my list of leadership values and practices. Also, I have been fortunate to listen to some wise knowledge keepers this year via my zoom conversations and conferences. One such leader was the keynote speaker of the Ełèts’ehdèe-Katimaqatigiit-Nihkhah Łatr’iljil conference, Sheila Watt-Cloutier. In regards to ethical leadership she stated, “Indigenous wisdom is the medicine the world needs right now.” I suggest that the ethical space that Indigenous leaders create are based on the teachings of humility, relationships, and reciprocity. My articulation of those leadership values and practices are summarized below.

  1. Put relationships first
  2. The collective is more important than the individual.
  3. Lead by example.
  4. Prepare a long-term vision then act.
  5. Prioritize and live in balance. Be aware that the energy you give to something or someone must be taken from another space or relationship in your life.
  6. Advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves.
  7. Hold yourself and others including loved ones, friends and co-workers, organizations, and governments accountable for their actions.
  8. Speak less, listen more.
  9. Honour your ancestors with good words, deeds, and thoughts.
  10. Laugh. Laugh about the hardships and dark things, too. It will heal you so you can move on.
  11. Tell stories to teach. Share the stories of your mistakes. There is medicine in stories that allow people to extract what they need to heal.
  12. Be proud of who you are.
  13. When you are given a task or responsibility, do it to the fullest extent of your capabilities. Do not cut corners.
  14. Live with forgiveness in your heart. Hurt people, hurt people. Be compassionate and help others regardless of their shortcomings.
  15. Invest as much time and energy into future generations as possible because they are our legacy. Our future is dependent on how well we teach them our worldview, life skills, and culture.

Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Shelley is currently finishing her fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts program in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Athabasca University. Please sign up for the Women Warriors newsletter for more information about Indigenous women’s holistic health.

Shelley Wiart, B.A. (Hons) is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Indigenous health research. Mother. Writer. Runner

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