Tina Ryan has just completed her first year on the job as the first female Guardian for the Metlakatla Nation. She shares her experiences on the water and her aspirations for young women in Metlakatla territory.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A GUARDIAN?
I’ve always had a passion for the ocean – everything and anything to do with it. I saw that the position was available and thought, “this is a dream job.” My Dad had mainly all girls, but we’re all tomboys. Since I was young, I’ve always been out on the boat with my Dad hunting, fishing, and gathering our traditional foods.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR WORK?
I thought it would be harder and more hands on but it’s the best job ever. It’s on the ocean and you can spend time with other Nations to see what they’re doing. That’s almost the best part – just meeting other Guardians. I’m also not a person to keep still. It was go, go, go in the first few months and it was awesome. We were doing patrols on the ocean, doing creek walks to see if creeks were blocked for the fish to go through. We travelled to Hakai Institute for training and that was the best experience ever. We’d go into the forest to look for CMTs [Culturally Modified Trees] and do archaeology work.
WHAT SKILLS DID YOU BRING AS THE FIRST FEMALE COASTAL GUARDIAN FOR METLAKATLA?
When this job came up, I thought “Heck, yah!” I found what I loved to do. I already knew the territory where our traditional grounds were and how to drive a boat. In our territory, it’s really rocky, so you need to know the layout of the land. I knew just as much as someone else with 40 years on the ocean.
WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENT ARE YOU PROUD OF IN YOUR WORK?
That I am the first female Guardian in Metlakatla. I’ve met only three other women Guardians – at Hakai [Institute] there were only four of us ladies that were Guardians and the rest were men in a gathering of thirty.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE BIG CHALLENGES YOUR COMMUNITY IS FACING AROUND STEWARDSHIP OF ITS TERRITORY?
For us, it’s living so close to Prince Rupert. Metlakatla territory is all around Prince Rupert and it’s only seven kilometres away so when it comes to harvesting our traditional foods, people think it’s a free for all. The popular ones are our seaweed, our abalone and our clams. Fish too – we have sport fishermen all day, every day. We educate them to let them know they are on Metlakatla territory and that we’d appreciate if they didn’t get greedy. That was what I
was taught when I was little – just take what you need.
ARE YOU TREATED DIFFERENTLY THAN MALE GUARDIANS ON THE WATER?
Oh, yes. When I go out and ask people questions while they are fishing, I usually get the stink-eye or I get ignored. Until they see my skipper, who is well known, and then they have their conversation with him. I thought I would be the gentle voice that people respond to but I guess not. It’s a learning process for me. I am the first female Guardian for Metlakatla. The attention I get for that is pretty cool, but I’m here to do the job that I’m supposed to do. That’s what I want to show the younger generation of ladies. I tell them, it may be a man’s job, but I think that a woman could do it too and maybe even better.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP ROLES IN CFN COMMUNITIES?
In Metlakatla, men are providers but women are too. The men take the fish, but we ladies do everything else. We cut them, we cook them, we preserve them. It blows me away the elders here that are still doing stuff. The ladies are in their 70s, 80s and 90s and they’re still doing what they do with their traditional foods. There are not too many left yet the kids see them hard at work and they teach our kids still. The ladies over here are pretty cool. I keep coming back to our voices – they have voices.
WHO INSPIRED YOU AND WHY?
My Dad started me on my love of the ocean. With his love and passion, he just showed me everything I love about the ocean. When I was pregnant, he was sick, and he never quit going out. Now it’s my uncle – my dad’s brother – who takes me out all the time. Even in my spare time I am out on the boat because of the two men who helped me love the ocean.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE OCEAN?
How alive it is. The whales. All the food that you can get out of it to feed your family. We can travel anywhere. My heart is with the ocean and that’s where my Dad went when he passed away. We took him to the ocean to do one loop before we buried him. That’s probably what I would want is to go out like my Dad went out. Go out to the ocean for one last cruise.
AS A WOMAN, WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER IN YOUR CAREER?
I don’t say Guardian Watchmen. My business card says, “Tina Ryan, Guardian Watchwoman.” A couple of people say it’s Guardian Watchmen for a reason. They’re telling me that it’s a man’s job. Well you know what? I’ve been here for a year; nothing is holding me back. I can do anything a guy can do on the ocean. I’ve pulled in big nets, big crab traps and big fish. I’ve proved them wrong over and over again.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN TAKING ON LEADERSHIP ROLES?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do a man’s job. Personally, I believe women sometimes do it better. Our voices and ideas are just as important.
WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOMEN LEADERS?
I don’t think there will be big challenges. Our ladies have strong voices and authority. In Metlakatla, more and more
ladies have stepped up to take on jobs dominated by men before like Chief and Council. I think they will only get stronger. It comes back to having a voice. Just use your voice, your voice has to be heard. Don’t be shy, speak up, say what you think.
WHEN YOU FACE CHALLENGES, WHAT INSPIRES AND ENCOURAGES YOU TO CONTINUE?
I don’t expect special treatment because I’m a female. I expect to be treated as my other coworkers are. If I do face challenges, I talk to my coworkers and tell them what’s going on and they help me. The special treatment thing – I don’t think I’ve have had it yet, but I’m waiting. And I don’t want it.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE WOMEN BECOME GUARDIANS ON THE COAST?
Oh yes, that would be awesome. We wanted to take on a youth worker this year but because of COVID-19, we haven’t even gone out the boat. That’s what I’d love to see especially here in Metlakatla. Just to show the kids what an awesome job it is and the places you get to go and the things you get to see.
A member of the Killer Whale clan, Tina and her three sisters grew up learning to fish and harvest traditional foods on the ocean with their father. Tina is now a mother of five whose three young daughters love to go fishing with her.