Elected to lead the first all-woman council for the Wuikinuxv Nation, Chief Danielle Shaw says she always knew she would bring her skills to the work of supporting her Nation toward self-governance and growth.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO ACCEPT THE ROLE OF CHIEF COUNCILLOR OF YOUR NATION?
I was the Stewardship Director until about a year ago when I went on maternity leave and had my youngest
daughter in August of last year . I had many members talking to me about the different policy issues and
governance issues the Nation is facing and asking if I would consider running for Chief or Council. Not being one to sit at home and enjoy my maternity leave, an election was upcoming and I decided to accept. We have our first all-woman council for Wuikinuxv. I’m fortunate to be elected with two other really strong capable women who I work well with.
WHY IS IT SIGNIFICANT TO HAVE AN ALL-WOMAN COUNCIL?
Historically our Nations were always matriarchal societies and our women served as advisors to our Chiefs. Although this is a new system and we are elected leaders and not hereditary leaders, I think it is still important to have the voices of our women heard. We did have our first woman chief a few years ago – Rose Hanuse Hackett – and she was a real strong leader as well.
HOW HAS YOUR FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE BEEN?
This pandemic definitely has brought forward some unprecedented challenges that we’ve just been able to react to.
We’re finally getting to where we’ve set things in place and now can look to what we need going forward. We’ve already developed some strong financial policies. Hopefully by the end of our first year on Council we’ll have developed a strong suite of policies and can move on to implementation for the second year of our term.
WHY IS WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP IMPORTANT IN THE COASTAL FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITY?
It’s really important to encourage our women to speak up and hold roles and that they not feel as if they can’t. I’ve
been in a number of rooms and meetings where I’ve been the only woman, or there’s been only one other woman. I want to see more women in the room.
WHO INSPIRED YOU AND WHY?
I think about this so often because there are so many women who inspire me in so many ways. First and foremost, my mom, who was a single mother and went to residential school and was in the foster home system, and despite all that raised some really strong children. She’s one of the kindest and most selfless people I know and definitely inspires me to keep moving forward.
I have really strong aunties who set a good example for working hard and speaking up for what you believe in. My
mother-in-law is a marine biologist and she’s able to give me a good perspective on things. My fellow counsellors are
really strong women. I’m inspired by Jess Housty and everything she does for her community; Megan Humchitt for her calm demeanour. Cindy Hanuse from our community who has a quiet strength about her that I admire. So many women who I look up to on a daily basis.
AS A FEMALE LEADER, WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER IN YOUR CAREER?
My biggest barrier has been my own inner voice and I’m often second guessing my abilities in certain projects and wondering if there’s somebody else better to do it. I’m constantly critiquing everything I’m doing, and when it comes
to taking that next step or climbing that ladder a little more, I find myself getting stuck and thinking maybe I’m okay where I am. What’s helped me through that is having a really strong support system in place to remind me when I’m not so confident in my abilities.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE COMING GENERATIONS OF FEMALE LEADERS?
Take care of yourself and take care of each other. Rather than tearing down other women or feeling there’s only space for one or two women in the room, make space. Lean on each other, uphold each other.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF FIRST NATIONS WOMEN LEADERS?
I think it’s going to be a challenge to really push those boundaries in leadership to allow women to be the powerful people they can be. I think that often people perceive women, and especially moms, to be housekeepers and caregivers and I think we can be those things and more. I think the challenge is people try to put women into a box and don’t let them decide what they want to be.
WHO INSPIRES YOU TO CARRY ON IN DIFFICULT TIMES?
My kids. I’ve had my own struggles with wellness and mental health and there’s been times when I’ve lain in bed and
thought, I can’t get up. And every time I’ve been in that situation, it’s been my kids who have helped. Just being with them really helps motivate me to move forward. When I’m on the verge of burnout and going in circles, I also find our culture and our singing and our dancing just feeds my soul. Whether we’re in the Big House or around the fire with friends and someone has a drum, it really replenishes me. It makes me realize we have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way, too.
WHAT’S ONE GOAL YOU’D LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH IN YOUR TERM?
One thing I’d like to achieve for my term is to create a mechanism for strategic planning for our Nation, so every year, we’re reviewing it and it’s a moving document that you’re constantly checking back to. I want to put in place strong mechanisms for accountability so no matter who is elected, the people know this is what we expect from our leaders. One of the biggest things I’d also like to do is to contribute to a healthier environment for work and community where people are acknowledged for the work they do.
A graduate of the Capilano University School of Business, Chief Shaw is from the Ugvalas family of the Wuikinuxv. Since moving back to her community in 2011, she has supported capacity for her Nation in diverse roles – from janitor and receptionist, to administrative assistant to marine planning coordinator and stewardship director.