Chief Councillor Roxanne Robinson made history when she accepted her role as first woman chief of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation in July 2019. In her interview with Stories from the Coast, the Chief highlights the role of Indigenous women in leadership and her aspirations for her Nation and future women leaders.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO ACCEPT THE ROLE OF CHIEF COUNCILLOR?
I’m very passionate and I wanted to bring my voice to the table. My goal was to lead the community. It’s easy to point out the problems in our community, but if you’re serious you need to come to the table and lend your voice. It wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. I had the discussion with my family and they 100 per cent stood behind me and that’s what gave me the confidence to step forward and become the first lady chief of my community. My hope was also to inspire and encourage the younger generation of youth, especially the girls, to show that it’s possible for a woman to become a chief and to be a positive change for our community.
WHY IS WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP IMPORTANT IN COASTAL FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITIES?
We’re a very matriarchal society and we are the matriarchs of our communities. We feel deeply, we love deeply, we
have pure intent and we’re able to have a voice for our Nation for our future generations. Women are the heartbeats
of the Nations, we are the warriors, and the first to run to the lines to fight for the rights of our community.
WHO INSPIRED YOU AND WHY?
My first inspiration was my father – Ross Neasloss Senior. He led our community and served as Councillor Member and Chief. Watching our father lead and seeing his inspiration and passion for our community was very inspiring for me. I also come from a lineage of powerful matriarchs. My father’s grandmother Maryanne Mason was a very strong
inspiration. I remember being a young girl and watching her and thinking, she’s so powerful. Violet Neasloss, my
maternal grandmother, was also an inspiration. Watching both Marilyn Slett and Crystal Smith of Kitimat make all the positive changes in their Nations also really inspired me to step into this role.
HOW HAS YOUR FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE BEEN?
It’s been challenging because we’re running our community in a global pandemic. But I can feel growth in
myself as a leader, my skin’s getting thicker. We’re working hard to ensure our community is progressing during the
pandemic. We set the goals of rekindling relations with ISC [Indigenous Services Canada], the RCMP and engineers. It took us three months to accomplish those goals, so we’ve been very proactive as a council. I can’t be more thankful for our team because we’re a good balance.
AS A FEMALE LEADER, WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER IN YOUR CAREER?
I think the challenge of being heard as a woman’s voice was hard. My voice wasn’t heard because of my gender. I
didn’t silence my voice to make other people comfortable. I speak until I feel I am being heard. Sometimes that means getting people to look at an issue from a different perspective. If I feel it’s going to be of benefit to my community, I’m not going to keep quiet.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE COMING GENERATIONS OF FEMALE LEADERS?
My advice is to be confident, to be courageous and never silence your voice when you know you are speaking
with the best interests of your Nation in mind. When you lead from the heart, you cannot go wrong. Stand strong with your voice and never be afraid to take a risk or leap of faith.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOMEN LEADERS?
That is a good question. Probably ensuring continuity of vision and coming out of the old school way of thinking
from old school thinkers. Smoothing out the way for gender equality so that we’re all sitting at the table as equals – working together with the same goals.
WHO INSPIRES YOU TO CARRY ON IN DIFFICULT TIMES?
The youth inspire me to carry on, my two-year-old niece. The decisions we make today will be felt by my niece and the younger generation tomorrow. Also, the elders – during this pandemic we’ve taken extreme measures to protect our knowledge holders. It’s the elders and the youth who keep me moving forward no matter how challenging things get.
WHAT’S ONE BIG GOAL YOU’D LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH IN YOUR TERM?
I would really like to see our community grow. We haven’t had a home built here in 20 years or the opportunity to
expand with a new community centre. The hydroelectric expansion project is opening up a lot of opportunity for our
community. It’s an exciting time for our Nation. I also hope that I’ve inspired the young ladies to stand up and sit at
this table and really be a voice. I hope that everyone knows that I’ve done my absolute best and led from my heart.
Previously Deputy Chief, Chief Robinson is now in her second term of office as leader of the 517-member Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation. A member of the Salmon Clan, the Chief carries the name of Hbuks qaaps, “Mother of Spring Salmon.” She will be taking over her father’s hereditary chieftainship of the Wolf Clan under the name Git-kon in a future potlatch.