My greatest investment – our people

Growth. Reflecting on the last seven years, I can’t help but think of growth in terms of people.

The majority of folks measure growth to determine success. But how do people conventionally describe growth? People are typically impressed when they learn pipikwan pêhtâkwan went from 1-25 staff members in three years. That we have clients across these lands (Canada) and a few international clients. And of course, there are a lot of assumptions of how much money the company or I make. 

In seven years, people have tried to turn my head or eyes to profits, growth and what ‘this’ should or could be. I heard a lot about how much money I should be making and how it wasn’t right or ‘naive’ the way I wanted to develop processes, policies, organizational charts, our budgets or even in naming the company.

“You spend a lot of money on your staff.”

“That’s not best practice.”

“The company has to be the number one priority.”

But – what is ‘the company’ without my team? Is it a building or structure? Is it the bank account? Is it the name given to us in ceremony?

I look at our team – their ability to be more comfortable with not knowing all the answers, assume less, ask more questions for clarity, listen to their hearts when something doesn’t feel right and most importantly, they are shining their light as they step into being more confident beings. It feels amazing to see them speaking and working on high profile projects they deserve to be on. It also feels incredible to share with them the opportunities I have been afforded. We share the work, the profile, the opportunities, the hard times and the good times. Sometimes we share a little too much. I know things … things I never thought I would know about my staff. Haha.

I look to our partners (clients) – their trust in our abilities and their confidence in navigating the media and strategic communications has grown. Non-Indigenous organizations are becoming less fearful of us and more open to understanding our Peoples. Indigenous People and content is moving more mainstream and is recognized more positively. 

If you own a company, and it’s just you – you know your company is only as good as you. What you put into it, how you serve your clients and your investment in relationships. pipikwan pêhtâkwan cannot exist without our people and our community – my employees and our partners. They believe in the work they do, they believe in me (at least at one point they must have), and I believe in them. 

It’s tricky for money to not get in the way of hiring and operational decisions – I get how leaders can look at their staff as numbers. There are a number of hours folks have to reach for us to be sustainable as a company, absolutely! While they know what that number is, they also know they get a paid Friday off and access to an Elder on staff, Coleen, who is referred to lovingly as our ‘office sweetie.’ We participate in sharing circles, we visit every morning for 30 minutes, we joke and tease each other, (mostly about Travis’s jorts and Elliott seems to be free game for everyone at all times), we support each other in our successes and failures, and we want to hang out together … even outside of work. Wild! I think they know they are supported here – that profits are important but so are they.

As we create new jobs in the company, sometimes they are written based on the person who is being promoted internally. I was advised to not do this because the person may not stay in the job forever and I would then have to find a very unique person for the role. Why can’t I just change the role after and shuffle things around based on my team? If you’re in HR and reading this – I’m sorry for giving you a heart attack. 

We have so many strengths on the team and I want to give people things they are good at or want to try. It’s very fulfilling to see people excited about their job – to see someone see them, even just a little. People want opportunities, they seek accountability, respect and autonomy – they don’t want to be micromanaged.

The culture of my company needs to be protected, therefore the people who work here must be protected, supported and nurtured. When I get out of their way – they shine. Sometimes there are mistakes, and that’s how we all learn for the next time. A great way to learn when shame isn’t attached – I’m still unlearning this. It’s a hard switch to flip.

There are times when feelings get hurt, boundaries are crossed, fear causes trouble and triggers and traumas are reignited – but we always seem to stick together. Sometimes it is painful, but we really do power through it together. In 2020, I hired my first staff member and since then no one has quit (knock on wood). Instead, I often hear how they are never leaving or are never going ‘back.’ 

This company is its people – it just is. It’s not really even mine because we built and shaped it entirely together. I’m not even being dramatic, we really did. Our team informs everything we do as a company. I rarely make an operational decision that will impact our team without them or the leadership team providing feedback and suggestions. We try to work collectively as often as possible, while working remotely. We are returning to the ways of working together that feel good for our hearts, and that leaves more room for creativity in every sense of the word.

I hear from our clients pretty consistently, “everyone on your team is so kind, I love working with them!” That is the best compliment. 

Our team is kind.

They are. They are kind, funny, intelligent human beings. They have lives outside of pipikwan pêhtâkwan – I hope they know I honour that and do not want our work to dictate how they make decisions impacting their families and communities. 

If you would have told me seven years ago when I started this company that we would work with the Confederacy of Treaty Six on the Papal visit, the JUNOS, Fort Edmonton Park Indigenous Peoples Experience, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health and several Indigenous organizations and communities – that we would be going to ceremony and visiting Elders as part of our job or we would be building capacity in our Youth and that some of those Youth are now speaking at national and international events – I would not have believed you. This journey has me learning alongside my team – it’s OK to be good at something, to be honoured for your work, that we deserve good things, it’s OK to not be perfect or all knowing, and it’s OK to change your mind or make a mistake. I have more room to be grateful now because I never felt like I deserved any of this. In seven years, I’ve challenged almost all of my fears head on. I finally get that saying, ‘what’s the worst that can happen? Someone says no?’ If we don’t try, if we don’t push kindly and honestly – we won’t ever know what we can accomplish or create. 

I am so proud of pipikwan pêhtâkwan. Our partners, our team and even me. That’s a hard one to admit out loud in public. I truly am proud of myself and what I have overcome and achieved. 

Together, as we decolonize and push fear aside, we are waking the ancestors across Turtle Island. I know this because our ancestors gave us this name and responsibility – and we take it very seriously. 

P.S. We don’t take ourselves too seriously – there’s always room for the odd Stephanie Joe poop joke.

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