“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I have been called a nothing but a dirty Indian, a seme7 (white person), an apple (someone who is red on the outside but white on the inside), a sell-out, a token Indian, a snob, a brown-noser, an asshole, and an imposter. I’ve been told I don’t have peoples interests at heart, that I don’t understand issues, that my work is not good enough, that I’m not cooperative, that I’m a rule breaker, that I’m lazy, that my expectations are totally unrealistic, that I’ve misrepresented my knowledge, experience, and achievements.
There was a time these things bothered me deeply. There was a time when these voices became the voice inside my head. I used to let this voice hold me back. Over the years, I’ve experienced many set-backs but more importantly I’ve experienced many more successes.
And I have to say that the quote from Marianne Williamson was with me every step of the way. When I met Laurie Sterritt, she quickly became an important mentor. And one of the first things she told me was to print this quote, and keep it with me or put it on my office wall. And so to this day, this quote is on my office wall.
I always tell myself “let your light shine”. And those aweful things people told me? That’s on them, that’s their reflection. I’ve been told by many that I don’t follow the rules very well. But if I followed the rules that society set out for me, I would stay quiet. I would be in a much different place. I would probably be what they told me I was, nothing but a stupid, drunk Indian. And I’m not. And nor is any person who lives on our reserve. But those are the stories we tell ourselves.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that not only do I try to let my light shine, but that there is a certain defiance of society in the things I do. I strongly dislike when people tell me who I am, but also what to do. Wear matching socks? For what?! Other than the fact that it’s probably easier to manufacture matching socks. I’ve also found over my work experience that in many ways the rules of society were not set up to benefit Indigenous people, and in many ways meant to disadvantage us. And guess what, if the rules were written, they can be re-written in a way that’s fair and balanced for Indigenous people.
Be who you want to be!
Have the Confidence to Win!
On June 13, 2013, I graduated from Thompson Rivers University with a degree in Economics. On June 17, I started my first real job.
My first job after my undergrad was at BMO as a Commercial Banker. Notwithstanding the fact that they refuse to respond meaningfully to an employees deeply racist act, they were an amazing first employer.
I completed a 9 month training program and was immediately placed on a small business portfolio in Cranbrook, BC. I met some amazing friends there and learned to fly fish. I deeply cherish my time in the small town.
One of the things that BMO taught us was to have the courage to win. Not only did it take the courage to act, but it took courage to know that we weren’t going to win every sale every time. But there were things we could do to increase our odds. There were behaviours we could engage in which brought us one step closer to winning. For example, follow up! Every time! We always said it would take at least three follow up conversations with potential clients to really understand their needs and be able to meet them. Another was to always be armed with information. We kept some pretty impressive metrics on our performance. For me, I knew that out of 10 sales opportunities I was working on, I would be able to bring one to completion. For example, if I had $3 million in loans in my sales pipeline, I would probably close $300,000 that month. We learned that over time we would improve this ratio but it was a powerful tool for continuous improvement.
I also learned two other very important concepts during my time at BMO. One of them was keep your word. The other was no surprises. Both of these concepts helped us navigate an often vague world of business. The ability to understand our clients needs and meet them was critical to our ability to operate as a business. It never occurred to me at the time but the money I was entrusted with was the livelihood of the business owners and all of the people who depended on them, including their employees. It was a huge responsibility and exercise in trust. Keeping your word was incredibly important, both within the bank and outside. During one of the first talks that I was able to have with my boss, and in many subsequent conversations, she reiterated that as a young professional, my word is often all I have until I have some time to get some deals under my belt. It was important that people could feel that they can rely on my word. If I said I was going to have a meeting at a certain time, keep it. If I said I was going to have a deal complete by a certain date, keep it. Deliver what you promise, when you say you’re going to do it.
Of course nothing was perfect. This is why we had no surprises. Sometimes deadlines would slip for whatever reason. If we knew this was going to happen, no surprises meant that we would call our client in a proactive manner and explain to them that we anticipate being a day or two later than we originally committed, and give them the actual reason why. Applying for loans in the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars is a stressful ordeal so proactive communication is essential. Another example is that if, in our analysis, we found that a client had some issues with finances in the past but may still be worthy of a loan, we would say so. For example, if a loan applicant had 3 subsequent bad years, we would flag it. “I notice that you have had three bad years in the financial statements provided. I can see that you’ve made changes to the way you run your business and I see that you have been in the same business for 20 years. These are mitigating factors to me. I will explain to my supervisor but we may require two things to sufficiently mitigate the risk before final approval. One is financial statements going back 5 years to show that you’ve had some profitable years. The next is that business is about the future so we may like to see some signed contracts for the next year. I can let you know in 3 days if we require these documents.” No surprises.
We were given extensive training in “client conversations”. It was our way of saying that we would have a conversation in which we could fully understand where the business is at and what their banking needs are. A full conversation would enable us to provide solutions which best meet the needs of a potential client. I remember expressing to my boss at one point that I was never taught how to negotiate. She asked “do you know how to have a client conversation? Because that’s everything that you need to know.” I did. Or at least I thought I did. I vividly remember my first ever attempted client conversation. At 8:30 am, our boss called the whole team into her office. We were having a cold call contest day. She was kicking us out of the office all day and we had to make cold calls.
I went with an account manager who I was working on a deal with and he taught me some things about making cold calls. I was feeling confident as it was near the end of my training program. I said I know an organization who is not a client and who I feel comfortable having this conversation with. I watched the senior account manager have these conversations all day so at the end of the day we stopped by my prospect.
The prospect was an old boss of mine who I knew was very supportive of my career. As we always did, me and the senior account manager went over how we thought the conversation would go. I practiced some lines I could use and some questions I could ask. After 15 minutes, we went in. I bothered my old boss for 5 minutes of his time and we had a conversation. It was going very well. We talked about what I was doing, what the organization was doing. We confirmed that he wasn’t an existing client. I started talking about banking and completely froze. I felt like such an inauthentic sales person. My face went red. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But as we practised in the car, I looked at my senior account manager who took over the conversation for a bit. After a couple of minutes I was able to regroup.
By the end of the conversation I was able to get financial statements and permission to contact the accountant directly in the future. It was a success! I even won the contest for the day with a solid prospect. I still have a few of the golf balls I won that day. I never realized it at the time, but at 23 years old I was negotiating with successful business people, some of them millionaires, and winning. I’m forever grateful for my boss and senior account manager at the time who coached me through a significant transition in my career and put me on solid footing.
Another significant career transition came when I was selected to sit on BC Hydro’s Strategic Aboriginal Engagement Committee. It was a very neat experience which gave me a tonne of insight into the $9 billion provincial corporation and how they approach relations with Indigenous people in the Province. It was my first Provincial level experience. It was also an experience which elevated me to be equal with many native leaders throughout the province whom I admired. Kim Baird, Lea McKenzie, Michelle Corfield, Anita McPhee, all powerful leaders and I sat at the table with them. It was actually pretty intimidating – these women had opinions and weren’t afraid to share them. Thankfully we had a listening ear at the time in BC Hydro.
We made dozens of specific recommendations, but two stood out to me. One of them was that BC Hydro would educate every single employee about Indigenous history and why they do business with Indigenous people the way they do, from the janitor to the CEO. One of the recommendations I’m very proud of is that BC Hydro begin to interact with the Indigenous Nations as nation bodies. Out of that recommendation came two agreements that I’m aware of, the Enduring Agreement with the Syilx Nation, and the Secwepemc-BC Hydro Protocol Agreement with the Secwepemc Nation. It changes the way that organizations behave. It also gave smaller communities a chance to have a seat at the table and be heard. I’m sure these agreements will have enduring benefits in the future.
Oh, btw you’re meeting with Fisheries Minister Dominic LaBlanc in Kelowna.
My experience at BC Hydro eventually led me to a role as the Columbia River Treaty Coordinator for the Secwepemc Nation. It was an incredible opportunity which I deeply cherish, short as my time there was. Baptism by fire if there ever was one. I remember walking into the office and was given a stack of reports and emails about a foot tall of everything the nation had regarding the Columbia River Treaty. I grabbed the stack and as I was getting up to go to my desk, my boss said “oh, by the way you have a meeting with Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, in two weeks.” Whaaattt!!! “Nathan Matthew will be there with you.” Oh, thank the creator! So much pressure off. Haha. Me to my boss, “so what should I do? Just create a briefing note for Nathan?” Boss, “sounds good!” So for the next two weeks I poured over all fo the documents we had and tried to find the story about salmon, to write it down in briefing note form. Nathan is a long-time leader within the Indigenous community. So when I met with him to go over the briefing note, he had some helpful input. He said we have three nations here and one hour of the ministers time. We should focus on one issue. Which issue do you think we should focus on?” I said that’s easy, restoration of salmon. That was my first meeting with a Minister since then. I’ve learned a few things since then.
The Columbia River Treaty is a Treaty signed between the United States and Canada to manage the Columbia River which begins in Secwepemc territory and eventually drains into the Pacific ocean near Portland, Oregon. The Treaty, being 50 years old, is up for renewal. There are over 65 dams on the Columbia River system; the Columbia River Basin flows through the Province of BC, 7 states, numerous cities and municipalities, and enables tens of billions of dollars in economic activity, including enabling companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to exist. It’s honestly a monolith. I had somewhat of a free reign as to what I would do. My job was to coordinate the Secwepemc Nation to be represented as a Nation at the negotiations somehow. Obviously being a kid from the rez I had no experience in negotiating international agreements of this impact. Nor frankly did any Indigenous Nation in Canada. Thankfully I wasn’t in it alone. The Ktunaxa and Syilx nations had people working on it, and so did 15 Tribes in the United States. I learned a lot from them and they had a lot of institutional knowledge from working on it for so long.
When I started to get a handle on the conversations that were being had about the topics covered by the Columbia River Treaty, I started to think about how I could contribute to this conversation. At 27 years old, I didn’t know much but I knew a few things. I knew that the Secwepemc Nation leaders and people needed to be heard. I knew how to hold complete conversations. As a young professional who struggles to be taken seriously, I knew there were steps we could take as a nation to be taken more seriously by everyone involved. I knew how to articulate a vision, develop strategic priorities and identify goals to get us there. I also knew that we would need a strong mandate from the communities and people to do this kind of work. I decided then that what I needed to do to enable strong Secwepemc representation was to develop strategic priorities and have those endorsed by community leadership and members. No small task.
The Photo above is the Columbia River as it enters Castlegar, BC.
Nobody had done work as the entire Secwepemc Nation before. However, over two separate gatherings, I was able to get feedback and approval from about 500 citizens of the Secwepemc Nation on the Strategic Priorities document. I’ll never forget the day that we had Minister Katrine Conroy present when our citizens present voted to continue with the direction we were on. Through subsequent discussions and negotiations we were able to get representation for the Secwepemc, Ktunaxa, and Syilx Nations at the Columbia River Treaty negotiating table. The Trump administration soon followed suit and allowed the members of the 15 US Tribes have representation at the US table. Without truly listening to our leadership and community members, and without truly believing in the power of unity within the Secwepemc Nation, and as the three Indigenous Nations, we wouldn’t have accomplished the precedent-setting representation. It changed the world. I’m no longer there but my brief time in that role was an experience I will never forget.
Which brings me to more recent times. In fall of 2019, I was torn apart. I was, at the same time, brought to my knees and flying higher than I had ever flown. On August 31, my dad passed away of cancer. I had experienced loss, but nothing like this. On September 1, I was on a plane to Brussels, Belgium for an international young diplomats forum. I was 1 of more than 1200 applicants from around the world selected to attend. I never thought I would have this type of opportunity. Ever. At the same time, I was living a nightmare and a dream. My heart was broken but bursting with happiness. I couldn’t see how I would get through that time. At tough times, I rely on my friends to lift me up. This time was no different. This time, I was able to meet incredible friends from around the world doing incredible things. Their friendships kept me going at the toughest time in my life. Dayton, Tristan, Julia, Anika, Morgan, Filip, Iris, and many more inspired me and gave me energy. I also had a lot of comfort from my dad. I found out on August 16ththat I was accepted to go on this trip. The first person I told was my dad. At this point, we both knew he was going to pass away. He told me “son, my mechanicing days are over.” When I told him I was going to Brussels, he had a big smile. It would be the last time I saw him smile before his condition got too painful. After a few moments of silence to take it all in, I said, “and no matter what happens with you, I’m going to go. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” He said “I know. You would never do anything differently. Go and have fun. My time is over. It’s your turn to live your life to the fullest now.”
With that, I went to Brussels. It was tough. It was scary. It was exciting. In addition to the many friends I met, we had some really cool experiences. We heard from speakers of the Flemish, Belgian, European parliaments. We heard from a general at NATO. We heard from and met Ambassadors from around the world. We visited palaces, parliament buildings, senate chambers, and so much more. I took a few days for myself after and went to Amsterdam and Paris. I saw the red light district, Ripleys Believe it or Not Museum, the Dutch Royal Palace, and even got to ride a bike around Amsterdam. Did you know that bikers in Amsterdam have the right of way over pedestrians and cars? Wild. I also went to Paris on the high speed train. The train was so fast that every time I saw something I wanted a picture of, it would be gone by the time I got my camera out. In paris I stayed beside the Royal Palace and Louvre. I caught an e-scooter to the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris and the Eiffel Tower. The Notre Dame was a childhood dream to go to ever since I watched Hunchback of Notre Dame. I had dinner on a patio below the Notre Dame with a glass of Bordeaux wine. The temperature was perfect and I had a view of the Notre Dame, including the gargoyles! Honestly I was so happy I cried. I never thought I would experience anything remotely amazing in my life. Then I scooted my way through alley and streets to make my way to the Eiffel Tower. I honestly didn’t know where I was going but every now and then, I could catch a glimpse of the tower. It was probably a bit dangerous and foolish, but with my scooter I was invincible. In 15 minutes I made it to the Eiffel Tower and watched it lit up in all of its glory for about an hour until my butt got sore. Seriously, it was such a cool experience that I will never forget.
The friends I met in Europe are located around the world doing incredible things. They are changing the world. I go into the new decade confident that together we have the power to change the world.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last decade it’s to follow your instinct. Don’t let others limit your imagination and your potential. I’ve been told that I need to manage my expectations, that I’m unrealistic, and that the “world doesn’t work that way.” I’ve even been told to make sure my socks match! But who cares. Changing the world isn’t limited to 9-5, whether you’re in the office or not, or whether you fill your time sheets out correctly. Let people live in their own small world that they’ve created for themselves, but don’t let it limit yours.
Let your light shine!