Power 5 Interview with Sxwpilemaát Siyám (Chief Leanne Joe)
Today we would like to feature a long-time friend, partner, and supporter of Women in Leadership who is joining our Board of Directors and leading a new project.
Sxwpilemaát Siyám, also known as Chief Leanne Joe, of the Squamish Nation, is one of sixteen Hereditary Chiefs of the Squamish Nation and the first female Chief of her Lackett Joe Family. She shares her traditional name with her late father, Sxwpilem Siyám, Chief Philip Joe. Sxwpilemaát Siyám is also a descendent of the Kwakwaka’wakw speaking people and carries the traditional name of Q-Gee-Sea Loud, which was given to her by her late Cheecheeya (grandmother on her mother’s side). She is also a descendant of the Thomas family of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation on her late grandmother’s side of the family (my late father’s mother).
Sxwpilemaát Siyám was born and raised on the beautiful shores of North Vancouver while having close relations to her roots on the east coast shores of Vancouver Island. She moved to the Nicola Valley 13 years ago, after she met, fell in love and married Timothy ‘Spike’ Manuel (N’petkwulax), from Upper Nicola Band with relations to the Nlaka’pamux and Shuswap People. They lived in the Nicola Valley for 10 years and moved back to the West Coast four years ago. Sxwpilemaát Siyám and N’petkwulax have a 14-year old son named Isaac, who carries Sylix, Sḵwx̱wu7mesh and Kwakwaka’wakw traditional names. Sxwpilemaát Siyám’s husband is a traditional knowledge keeper/cultural teacher and works with youth and community to engage them in rebuilding their cultural teachings and knowledge. Their son is their life teacher as he engages them in healing, listening, laughter and patience.
Sxwpilemaát Siyám is currently the Transformative Storyteller for Economic Reconciliation, with Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Environment, Community Economic Development. She is very passionate about this work in Economic Reconciliation and hopes that she can inspire others to meaningful engage all Canadians in this meaningful work. To find out more, please go to the SFU CED website at https://www.sfu.ca/ced/economic-reconciliation.html. The Economic Reconciliation Framework and podcast should be coming out soon.
Sxwpilemaát Siyám also serves as a Trustee for the Squamish Nation Trust, representing the benefactors in the management of this Community Trust. She also serves as a volunteer Board Member for her son’s School (the Kenneth Gordon Educational Society). Her educational background includes a B.A. in Business, CED Certificate, and other related training and experience. Sxwpilemaát Siyám is a very passionate and resilient woman who is committed to working with others to keep her circle strong and continue the movement towards self-determination. She believes her People’s greatest legacy is the children, thus, it is their responsibility to ensure that the children’s future and the generations to follow have a good life based on a holistic approach to well-being. So, all of the ‘People Yet to Be’ have the tools to engage in the world in a completely different way than we have and can walk in two worlds with ease…using the past to make a better future.
What are you most passionate about?
Literally anything to do with my people. Leading in a way that creates truth, education and transformation. I am overly passionate about Economic Reconciliation, Matriarchy, Education and Child, Youth and Family services. I am here to do my absolute best so that our children do not have to do this work. They should not bear this responsibility when we know we have the responsibility to do it now.
Who is your greatest role model?
My parents. They lead by example in the work they did and how they were in service of their people and communities. They taught us to be powerful, strong, independent women. My mother was a force to be reckoned with at every table. She is also the most generous person and caring person. My late father was kind and gentle yet powerful when he represented his people. They taught me both the human, vulnerable and resilient side of our people and our ability to move through all of the hard spaces of being Indigenous in this country. They loved us deeply and provided us with the best opportunities possible to become leaders and community members in service.
What is your greatest accomplishment in your career trajectory?
Having my father pass on his Hereditary Chieftainship to me while he was still with us and serving next to him for many years. Being Chief is not always easy, but leading in a way that my son and the next generation will be proud of is the key to my success. My greatest achievement in my life is raising my son to be a wonderful human being and becoming the leader who he is meant to be and do the great things he was brought here to do. As for my career, there is no one thing that stands out as a highlight but more about the ripples of change I create for others is the achievements in this journey. However, I am proud to have written a BC Economic Reconciliation Framework which will be published soon.
What advice would you give to women who are building their careers?
Follow your passion. Do what makes you want do more. Listen to yourself, your intuition and be that person. You will do many things throughout your career, some good and some not so good, learn along the way, and work towards being what you want despite all of the hurdles and challenges you will face. The reality is that being a woman in the world today is still an uphill battle in most industries. However, we are natural born leaders who have a voice and the power to make change, so you can choose how to do that. The key is to do it everywhere.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the generation behind you?
The fact that human beings are leaving behind a world that they don’t want. Mother earth needs to be healed and we only continue to destroy her. We need to empower the next generation with hope and the ability to do things differently than we have. They are demanding it and we have to deliver. We have to be honest and truthful about the failing systems that surround us and provide them the transformative leadership they need to create and support the change needed.
National Truth and Reconciliation Day and moving forward...what are some places to begin and expand the journey of learning the Truth of Canada’s history and on-going Crown Indigenous relations as well as actions to commit to for reconciliation?
Here is a link (https://www.sfu.ca/publicsquare/community-summit/2021-summit/inequality-resources/recommended-resources-chief-leanne-joe.html) of resources for you to begin or expand your reconciliation education and journey.