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Wisdom Stories: Kwetasel’wet or Stephanie Wood

My name is Kwetasel’wet, or Stephanie Wood, and I’m a citizen of the Squamish Nation. I share my name with my later mother Kwetasel’wet Vera Wood nee Paull. We are from the Lacket Joe family, and I was born and raised on our territory in what’s also known as North Vancouver.

My grandmother is Kwinak’atemat Lucille Nicholson nee Lewis. My great-grandmother is Skwetsiya Eva Lewis nee Lacket Joe, who gave my mother and me the name Kwetasel’wet. I love our territory and feel so much gratitude to live here.

From a young age I loved reading and writing, and my family always teased me for being a bookworm. My mum enjoyed teaching me to read and my interest in storytelling stuck. I became interested in being a journalist in high school, and studied Creative Writing at Capilano University. I completed a Masters in Journalism from the University of British Columbia in 2019 and today I work as a reporter for The Narwhal, an online magazine that publishes stories about our natural world.

What is matriarchy to you?

My whole life I’ve been inspired by the strong Indigenous women who have come before me. The women have always been the heart and anchor of our family, bringing groundedness, protection, and love to everyone around them. The whole family respects them and their decision-making. And they have always wanted to lift each other and us younger ones up - they want to empower everyone and help everyone strengthen themselves. They have always been leaders at home, in their professional lives, and in how they carry themselves.

To me, matriarchy is the perseverance and fierce love each of these women have demonstrated. They have fought against colonialism and for their families every step of their lives. My granny, who went to residential school, was on a journey to reclaiming her language and culture until the very end of her life and it’s one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen. My mother fought to protect us and prove herself constantly, and taught me one can be gentle and kind while also refusing to be pushed around.

Matriarchy means teaching values by upholding them. Teaching care by caring for others; teaching relationships by maintaining close relations; teaching knowledge by taking on learning themselves.

Matriarchy means empowering women to be in leadership positions in all aspects of their lives.

Matriarchy means taking care of the earth and future generations.

How did you get to where you are? What is your foundation?

My mum and my granny supported my education from a young age. They always told me that I was smart and I could do anything. When I said I wanted to be a writer and eventually a journalist, my mum supported me every step of the way. She told me to chase my dreams and not wind up at a job I found boring. She wanted me to pursue my passions outside of work as well.

I grew up without much knowledge of our language, practices and protocols, and I’m on a journey of learning. Colonialism disrupted knowledge transmission between generations in my family. My granny could speak our language, and then my mum and her children could not. My Auntie Shellene spends tons of time researching our history and sharing it with us.

My mum was proud of me for taking on hide-tanning last year and I know learning will be a life-long journey for me.

Professionally, I got my undergrad degree so I could apply to get a Masters in Journalism at UBC because I wanted to stay at home for my studies. I got to do internships during my program, and graduated after two years. I got an internship at Canada’s National Observer, then a job at The Narwhal. I struggled a lot during school doubting I could build a career in journalism.

Meeting Indigenous women in journalism was incredibly inspirational and motivating, and made me feel like I could actually do the work. I didn’t feel confident I could do this work until I met these women who extended support and empathy and demonstrated ethical journalism that challenged the status quo.

Who or what is/was your inspiration?

My mum has always been my biggest inspiration, and she was my biggest cheerleader. She told me I could go to any school I wanted. She told me I could do anything I put my mind to. When I felt imposter syndrome, she told me I was worthy. When I felt down, she told me I was good enough. She celebrated every single accomplishment of her children as her own. She overcame so many obstacles and difficult times. Every time I succeeded at something, she was the one I wanted to share that with.

What words of wisdom do you have for your sector/industry?

Our sector comes from a legacy of colonialism and patriarchy. It needs more Indigenous journalists, and it needs to keep pushing the status quo. The industry needs to slow down and approach stories more thoughtfully and humanely, rather than racing to publish the fastest.

Indigenous journalists have been pushing the industry to question its assumptions about objectivity, to look inward at its newsrooms and who has decision-making power, and to look outward and what communities are represented in stories and which are not. Indigenous journalists have also been pushing to empower Indigenous people participating in media so they feel fairly represented, and not that their stories are being exploited. There is still a lot more work and pushing to do, and young BIPOC journalists have a huge role to play making this industry more ethical, more accurate, and more in service of the public good.

What is your vision for the next generation?

I hope the next generation feels successful, feels a sense of belonging, and feels heard rather than ignored. I hope they feel their words and actions influence decision-making at a wide scale. I hope they don’t doubt themselves, but instead see how much they are capable of. I hope they feel freedom and joy to be what they want to be and live the life they want to live. I hope they have the resources and support required to make that happen. I hope they keep changing the world.

What words of wisdom do you have for the next generations?

Trust in your family and ancestors, lean on them. For someone like me who feels so severed from traditions and humbled in my learning, I often have to stop and trust that I belong. That my path is okay. Speak with your family and your peers you admire and ask questions, and listen deeply and make note of what they say. Ask the questions you’re afraid of asking. Accept what you don’t know, and make it your goal to learn what you want to know - but remain patient that this may not come quickly.

Find tiny practices to introduce to your day-to-day to bring yourself peace. It can be absolutely transformative to introduces these practices on a day to day basis, whether it’s connecting with people you love regularly, journaling, smudging, hide tanning, weaving, reading, singing, going outside, taking care of your family. Doing small things for people around you. Finding ten minutes to practice something you’d like to learn and accepting you don’t have to be the best.

Professionally, advocate for yourself. As an Indigenous person, in some sectors you will likely be the only Indigenous person in your workplace, which is a heavy load. This is the case for many newsrooms in Canada and the United States, and many Indigenous journalists. If it’s not an Indigenous-owned organization, the people in charge are very likely not Indigenous. You can feel out of place, and under pressure to serve your community well in your position. Ask for help when it’s too much to do alone, know that you are doing a good job and are worthy of recognition. Take a breath, roll your shoulders and give yourself room to not be perfect. Be as kind to yourself as you are to the people you love. Celebrate your wins. Truly celebrate them - you deserve it. Advocate for yourself. This also takes time to learn, but it is one of the most freeing things you can do.

Don’t try to make something work that just isn’t working. If a place doesn’t accept you, it’s not the right place for you. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. You don’t have to fight it. Find a place that accepts you and you feel confident to advocate for yourself, and where you feel your peers will back you up.

To learn more about the Indigenous Leadership Circle, please go HERE.


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