My name is Colleen Anderson. I'm Haudenosaunee, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, and am Bear clan. My family roots are in the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory.
I was born and raised in Unionville, Ontario. I have an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama and English and a Bachelor of Education. I'm an Ontario Certified Teacher and also have a certification in Technical and Professional writing. In my first career, I was an elementary school teacher. Since then, I've worked in the technology sector for more than 20 years in software technical content design and development. I'm also currently a co-chair of the IBM Canada Indigenous Peoples Network Group. This role is a very important piece of my commitment to being open, visible, and proud of my Indigenous identity in the workplace. And to contribute to building an environment where other Indigenous colleagues feel safe to do so too.
Growing up in the suburbs north of Toronto, I had virtually no knowledge of my Kanien'kéha (Mohawk) language, traditions, or teachings. My story echoes that which I have heard from so many other Indigenous people of my generation - colonialism disrupted the transmission of knowledge between the generations within my family. Years of growing up separated from my Indigenous identity and traditions left me with an underlying feeling of not being worthy of belonging. I'm on a life-long journey of learning and reclamation. As I've been learning Kanien'kéha, I've been struck by how powerfully speaking the language of my ancestors connects me to who I am. I recently read an interview with the language coordinator for a local Native Canadian cultural center which perfectly describes what I have experienced as I am learning my language. She said, "For Indigenous families to reclaim their culture, it's important to start with learning their languages. The language was always based on the knowledge of the land. There are special codes in the language that activate one's DNA in reclaiming and remembering who they are."
What is matriarchy to you?
To me, matriarchy is about equality and community, instead of power, control, and individual gain. It is Indigenous women supporting each other, working to lift others up, instead of competing against one another. When I think of matriarchy, I also think of the Seven Grandfather teachings, providing an example of how to walk in a good way and live a good life for the seven generations that came before you and the seven generations to come. Matriarchy is strength that can coexist with kindness, love, and compassion.
How did you get to where you are? What is your foundation?
I am here because of many people who have supported me, believed in me, and even challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and into my own identity and personal growth.
A traditional Indigenous healer once shared with me that when it needs to, the eagle sits on the tree of life, reflects on its past journeys and things of nature, and goes within itself. And when it is ready, the eagle takes off. That learning to connect with Mother Nature is important. Spending time in nature is an essential part of my foundation. Walking by the water, in the forest, surrounded by the natural world, grounds me. It is where I do my best thinking, my most creative ideas arrive, and I regain perspective of what's truly important.
Who or what is/was your inspiration?
I take my inspiration from a diverse collection of people who have been part of my life journey and shared their wisdom. Family, friends, teachers, co-workers, healers, and even complete strangers. Sometimes it is the example set by someone that you have the smallest, briefest interaction with - who has the least to gain from extending compassion and kindness to you - that is the most long lasting and impactful.
What words of wisdom do you have for your sector/industry?
The technology sector (and many others) comes from a legacy of colonialism and patriarchy. It absolutely needs more Indigenous representation in leadership roles. However, trying to simply increase the number of Indigenous people working in the technology sector to "check a box" or by engaging in tokenism, and then continuing to operate in a colonial and patriarchal manner will not create meaningful change. Companies need to create a working environment where Indigenous people feel safe to be open and proud of their identity. The sector also needs to listen to, learn from, and implement Indigenous knowledge and ways. This will benefit everyone.
What is your vision for the next generation?
That they feel safe and free to be open about who they are in whatever their chosen career or sector is. And that they have a voice as an Indigenous person that is heard and valued. A voice that is no longer silenced by anyone, including themselves. That they will feel an innate confidence and worthiness and an authentic place in the world as an Indigenous person.
What words of wisdom do you have for the next generations?
Be open to the unexpected forks in the road in both your career path and your wider life. Sometimes these unplanned detours lead to possibilities that you could never have imagined.
Keep your heart open and be kind to yourself and others, in spite of the world around you. Be proud of who you are.
Women in Leadership has been awarded a contract with the Government of Canada, for a project called "The Indigenous Leadership Circle", which is a continuation of the work that the foundation has done over the last 20-years of engaging with the Indigenous communities on Women's Leadership.
The Indigenous Leadership Circle Team will be conducting research aimed at Professional Indigenous Women, Indigenous Women in the Education System and Employer & Industry Stakeholders and value your input through a series of surveys and round-table meetings. The results from the findings through these surveys and meetings will be showcased at our Indigenous Leadership Virtual Forum, which will be held on March 8, 2022. Stay tuned for more details!
If you are interested in participating, we would value your input. Our surveys for each target category can be found here below:
To learn more about the Indigenous Leadership Circle, please go HERE.