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Wisdom Stories: Racelle Kooy

I am a member of Samahquam First Nation and have strong family ties to Stswecem’c Xgat’tem. I am honoured to carry the ancestral name Laloya which means seagull in my St’atl’imc grandmother’s language (referred to by a number of different names including the Lil’wat language). I was bestowed with this name at the age of 18 as my Elders knew that I was destined to be a traveller and they wanted to ensure that I would have a name that would anchor me to the lands of my ancestors.

Since receiving my name Laloya, I have taken flight to the four corners of the world – developing a deep appreciation for the diversity of humankind and the infinite forms of beauty found in the natural world. I have been fortunate to ceremony across North America, in Hawaii, and Australia.

With a Bachelors in Business Administration in tourism and a decade in the Indigenous tourism industry, I concentrated on bringing to light the richness of authentic experiences and diversity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures in a way that resonates with visitors and guests. I led domestic and international market research as part of my duties with Indigenous Tourism BC and Indigenous Tourism Canada, helping to put British Columbia’s and Canada’s Indigenous tourism at the forefront worldwide.

Throughout my career I have dedicated my professional talents to amplifying the voices and respectful representation of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit People to regional, national and global platforms. This includes coordinating APTN’s inaugural 3-hour live broadcast. In addition, I work to build and hold safe places for needed and difficult dialogue to facilitate respectful engagement. Since 1999, I have been collaborating with the Assembly of First Nations, including her role as the bilingual co-chair at the AFN Assemblies, and has served past and current National Chiefs.

Currently, I am the communications lead for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s (TteS) Le Estcwicwe̓y̓ (how TteS chooses to refer to the missing children of Kamloops Indian Residential School). It was such an honour to assist the TteS leadership and community in sharing the monumental and heart-wrenching news to the world. Canadian Press acknowledged Le Estcwicwe̓y̓ as 2021 story of the year and the Le Estcwicwe̓y̓ were recognized as #1 on MacLean’s 2022 Power List which also included TteS Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir at #6.

What is matriarchy to you?

I really appreciate the question around matriarchy as I see it as directly linked to governance. Since 2016, I have delved into key aspects about Secwepemc ways of knowing around governance. Piece by piece, we are reclaiming our governance systems that were systemically targeted with the intent to destroy. Some of that good work is evident both in Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation’s decision-making process about a proposed copper-gold mine and how Esk'etemc has reinstated traditional governance system which includes the Kye7e's/women's group - mothers and grandmothers of the community.

When I think of matriarchy in action, I can remember family members and their conduct. I recollect witnessing discussions around the recognition of a newly selected hereditary Chief. I think of grandmothers and great aunties who managed the well-being of our communities, the protection of children, while maintaining respect for women, and food security. Why food security? It was my aunties and auntie-cousins who taught me about canning and gathering food. They would organize around whatever was the next item available through the seasonal round (fish, berries, plants, game, etc). I could easily go on a tangent but instead just encourage people to read my feature on Food” in the Canadian Geographic’s Indigenous People Atlas of Canada.

Back to centering around matriarchy – Andrea Landry, an Anishinaabe thought leader from Pawgwasheeng shared some thoughts that bear reflecting on:

“Originally, the matriarch role was a healing role. It was a role of retribution for those who have had wrong done to them. It was a role of fulfilling the laws we had in place and aiding in the decision making of the outcomes against those who had committed crimes that went against our natural laws.

The matriarch role was always, always, always, mindful of, and inclusive of the children. It was as though the matriarch became a partner of the future wishes and desires of the children, behaving and following through in such a way whereas every behaviour and action was done in a way where the children became the reason for that said action and behaviour.

It meant doing some of the hardest emotional labour one will ever have to do in their lives, the work of forgiving one’s own mothers, fathers, and siblings if it is safe to do so, as mothers, so that children can build a relationship with their kokums [grandmothers], moshums [grandfathers]. It is knowing that these are imperative relationships that garner intergenerational love, the kind of love indigenous kinship is really made of…

..Matriarchy creates spaces of harmony, peace, balance, equality, trust, and truth.”

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

Foundation? I am very fortunate to have loving parents who encouraged me no matter what I decided to undertake, and whether or not they understood. I don’t take my lineage or ancestral teachings for granted as they were targeted in previous generations. I honour those who ensured my ancestral language, culture, traditions and ceremonies were not forgotten by ensuring I dedicate time and resources to foster spiritual and cultural practice in my life.

My journey? I have chosen to be uncomfortable and do things that felt like they bordered on the realm of ridiculous in reach. Whether it was attending a French-speaking university because it was the only place (at the time) I could pursue the degree I wanted even though my French was not up to par, to running for federal office in a riding to watch (and losing), I reached. I can be uncomfortable because I also choose to lean into the comfort of loved ones. I foster strong relationships with people who are willing to share candidly with me, to kindly but clearly call me out or simply be a safe shoulder to cry on. That is a blessed gift I do my best to never take for granted and to reciprocate fully.

Who or what is/was your inspiration?

Many of us are familiar with planning for seven generations. When thinking about future generations and what is my responsibility to shoulder, I centre my decision-making process around the reflection of how am I being a good ancestor. I also find great solace in belly-laughs, making sure I don’t take myself, or life in general, too seriously.

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

Mentors are invaluable. Seek them out. Once you have some experience under your belt, be sure to pay it forward to the next generation by freely sharing some of your hard lessons learned and industry insider insights. It’s time to be a good ancestor!

What is your vision for the next generation?

I want the next generation to have a real sense of freedom and empowerment to pursue whatever dream they wish. I envision them as deeply rooted in their sense of knowing of self, as an individual as well as their ancestral roots, culture, language and practices. I see them exploring a world of opportunity and creative expression.

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

Now I’m going to sound like a real auntie! Your most precious gift is time, so make the most of it. May some of that time be used to make friends with people of all ages – so much can be learned just by being in the company of someone older or younger. Remember though that to find your footing with someone of another generation takes time and patience (a worthy investment). I have found that intergenerational exchanges bring their own unique synergy of knowledge exchange and grounding. Also, I encourage you to find your people – people you can trust, that you can be in healthy relationship with and that will challenge you to grow so that you can reach far while still having safe space to land.

Please remember that when things go awry (and they will), self-care is how you get your power back. An essential part of self-care is having trusted people to debrief with. Debriefing helps you shake off doubt, drama and duress – all normal but not aspects of life we want to be governed by. As part of the debriefing, find a way to reconnect with your goals and purpose so that you can regroup and reground.

However you feel called to express yourself –go for it! I will be cheering you on and encouraging you to occupy your space of expression. Give yourself permission to speak up, speak out, and take your place. Who knows who is watching you, being inspired by you, preparing to pick up the torch of your legacy as a good ancestor. Shine on – for the benefit of all our relations.


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.



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