For Jody Wilson-Raybould, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, being from the Indigenous Peoples, Kwakwakaʼwakw, meant she was literally born and named to lead. In her community, the name you are given reflects your rank and position, and brings with it considerable responsibility and obligations. Wilson-Raybould’s traditional name, Puglaas, means “a woman born to noble people.” She shared that from a very young age she “was raised with a sense of community, duty, and the need to give back, as well as to use my skills and abilities, such as they are, to ultimately improve quality of life.”
At a leadership conference for Ivey students, Wilson-Raybould shared how that upbringing shaped her as a leader and taught her that each person has a different but equally important role in ensuring communities function as they should. She called for the students to consider what role they will play as future leaders in creating equitable and inclusive societies, particularly in the challenging, but critical work of advancing reconciliation.
“I believe that leaders exist in all areas of life and society. Whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we may be doing, we can all be leaders. We can use our voices, and we can act and inspire action,” she said. “I think each of you can be, and indeed must be, leaders in the work of reconciliation … our shared future needs you.”
The importance of character in leadership
Wilson-Raybould shared that message at the 10th annual HBA1 Leader Character & Candour Conference, an event focused on the importance of character and candour in leadership. Hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, the conference also included workshops and a virtual discussion with Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa.
Wilson-Raybould discussed some of the character attributes needed to be true agents of reconciliation and social justice, such as being relentless, able to endure challenges, and being willing to display bold leadership.
As Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister and later the first woman to be elected as an independent MP, Wilson-Raybould said she knows the experience of “invisibility,” the feeling that your views and contributions are overlooked or devalued. But that experience only made her more determined to be seen, heard, and bold, and to challenge the status quo.
“The calling for women – leaders of my generation and the generations to come – has been to be more visible, immovable, and ever-present. To be bold, heard, and seen and to directly challenge those who fail to see you in all sorts of ways and in different environments,” she said.
One notable example of speaking out and challenging power came in 2019 when Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Liberal cabinet citing that she felt inappropriate political pressure related to the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Stay true to your values
She said she finds the courage to speak out from seeing it modelled in others, such as residential school survivors or the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom.
Wilson-Raybould also surrounds herself by people who share her values and will let her know if she’s losing sight of them. Most importantly, she has a personal litmus test of being able to look in the mirror each night.
“My litmus test is quite simple. When I look at myself in the mirror, can I still see myself – who I am, who I was raised to be? If the image is getting at all blurry, I know that I am not making the right choices. I focus on keeping the image clear and crisp,” she said.
Discussing how consensus-based decision-making helped to unify people in her home community of We Wai Kai in British Columbia, Wilson-Raybould called for current and future leaders to prioritize truth, care, and inclusion.
Inbetweeners are key to reconciliation
She also highlighted the importance of acting as an “inbetweener,” which is someone who tries to learn from and understand others and then act in new ways that break down the silos between groups of people.
Noting that the after-effects of colonialism have created divides between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, she said current reconciliation efforts, such as wearing orange shirts on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and lowering flags, are merely performative. Instead, she said inbetweeners can help to rewrite Canada’s learned history so the groups can move forward together as a nation.
“We are in a moment in time that demands relentless efforts. We all have a role to play in driving change forward,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould’s messages resonated with the students, particularly since part of their curriculum focuses on reconciliation. The students are doing an on-demand educational program called The Path™ that aims to increase their understanding of Indigenous cultures and the legacies of settler colonialism in Canada.
Inspiration for Ivey students
Sam Kaplun, an HBA ’24 candidate, said he has read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action and is surprised at how few have been implemented, especially given how easy and inexpensive they appear to be.
“It was inspiring to hear calls to action to push for changes that will lead to reconciliation,” he said. “Getting the public to have the will to forcefully advocate and push for those changes is critical.”
Kaplun said he also enjoyed hearing about Wilson-Raybould’s family culture, the governance system of her nation, and her experiences as an independent MP. He ran as an independent candidate in his hometown North York area riding in the 2022 provincial election. Although he wasn’t successful, Kaplun said he enjoyed speaking with people in his riding about their concerns and is a huge proponent of the consensus-based decision-making model Wilson-Raybould discussed.
Fellow HBA1 student Sahana Muhundhan said she took to heart Wilson-Raybould’s message about never letting a difficult decision alter your values and morals and her advice on surrounding yourself with people who can help you stay on track.
“I feel like in today's day and age we see that lots of executive members in big firms tend to make questionable decisions simply to satisfy their bottom line. It's refreshing to see people who continuously stand by their morals and stay true to themselves,” she said.