It is my pleasure to announce that I have moved to a new, exciting employment opportunity with Ishkonigan, Inc., a consulting firm owned and operated by former National Chief Phil Fontaine. I’ll have the opportunity to support collaboration between First Nations and corporate Canada that will enable economic development that respects the unique culture, perspective and values of indigenous nations. I am quite excited about this opportunity to work closely with Phil, his managing partner Scott Patles-Richardson and the whole Ishkonigan team.
Further, I have taken a two-year leave of absence from the Ontario Public Service to accommodate this opportunity. It also allows my family to better look after the personal and health needs of our children by providing the flexibility to work from my home office and reduce my travel burden.
Usually, I’d leave the announcement to my Assistant Deputy Minister’s office to address my departure from MTO. However, with such a quick move over the winter holidays, a few gossipy-type individuals have taken it upon themselves to fill in the information gaps.
To be clear:
- I have requested the two-year leave for personal, family health reasons. Because of this leave, I am required to fill out a mandatory Conflict of Interest form for the Deputy Minister to sign off.
- This doesn’t mean that I’ve been “let go” because the ministry is doing an investigation into a conflict of interest involving a family situation.
- The Deputy Minister and my ADMs were all completely supportive and there is nothing untoward about the request or circumstances. I’ve been deemed to be fully-effective in my role with MTO.
- I did not leave as a form of protest to coincide with Idle No More. That’s just silly.
And I thought the Moccasin Telegraph was bad. Sheesh.
I wish I could have given my appropriate goodbyes to my colleagues at MTO as well as the community leaders and officials I had been working with. However, the powers-that-be are still figuring out the transition plan and how the news will come out at the MTO.
On that subject, I do want to comment about working for the Government of Ontario.
As an Anishinaabe man, it is indeed kind of strange working for the Crown. But I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it. I feel that more indigenous people should consider working for the government. There are so many good and diverse opportunities in the public service once you have your foot in the door. Believe you me, if there were more of us working for the Crown, making policy recommendations and making decisions, the Crown-First Peoples relationship would be a whole lot different.
I recall receiving some criticism from one or two people who thought that I was just a “token Indian” hired as a brown face to deal with all the Indian problems. In fact, I was hired as a Director, a senior position within the government structure and competed successfully against many qualified non-natives who wanted the job. I wasn’t hired because I was Anishinaabe, I was hired to take MTO into a different direction: “A New Way of Doing Business” with indigenous people.
My underlying philosophy in establishing this brand new MTO Aboriginal Relations Branch was to change the culture of the organization. I wanted to foster a new relationship based on respect, meeting our legal obligations and upholding the Honour of the Crown. This was to be done by creating a heightened awareness and bringing First Nations perspective to MTO, not the other way around.
We used the medicine wheel as the basis of our strategic framework. We started our meetings with ceremonies and sought the guidance of our Elders. This is something that has rarely been done by government.
I was encouraged to use my abilities as a speaker, motivator and traditional teacher. We created new and innovative ways of providing indigenous awareness training, with messages and curriculum that includes the perspectives of Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mushkegowuk, Lene Lenape and Métis people. I was always pleased to receive messages of thanks and personal stories about how I was able to touch people.
Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve seen people change. I’ve seen the start of a transformation. We’ve celebrated relationships, culture and people. We became more than just a ministry that required to consult – we became partners in engagement.
I’d like to truly thank all those who supported my time in the OPS including ADM John Lieou, ADM Gerry Chaput, Deputy Minister Carol Layton, Deputy Minister Scott Thompson, former Deputy Minister Lori Sterling, retired ADM Brian Gaston, and Greg Coleman.
I’d especially like to thank my team at the Aboriginal Relations Branch. It was an honour to work with you all: Vera Gevikoglu, Donna Bigelow, Megan Chochla, Jasmina Konopek, Jeff Kerr, Real Bouchard, Dwayne Pamajewon, Joe De Laronde, Meghan MacMillan, Katherine Jin, Matthew Rosenfeld, and Giles Benaway.