As the pandemic continues to pose challenges both personally and professionally, Deputy Minister Deborah Richardson reflects on the Anishinaabe traditional teaching of contributing to the greater good, and what that means for us in the OPS.

By Deputy Minister Deborah Richardson, Treasury Board Secretariat

I’m an incredibly optimistic person on any given day.  No matter what I’m faced with at work, at home, or in the community, nothing can get in the way of a smile, a kind word and good, positive energy.

But nothing could have prepared any of us for these past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Together, we’ve faced our initial fears.  We abided by unprecedented emergency measures, public health restrictions, social distancing, isolation, and even quarantine.  We tested and re-tested.  Some of us have mourned friends and family who have passed away, while, deep down inside, considered our own mortality.

We created a new normal. Depending on where we are in the province, we became pros at Amazon, UberEats, Skip the Dishes, Feastify, DoorDash or navigating the Timmy’s drive-thru.  We lined up at the grocery store.  We worried whether we would ever find toilet paper again.  Together, we also rejoiced at our first night out, even if it meant patio dining with plastic cutlery and ketchup packets.  We made appointments to get back to the gym.  We sat in our assigned seating at the local cinema.

We thought we rounded the corner with double then triple vaccinations, open borders and even a return-to-workplace policy.  But as 2021 waned, we were foiled again by the highly transmissible, and grossly efficient Omicron variant that has run through the province and around the world.  It’s been a reminder that we have to remain hyper-vigilant of our health and safety, and the health and safety of others. That we can only beat this together.

Every step along this journey has been advised and guided, in some way, by the public service.

OPS: Leading through service

My optimistic side has reflected on the importance of what we do in the OPS.  It is in times like these that the two words “public service” evoke an important Anishinaabe traditional teaching for me.

An elder once told me that our clan (family) roles and our community roles are integral to contributing to the greater good of the nation.  That through our various roles, we will always put the needs of the collective over the needs of the individual.

That’s one of the reasons why the Anishinaabe words for warrior (Ogichidaa) and chief (Ogimaa) start with the same prefix, “Ogi”.  This prefix means “to do something for others.”  Ogichidaa literally means someone with a great spirit that does something for others.  Ogimaa means someone who leads by doing something for others.

As a Mi’gmaq woman, a mother, wife and auntie – I will always prioritize the needs of my family and my children over my own needs.  As a community member of Oinpegitjoig L’Noeigati and Nbisiing Anishinaabeg, I will prioritize the collective needs of my nation over my family and community.  As a public servant, and proud OPSer, I will always prioritize the needs of Ontarians and my colleagues over my own individual needs.

There are broader lessons here for all peoples no matter your own worldview and cultural teachings.

As public servants, we will dutifully come to work, put our best foot forward, and make a difference each and every day.  We will consider the broader needs of Ontarians over our own needs.  This is needed now more than ever.  We may stumble along the way and we might not get it right every time. Some days it will feel incredibly hard. But together, as the Ontario Public Service, we are one incredible and formidable team that will play a key role in guiding our way out of this pandemic.

As community members, we will wear our masks, get vaccinated, and abide by public health requirements because we love our neighbours, our communities and our families.  Regardless of our beliefs, we should always think about the health and safety of others.  Together, we should prioritize the needs of the community even above our own inconveniences, sensibilities, personal liberties or rights.

I’m not saying that we should conduct ourselves in such a way that we forget about our own needs completely.  There should always be a healthy balance of taking care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves.  We should reach out for help if we need it. We can also be considerate of the health and safety of our family and the most vulnerable in the community to support our own wellbeing.

As we take a deep, steady breath, steel ourselves to the new restrictions, and worry for our kids, our parents, and the Co-Poz (Covid Positive) and even cry a little cry, we must remember: nothing can overcome our optimism, positivity and sense of duty to our community. We will overcome.

Deborah Richardson is Deputy Ministry of the Treasury Board Secretariat.  During the holidays, she tested positive for Covid-19.

This article deals with the personal challenges of living through the pandemic. Your Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provides professional, confidential support services including counselling, to help you with any work, health or life concern.    The EFAP is available to all Ontario Public Service employees and their eligible dependents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-844-880-9142 (English) / 1-844-880-9143 (French).  Culturally responsive counselling services for Black, Indigenous and Racialized staff are available at 1-866-347-7429 (English and French).