Ever since I was a little girl, growing up on the Sunshine Coast and on Vancouver Island as a proud member of the Tla’amin Nation, I wanted to be an educated, successful businesswoman. I wanted to create positive change in the world.
I was raised by a single dad for most of my childhood. My father instilled pride and confidence in me. I believe this, combined with a natural curiosity and hunger for knowledge, inspired me to want to be a leader someday.
To pursue my dream, I moved to Vancouver as a young woman. The transition from a small town to the big city was challenging at first. There was so much to learn about the culture of city people, navigating public transit and, perhaps most importantly looking back, how to build a strong network of like-minded individuals.
Shortly after receiving my marketing management and professional sales diploma at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, I began working at the Refinery Leadership Partners, a leadership development company. The owner, Barbara Ross-Denroche, was my first business mentor. She helped me see my potential.
Until then, I think I underestimated the power of having someone support you and your goals. Barbara took an interest in my personal and professional development and encouraged me to apply for the Minerva Foundation’s Follow a Leader program, which pairs young women with mentors. It changed my life.
It was through that program that I met my second business mentor, Bev Van Ruyven, executive vice-president and deputy CEO of BC Hydro. Bev asked me a question that you hear a lot in life, but perhaps not in the way she meant it. Bev asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” By that she meant: how am I going to make it happen? And how could she help?
The question made me think, harder than I had before, about the response and what it would take to make it happen.
My answer was to connect aboriginal people not just in B.C., but all around the world. I had a strong calling to do this work. I had recently learned about my mother’s residential-school experience and was beginning to do a lot more research into my indigenous roots. The history of colonialism and genocide in Canada had a deep and intergenerational effect on my identity as a young mixed-heritage woman. In my research, I learned that the detrimental effect of colonialism was a global issue. I knew there had to be power in connecting indigenous peoples to share their experiences, common problems and solutions, and to provide hope for future generations. This vision was big and not entirely clear at the time, but being forced to express my goals out loud – and to someone I looked up to – compelled me to take action sooner, rather than later.
I wound up working at BC Hydro, taking a role helping First Nation communities across the province build sustainable communities that are prosperous not only economically but also culturally and socially. That included protecting their culture, governance, rights and title and the land and environment around them.
I learned so much about indigenous peoples by travelling to more than 100 communities across B.C. through my work with BC Hydro. I had largely grown up off-reserve with my non-aboriginal father. It was BC Hydro that helped return me to my indigenous roots. I met and worked with hundreds of people during that time. Each one of them touched me in a unique way. Many shared their way of life, culture, residential-school stories, meals, land, water, stories and so much more.
This experience inspired me to create change beyond my role at BC Hydro, which is why I left to start my own consulting company in 2011. I saw a large gap in how companies and communities worked together, which didn’t need to be there. This is where I focused my energy in my new company: connecting non-aboriginal people with aboriginal people.
My work is rooted in the notion of reconciliation. That includes helping to build bridges and mutually respectful and beneficial relationships.
We have a long way to go for the full vision of reconciliation to be realized in our country and in other countries around the world. However, I am inspired by the effort of individuals in First Nation communities, companies and governments that are taking steps towards fostering reconciliation in their spheres of influence.
I see my career and my life thus far as a journey. I know that I am living my life’s purpose. ç
Chastity Davis is principal at Chastity Davis Consulting.