Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives

Ep17: So You Say You Want Decolonization? with Jessica Dumas

June 27, 2021 Rosie Yeung Season 2 Episode 17
Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives
Ep17: So You Say You Want Decolonization? with Jessica Dumas
Show Notes Transcript

If you’re wondering what you can do in bringing reconciliation and decolonization to Canada – this episode is for you.

 First, we learn what colonization actually looks like. Jessica Dumas of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation shares personal stories about her family, life experiences, and tragic interaction with police that demonstrate just how effective colonization is. The goal of residential schools was to “kill the Indian in the child”, and it worked.

The good news is, we can help undo some of residential school’s legacies. As Jessica learned about the true history of her people, she discovered her Indigenous identity, and began a career in restorative justice. Today, she is a sought-after speaker, coach and emcee, and even introduced Michelle Obama at an event! 

Jessica believes that continuous education is key non-indigenous allies to support truth and reconciliation. So as you listen to Jessica’s story, what are you learning, and what steps will you take towards restorative justice today?

Contact Rosie and find JEDI resources at:  https://www.changinglenses.ca/
Facebook Group Community

In this episode, we talk about:

  • What a land acknowledgment means to Jessica
  • Living without cultural identity or sense of purpose
  • The first time she realized she was different
  • Choosing between being Indigenous or sending your child to residential school
  • The family tragedy that started her on the path to restorative justice
  • Finally finding her place in community
  • Discrimination against her lack of university degree
  • Meeting Michelle Obama!
  • Encouragement for young Indigenous women
  • Education is the key to decolonization

Full transcript here.

Guest Bio and References/Links

 
About Jessica Dumas:

Jessica is the President of Jessica Dumas Coaching and Training. She is a professional certified coach who specializes in speaker coaching and business coaching, helping individuals speak with clarity and confidence. She is an energetic and motivated professional who quickly gains the trust of her audience with her warm, engaging personality and professional style.

Widely recognized for her contributions, Jessica is a recipient of the Manitoba 150 Women Trailblazer award from the Nellie McClung Foundation, a finalist for the Future Leaders of Manitoba and a finalist in the CBC’s Top 40 Manitoban’s under 40 for 2015

Jessica’s volunteer work also earns wide respect in Manitoba. She has served as Chairperson of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce and the first Indigenous Female Chairperson of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce (2019-2020) and continues to sit on numerous committees and boards at the executive level. She is a powerful role model and advocate for social justice, leading others to overcome challenges by developing personal strengths, vision and self-confidence.


Find Jessica on:
https://www.jessicad

If you enjoy the podcast and want deeper ways to Change your Lens in work and business, check out the free resources on my website, changinglenses.ca. I also offer workshops and keynote speeches on JEDI topics like Decolonizing Corporate Workplaces, recruiting more inclusively, anti-Asian racism, and many more. How can I  support your JEDI journey? Contact me at changinglenses.ca.

Please note: the transcripts attempt to stay true to the essence of each conversation, while maintaining clarity and readability. As a result, certain "filler" words, and nuances of tone, emotion and emphasis will be missing.

If you're able, you're strongly encouraged to listen to the audio podcast. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors, and may contain errors.

Ep17: So You Say You Want Decolonization?  with Jessica Dumas

Jessica: Another reason that I didn't know a lot of my family's history is because through the Indian Act and the residential schools, families at some point had to make a decision about sending their kids to school or giving up their Indian status. My great-grandfather didn't want his kids to go to residential school so he left the reserve. My grandpa struggled with work. They were very poor and my grandma didn't speak English when she came to Winnipeg. And eventually I think she quit school either at grade six or grade seven. And so my grandma didn't go to residential school, but because of the impacts of residential school itself, she never got an education. And my mom went to grade seven and I'm the first person in my family to graduate high school, attend university, anything like that. And so when we think about the impacts of residential school, it's not just that one parent or that one person, right. It's their families that continue to experience that.


[intro music plays]

Rosie: Welcome to Changing Lenses. You’re invited to step into the lives of people on the front lines of discrimination, racism, and exclusion; to see the world through their eyes; and to hear their personal story of their fight for social justice.

I’m your host, Rosie Yeung, a Chinese-Canadian, immigrant, cis-straight female with invisible disabilities, and I’m passionate about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Do you also want to see social change happen? Then please join me in Changing Lenses.

Each episode is hosted on colonized land that was taken from many Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I seek Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Turtle Island, and I call upon us all to decolonize our thinking, not just our systems. Learn more on my website, changinglenses.ca.

Now please, enjoy the episode.

[intro music ends]


Rosie: Hi, Jessica. Welcome. Thanks for coming onto the Changing Lenses podcast. 

Jessica: Thanks, Rosie. I'm excited to be here. I appreciate you inviting me.

Rosie: Oh, I'm really excited for you to come and if you don't know Jessica was my business coach, my speaking coach for the last several months. And just getting to know Jessica has been a wonderful blessing and a privilege for me. And so through that, I was like, oh my gosh, Jessica, you have an amazing story. Would you do me the honor of coming on my podcast?  

And before we actually get going into that, cause I know that some of the things we touch on are going to be very personal to you, very sensitive and it might be a bit sensitive for people to hear as well. So I want to reassure you that this is a safe and comfortable space. I want you to feel like you can be honest and real and even vulnerable in our conversations. And I commit to you and our listeners that you can also keep me accountable to being respectful and nonjudgmental. And I definitely want you to let me know if I say anything wrong or mispronounce anything as well.

Jessica: Okay. 

Rosie: Okay. I actually want to start with talking about the land, and in my introduction to the podcast I share a bit about the land where I'm hosting this podcast from. I wonder if you would also share with us the land and treaty where you're from. 

Jessica: Sure I am in Treaty One territory. It's the Homeland to the Ojibway Cree, Oji-Cree Dakota and Dene Nations and Homeland to the Red River Métis. It's also known as Winnipeg, Manitoba. And surrounds everywhere from Portage la Prairie, half of Brandon and a little bit of Southern Manitoba. So it's quite a big region.

Rosie: Mm. Yes, it is. You know we've said all this and I think for our listeners are starting to get used to this hopefully. But what does that mean to you? Like when you talk about the land. When you talk about the treaties and this very vast area, what does that mean to you when you're speaking about it? 

Jessica: Well I really appreciate you asking that because that's first of all the really important conversation that needs to come from land acknowledgement. So being an Indigenous person it's kind of funny because within the community we kind of laugh like, yeah, we're coming to you from our land.  But when it comes to truth and reconciliation it's really about education and awareness. So recognizing that Indigenous people have been here for thousands of years and have cared for this land in a different way than it's cared now because ownership and a lot of that is changed and looks different, but it's really about recognition that Indigenous people have been here for all of that time and have made huge contributions to the world that we know today here in Canada.

Rosie: Thank you for that. And I'm glad that you started with the traditional nations also that were part of that land and not just I'm from Winnipeg because that's still very colonial. Like we have been colonialized to talk like that. So I appreciate you bringing that to the fore and so I hope it's clear then that you do have a strong sense of Indigenous identity, if people weren't aware that you are an Indigenous woman. And I think there's still a lot of stereotypes, like about what does that mean or where might you live? Like even the fact that you live in the city? I don't know how many people are aware of just how big of a population and the community of Indigenous people in now, Winnipeg. So maybe you could just kind of set the scene for us starting even with what that was like for you as a child growing up in an urban area of now Manitoba and what your experiences were. 

Jessica: Sure. There's a lot in that. So I'm trying to figure out where to start. But one of the things that I will start with is as an Indigenous person who grew up in Winnipeg. I've only lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I'm actually a band member of a Treaty Two First Nation. It's called Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation. And if you're familiar with Manitoba, many people know that area as Riding Mountain National Park, which is in the middle of Treaty Two. And growing up in Winnipeg I didn't know any of that. I didn't know that I was a First Nation person. Of course, when I was younger, the word that we used was Aboriginal. And it just wasn't anything that we talked about. It wasn't a thing. And because of not having any tie to a nationality or culture, or traditions that weren't in the calendar, I grew up with really low self-esteem because I didn't have any meaning. I didn't have any purpose. And when you're young, I thought that someone gives that to you. I thought, you know, someone gives you your purpose, you know, you go to school for a reason. So yeah, when I grew up, I didn't know anything about my identity, which is what I bring it to now.

Rosie: Did you even think of yourself as a Aboriginal or First Nations person? 

Jessica: I didn't. No. When I was young, it just was not anything that we talked about. And I remember my grandpa who's passed on now and he is hilarious, but when he had too much to drink, I would hear him talk about how we were Métis. We didn't know what that meant. And it was only when he was drinking. So half the time, the things that he was talking about. As a kid, I thought, well, grandpa was just drunk and talking nonsense, but now that I'm older and I think back to some of the things that he said. I realized that there's so much truth in a lot of the trauma that he talked about. A lot of identity and connection to culture that he used to have when he was a kid, but never got to experience. And so that came out when he was drinking.

Rosie: Do you remember a moment or some circumstance or event where for the first time you were made to realize, oh, you're not white. That you're different or you're Indigenous, or somebody looked at you differently. 

Jessica: Well, I have this memory from when I was maybe grade three and me and another girl got called from our classroom at school to go to the nurses room. And so the three of us are sitting there at a table and the nurse told me in front of the other girl that I had lice. And of course I'm like immediately embarrassed. Like, oh my God, I have lice, like, this is gross and I'm embarrassed. And then I was told to go to the office, call my mom and go home. And the girl who was called to the room with me, she got privacy. So I was told to leave the room. She said, you need to go now because I need to have a private conversation with this girl. And that's where I knew that I was not being treated the same and that I was given less respect. I wasn't entitled to that privacy or the respect of that conversation.

And that was the first time that I remember feeling like, that girl's better than me and deserves more than me. And the rest of the year, any time I was near this girl or her friends, she would always say, oh, stay away from Jessica, she's dirty. She has lice. And she'd say things like, did my hair touch your hair? Or like, by the jackets in our cubbies, she'd say things like, make sure that your stuff is away from Jessica. And so that was my first experience. So it wasn't really like racial per se, but I was poor and I was dirty.

Rosie: Didn't that other girl also get called down cause she had lice? 

Jessica: No, no, I don't. I will never know because she was entitled to the privacy by the nurse. So I have no idea why she was there.

Rosie: Right, but everybody knew, cause she knew and she told everybody that you had lice. Cause you didn't get the same respect that she got. 

Jessica: And so in your podcasts, you've talked about microaggressions and someone might hear that story and think, well, that's not about race, but it is right. It's about hierarchy. 

But another experience I'll share with you. A different school because my mum moved a lot. I was sitting outside at recess with a friend of mine. And my friend was going home to China for the summer. And we were sitting at the swings and she was telling me about how excited she was. And from getting to know her over the school year, she would bring foods that were different and even candies that were different and so I was just fascinated, like this was cool because I didn't know anybody else who had such fascinating things that were about them. And she could speak another language and she was just different and unique. And I was just so like blown away. And then, because she was going home to China, I was like, wow, like, who is this person?

Like, she's the coolest person in the world. And so I thought. I wonder if there's anything about us. Do we have any special things? Do we have a language? Do we have a home that we go to? Because if it does, then it means I'm somebody. And my family because of residential school and The Indian Act and different things that apply to First Nation people, our families were taught to be silenced. Like you don't talk about anything. Don't talk about your culture. You don't talk about your language. So when I asked those questions, it was the same thing at home. It was silence. And so I just continued to think, okay, well, I guess I am nobody, I guess I am not important. And I don't matter really. 

Rosie: Wow. 

Jessica: That's the mentality I went into my teenage years.

Rosie: How far back did the residential schools affect your family? Was it your grandparents and your parents or great grandparents and so forth? 

Jessica: Well, another reason that I didn't know a lot of my family's history is because through the Indian Act and the residential schools, families at some point had to make a decision about sending their kids to school or giving up their Indian status. If you gave up your Indian status, then it means you're no longer considered an Indian by the government of Canada, and you're no longer allowed to stay in your home community.

So my great-grandfather didn't want his kids to go to residential school so he left the reserve. You're not allowed on your reserve anymore, but you're not very much welcomed in the city, right. If you see some of the experiences today, you get a glimpse of what that might look like. Eventually they came to Winnipeg. My grandpa struggled with work. They were very poor and my grandma didn't speak English when she came to Winnipeg. And eventually I think she quit school either at grade six or grade seven.

And so my grandma didn't go to residential school, but because of the impacts of residential school itself, she never got an education. And she met my grandpa who also came to Winnipeg as a child. And my grandpa's childhood was like, I don't know the best way to describe it, but he was a troublemaker. But when I think about that he was a survivor. Like he was running from abuse. I overheard him talking about being sexually assaulted by nuns in the schools.

Rosie: So he went to residential school. 

Jessica: He went to day school. So there's schools where you would go and you go from 10 months to 10 years, but he would go and then come home, but he would always run away. And so he lived with many families and then eventually came to Winnipeg. He learned he could play pool, like snooker. Do you know what that is? 

Rosie: Yup. Yup. I do. 

Jessica: And, and he was really good at it. So he hung out at the pool hall. He learned to make money doing that. Eventually met my grandma, they started having kids when they were young teenagers. And my mom went to grade seven and I'm the first person in my family to graduate high school, attend university, anything like that. And so when we think about the impacts of residential school, it's not just that one parent or that one person, right. It's their families that continue to experience that.

Rosie: That is such an important reminder and I'm really thankful for you in being courageous and bringing that up. I've had a few conversations with people talking about the trauma from different types of discrimination that they've experienced, including racial discrimination. And I think with residential schools, there's starting to be that recognition. The concept of generational trauma, but I think it is still that misconception of, well, that's only if they actually physically went to the school and were abused in some way. And they haven't considered all these circumstantial effects of it, which are severe. 

What a terrible choice. When I think about your great-grandfather. I didn't realize there was sort of an option if you want to even call it an option, but if you wanted to save your child from going to residential school, the option was to give up everything, right. Like leave your home, leave your community.

Jessica: Right. And leave your family. And because we didn't have Facebook, um, you know, families lost connection. Like I can go home to my reserve now, which I built a relationship as an adult, but still not a relationship strong enough where I can say like, Hey, I'm coming over for the weekend and I actually have somewhere to go, but I know a few people in the community that I still don't always remember how we're related, but at least I know like there's a couple of people that I can call, but those ties are broken.

Rosie: And you only speak English at this point, right? Or were you able to learn any other languages? 

Jessica: No, I only speak English. And when I was younger, I asked my grandma because I heard her one time talking to her cousin or someone that she hadn't seen in a long time. And they were speaking this language, which I didn't know what it was at the time. Now I know it was Ojibway.

And I was just like what? Like, grandma you can speak another language? My grandma couldn't even pronounce the name of her home community, Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation. She couldn't pronounce it. Because when she was young, came to Winnipeg, they were strapped at school for speaking their language. And they were just like, you learn English, you only speak English. And so when I asked her, if she would teach me, she said, no, you'll never use it. And I remember, like, I can hear the sound in her voice when she said that, like, you know, her heart breaking.

 Rosie: Colonization works, right. It's really sad, but that's what they wanted. They wanted to stop you from using your own language and then now you can't.

Jessica: Absolutely.

Rosie: Wow. When I came to know you when you were my coach. Some of the things that we talked about, which I know are really important to you is that strong sense of self-worth and identity, and being able to do anything, like be who you want to be without anyone else putting you down.

So that's how I  see you right, as this confident, wonderful, smart woman. But it's clear from what you're saying that at least well into high school that was not how you felt personally. That seems like such a long way from there to here. What was part of this transformation that helped you find that identity and become strong in yourself? 

Jessica: Well, thank you for those kind words, Rosie. I really appreciate that. And actually it started when I had my first baby. It wasn't an ideal situation. I had not graduated high school. I had quit school. Was doing all the wrong things and I got pregnant, but when I had a baby, I realized immediately I want him to have a better life than I had. And so that was my first change. That was the first time that I had to speak up for myself because I knew I wasn't speaking up just for myself anymore. I had someone to speak for. 

I guess the next time that I had the really big growth was when my brother was killed. So he was killed in the north end of Winnipeg by the police. It was not the first time that my family had experienced a tragic loss. Like tragedy in my family was something that happened on a regular basis. It was something that happened since I was young. And so when my brother was killed, what happened differently there was, it was very public. We had the media phoning us, knocking on our door. And wanting to interview us and I was just like, oh, how considerate of them. Foolishly. 

Rosie: Oh, you're so innocent. 

Jessica: I know. Totally. And then realizing, you know, once you give them an interview, they spin it and it's not always the truth. And I was like, oh shoot. 

Rosie: Sorry Jessica. Can I ask the circumstances of your brother being killed? Like the fact that you even say he was killed? So this is not a justifiable, whatever the police terminology is to say it was okay. Was this a case of police brutality and unwarranted killing. 

Jessica: I don't like to use a lot of strong language around that because there's a whole lot that people need to know and especially to understand it the way that I do. But my brother was, um, he matched a description, but when you look into it, he didn't actually match the description. He just happened to run from a police officer that followed him. And so he ran and no one can say why he ran. I think because he didn't have a good relationship with cops, many young indigenous men don't. 

Rosie: Yep. 

Jessica: So he ran and there was a foot chase. There was backup calls. There was up to six cruisers that eventually showed up. And my brother had something in his hand. He raised his hand after he was sprayed with pepper spray. And as the story is told by some witnesses that he was going to wipe his eyes, the officer said that he was raising his hand to attack him and he was shot twice.

Rosie: I'm so sorry. 

Jessica: Thank you. And so there was an inquest, but it was very one-sided and I don't know, it is what it is. And I was the speaker for my family. We had some support from a local Indigenous organization. We held a press conference and I asked some questions. Why did they have to shoot him? Why couldn't they find another way to take him down if they thought that he was who they were looking for. And so ultimately the police inquest did justify it, you know, and that's their thing. But I think around that time that's when I really started learning about the fact that Matthew wasn't the first person that was killed by the police. There was actually a history of this, and this was actually a thing.

And there was research on it and there was, you know, so I was really exposed to all of this stuff. And that also exposed me to the fact that my grandmother was connected to a reserve. And again, Aboriginal was kind of the word of the day. And so I started to wonder, like, do I call myself Indigenous? Like, I'm learning all this new information about who I could possibly be, who I'm connected to. And I didn't know, like, and that's another part of colonization. Am I allowed to call myself Aboriginal? Am I First Nation? Am I Indigenous? I don't know if I'm allowed. Do I need someone to give me permission? I have no idea. So that was, there was a lot of that kind of identity searching. And what I did out of curiosity was I started learning Indigenous history and I learned as much as I could. I volunteered places. I changed my career because I was working in customer service.

And then I was working suddenly in restorative justice. Learning about the history, justice, Indigenous justice, and just soaking up everything that I could about learning about who are First Nation people. And really what I was trying to figure out and I don't think I knew it at the time was, is that me? Like, am I one of those people? Because I thought, just like the rest of Canada, I thought it had nothing to do with me until I started learning about it. And I was like, wow. That's what happened.

Rosie: Wow. Okay. So as you were learning all this stuff in your twenties, and this is also what sort of awes me that, cause I'm like, I didn't learn that in school, but you know, Indigenous people must know that stuff inherently because it's their own history, right? Like they know the truth. We don't know anything. Yeah, no wonder you didn't have a strong sense of identity if you didn't know really much about anything or even what you could call yourself. 

I'm really wondering this too, because you didn't grow up on reserve. And I know there's also a history of if you were a First Nations woman and you married a white man, you lost Indian status and you had to leave the reserve and all sorts of stuff. And for you, growing up off reserve, when was the first time you actually went to a reserve? And what was that like? 

Jessica: My mom says that we went to a reserve when I was a teenager for a wedding, but I don't remember that, but probably because they never said we're going to the reserve. But as an adult, after I changed my career to work into restorative justice, my job was specifically to go to reserves in Southern Manitoba. And I was just excited. I was like a little girl. I was like, oh my goodness. Like, I'm going to get to meet people that live on the reserve. And I was just fascinated. And so it was interesting. 

In some ways, it was really cool to meet with the band council and see how things were run and, you know, see a lot of the good things. And then also see how there's a lot of disadvantages to living on the reserve. But I know like in the work that I was doing, because I was an Indigenous person in justice, there's a lot of non-Indigenous people that are also doing that work so there's a lot of white people that are going to the reserves for court and different things like that. And I knew I had it easier than them because I was already brown, right. I already looked like I could fit in.

And there's this thing in Indigenous communities that if they make fun of you, that they like you, right. Teasing. Teasing is a really good way to break the ice and so Indigenous people do that all the time. And so I was like teased because here I am, you know, this little of justice worker or whatever my title was. And I would wear like shoes with heels. I remember going up north, Northern Manitoba. It was a fly in community and I wore heels and I felt like such a dummy because no one was wearing heels. Everyone was wearing like flats or runners. And some of the ladies were teasing me about being a city girl, but it made me feel at home because I was like, okay, they don't hate me.

 I wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted to fit in somewhere. I didn't fit in anywhere. And my whole life was about wanting to fit in, like, please can I fit in your group? And so that's where I started to feel a little bit more of that. And then eventually, when it comes to my coaching and especially my confidence coaching, it was recognizing I needed to accept myself.

I needed to belong to myself and trust whatever I wanted, like, we get to choose that. And really that's my message in coaching. And when it comes to confidence and self-love is, we get to do that on our own. It's a journey, but that's why I do the work that I do cause I want to share that message because for so many years I felt like I was nobody I didn't belong. I didn't matter. And that doesn't feel good. And we have a lot of problems in our communities and you know, if we had more love, more self-love than maybe we'll have less of those problems.

Rosie: Yes, that is such a great reminder about hope too, right? You've gone through all these things and you survived it and not everybody even could. And I think I cut you off mid story cause I started asking you about reserves or whatever, but those terrible things happened with your brother and then you started learning about your culture, your history and your own identity. What were some of the key things for you that led you to get more of that self identity, self worth?

Jessica: When I was soaking up information about who are Indigenous people, I didn't stop asking questions.  I eventually went to take university courses, reading books from all kinds of authors, getting involved in the community. And the more that I knew about my history, the more comfort I had in saying that I am okay. I'm supposed to be here and it's okay for me to want to be strong. Because as a young person I had these dreams of just well, really fitting in, you know, I just wanted to be happy and ultimately that's what I wanted. And to be happy, expression is a huge part of that. So how can I express myself in a way that makes me feel good? And, you know, I searched for that for a long time. I applied for lots of different jobs. There was a couple of years where I just did a whole bunch of random jobs cause I was seeking. I was looking for, who do I want to be? Where do I want to go? And I try a job and it'd be like, nope, that's not it, I'd try another job. And nope, that's not it. Even though I learned so much. And at the beginning it was always fun and exciting cause I was learning about myself by picking up so much skills. And I didn't know this, but I really wanted to be an entrepreneur. I really wanted to be a coach because I knew that the job that I wanted. I couldn't see it existing out there in the world. And so there was this little voice that was like, you have to create it. And I was like, no, I can't create it. I'm not worthy. I'm not good enough, smart enough, you know, all of that stuff. And I just kept pushing for it. I just kept believing in that dream. I kept believing in that hope. 

Rosie: I'm so glad that you did. Super glad, cause otherwise we wouldn't have even met necessarily, right. And you've given me so much just from what you learned through your own hard living experience. I'm wondering if you've ever encountered this kind of bias because I see it a lot, especially in recruiting. And like I mentioned, you have so much to offer you so much knowledge in and of yourself and that doesn't necessarily come from a university degree or a master's or PhD or what have you, but that just seems to be, not even elevated anymore, just expected . Often. And I wonder if you've ever encountered that kind of classism or elitism from other people. 

Jessica: Oh, yes. Yes I did. So In 2017 I won the future leaders of Manitoba award. And throughout this time I was like job hopping and trying to find, you know, who am I, where am I supposed to be? And so applying for a lot of jobs that I knew I would be really good at because I had collected all these skills. And I really believe if I'm passionate about the goal I'm going to do well at it. And there were a lot of jobs that I applied for that wanted me to have university degree and I didn't get the job. And then, so a couple of years later with my involvement in the community, always being out at different things. My name got really known especially in Winnipeg and I would see people who were directors or CEOs of organizations. And they would give me a compliment, they'd say, oh, you know what, Jessica, you're doing such great things for our community. We're so happy to have you. I wish there was a way we could work together and I would tell them, well, you did decline me a job this year because have a university degree. So you did have your chance but thank you. 

Rosie: Ooh. And did they have any response to that other than 

Jessica: No, no. I think of one instance specifically, and he was just shocked that I would say that, but why not? Like I wanted to work with you. I would have loved to work with your organization, but no, I didn't have a university degree. And because of that, I was really hard on myself. I felt like I was a loser again. Not smart enough. Not qualified enough. Nothing that I have to bring to the table is worthy enough because I don't have a university degree. And I struggled with that for a long time. I did.

Rosie: Well, you know what, Jessica, I have a university degree and I've never had a TED Talk and you have a TED Talk that has been viewed a ton. And the most amazing thing that I found which no university degree could ever earn you is who you've introduced as speakers before, because you're not just a speaker yourself, but you are also a wonderful emcee. Please tell us what it was like to introduce Michelle Obama at an event like, oh my gosh, Michelle Obama. 

Jessica: Oh, that was the coolest thing ever. So at the time I was the incoming chairperson for the Winnipeg chamber and the year prior we had Barack Obama come to Winnipeg. And our chairperson at the time got to introduce him. And so our CEO at the chamber said, you know, Jessica, if Michelle comes, I'm gonna do my best to get you as her introducter.

And I thought, well, you better like, and so I had read her book already by the time she had come. So I read it again, cause I was just like, I just want to be, you know, fresh in Michelle Obama energy. And so that morning it was really interesting  her team wanted us there early to practice. 

So there was me and another woman who were just literally behind the stage, it was under a dark black, um, curtain. And I was like, we have like a minute for two of us, so what are we going to say? And what am I going to say to her that's going to be outstanding. Like nothing. Like, I can't think of anything.

So I had planned just because I knew, especially as a speaker and a planner, I need to plan it. So in case they freak out that I know what I'm going to say. And so it was easy peasy. My name is Jessica. So happy to meet you. We're so happy you're here. Easy, right? So I see Michelle coming and she's super tall and when you see her in person, like her energy just shines. She's like this bright star. And, and, uh, the first thing that she says with her arms wide open, Jessica! And I was like, What am I supposed to say now? She knows my name. She already knows who I am. And so I give her a hug and, you know, just like a really nice, full, genuine hug.

Rosie: This is obviously pre-COVID times. 

Jessica: Yeah. Thank goodness. Thank goodness. And, you know, I managed to say, we're so happy you're here. So excited to meet you and blah, blah, blah. And again, like, what are you going to say in that moment? Because I think like I was hoping, I wish I could ask her one thing that no one's has asked her. Say one thing that she's never heard, but like, she talks to a billion people. And then I got to go up to the stage and introduce her. And it was the coolest thing I ever said on stage. It was a great experience.

Rosie: Amazing. That's hilarious that she literally took the words out of your mouth. That you're just I'm Jessica and she's like Jessica! 

Jessica: I didn't even say my name. I didn't even say it. She was so prepared. She saw me and she goes, Jessica is if she was waiting for me. Yes, Michelle I'm coming! It was great. It was really great.

Rosie: Oh, wow. It's a good thing you were a practiced speaker cause I would literally not have anything left to say I'd be like, uh, nice to meet. 

Jessica: I know. 

Rosie: That is so cool. What an amazing experience and hopefully an inspiration for other people listening. Like, especially young Indigenous women listening to you today. Hopefully they get to hear what you're saying now. And just like someday they could be meeting the next Michelle Obama, right. There's nothing to say that they can't do that.

Jessica: Absolutely.

Rosie: If you were to meet today, actually a woman, a young Jessica Dumas of today and maybe they had some stuff going on in their lives. What advice might you give them or how might you sort of lift them up to have that hope for a better future and more self-esteem? 

Jessica: Well, in growth, there's so much healing and healing can be scary, right. We're scared to bring out those scary memories of our experiences that we've had. That's what's holding us back, is those scary experiences, but because you are an Indigenous person or a woman of color, you have already overcome so much that was meant to hold you back. And because you're still here demonstrates your strength, your persistence and the fact that you are here for a reason. Continue seeking that support, that energy of a higher being. Keep seeking that because that's where you'll find your support, but healing, healing, you are worthy and just keep pushing. It's not easy. It's not. There's so many times I just wanted to give up. And there's so many times I just cried and had a temper tantrum, but that's the work.

Rosie: Yeah. And, you know, it's nice to kind of hear that it's okay, right? Like for someone like you coming across like a really strong, confident person. Mom of three, made it through all this adversity. But even you had your times when you just broke down and cried or, you know, whatever, and that's part of it too, right. That's part of the healing process. 

Jessica: It absolutely is. And it's so important to allow ourselves to do that. And I think we are in a time where we're like positive vibes only.  And that is good, but it can only take you so far. Like we have to have that breakdown and guarantee any person that you talk to who is like us that has that success, that they couldn't see, has had to have breakdowns. And we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

Rosie: So Jessica, as we wrap up. Something that I, I sort of knew before, but you continue to really hit home for me. And I really hope that for you listening right now that you're getting this picture too that, that idea of all the stereotypes. And I have to, I confess. I had those stereotypes. The drunken unemployed Indigenous person, you know,  not trying hard enough or whatever. Couldn't pick themselves up, get an education.  Is there anything you could suggest for someone who's like, okay, I've heard this, what can I do? Is there something that I could do to maybe create some more opportunities or do something to decolonize our country? 

Jessica: Well the first thing is to continue to educate yourself. That cannot be understated because I think one of the challenges that we have in the business community or other communities where we want to move things forward is we just want to get it done, right, let's just do this and that'll fix the problem. But that's actually not the solution. The solution is continuous education, making it part of your being so that you recognize just naturally what we see as non-white people. What are the challenges that we see? And if you don't know what that is, and if you can't see it, then you're not educated enough. So I think I'll leave it with that is just continue to educate yourself because there's, you know, there's more that you can do, but you can't be educated enough. I'm still learning.

Rosie: You know, that's really honest. And I appreciate that. Just even that hits home to say. Nobody could be done learning. Thanks, Jessica. I know that there's so much more we could talk about and I know there's so much more advice and just good ideas you could offer. If people want to get in touch with you or they just have some questions or follow up that they want to share with you. What's the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jessica: That would be Instagram @JessicaDuma01 I'm on all of the social medias, but that's where I'm most active.

Rosie: Awesome. Yes. And Jessica does have some fantastic videos and other clips that are very enjoyable on Instagram. So that alone is worth it to follow her for that. We'll have a link in our show notes if you're interested as well as links to her TED Talk. I really encourage you to check that out because it's a very powerful story and I encourage you to watch that. And then just to check out her website, which again, we'll have on the show notes and to continue that education that Jessica has encouraged us for.

For me this has been very thought provoking. And you may have questions. You may just want to talk about it and debrief. And there isn't always a safe place to do so. I hopefully have created something of a safe space in our Facebook group community.   It's a private group. And if you would like to ask questions of each other, of me,  I do encourage you to join that if you would like to have those discussions in a safe place. 

And in the meantime, I just really thank you for checking us out today.  Thanks for listening to Jessica, Jessica, thank you for joining. Every time I talk to you, it's like the light just shines and your love comes through like so thankful for you. Thank you for being here today. You really changed our lenses. 

Jessica: Thank you so much. I really appreciate this work that you're doing and I really appreciate you. 

Rosie: Aw, thanks Jessica. And listeners, we will find you next time and until then I am Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.


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Rosie: Thanks for joining us! I hope we helped to change your lens, and expand your worldview. And if you want to talk about today’s episode with a safe community, or ask me questions directly, please join our Changing Lenses Facebook Group – the link is in the shownotes. This episode was produced and hosted by me, with associate production by William Loo, and post-production by Cue9. Until next time, I’m Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.

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