K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) has a new chief executive officer.
Debbie Miller of the Coast Salish people in British Columbia began her new job on Sept. 9.
Miller comes to KFN after working for 24 years with her Katzie First Nation, including as general manager of its development corporation and as its chief negotiator for 12 years.
The new CEO believes her knowledge and experience gained in B.C. is transferable to the North.
“I think the reality of working with a First Nation – the relationship building, the need for individuals to develop trust and see a person as integrity based – is something that’s absolutely transferable across any First Nation,” she said.
Sometimes new people think they will save organizations, she added. “And I’ve told K’atlodeeche First Nation that I’m not here to save them, I’m here to serve them, and I’m here to serve them well.”
Miller, who has a Master of Business Administration degree from Royal Roads University, said she was attracted to the CEO position with K’atlodeeche First Nation because it’s a challenge.
“So my responsibility is certainly looking at the whole broader umbrella of the organization,” she explained. “How well is it functioning? What systems does it have in place? Do they need to be updated to meet today’s standards?”
Miller noted she has worked on various issues in the South, such as impact benefit arrangements and relationship building with other levels of government and other First Nations.
“So I have a very broad and diverse background,” she said.
When interviewed by The Hub, she had just had a discussion with a representative of the Town of Hay River, where she stressed the importance of working very closely with the municipality to develop a relationship.
“So K’atlodeeche territory is here and it’s not just the Town of Hay River. It’s K’atlodeeche territory and the Town of Hay River,” she said. “And there should be a form of recognition in the municipal hall. They should fly the flag of the K’atlodeeche people in their municipal hall. They should recognize that this land has unceded rights.”
It will take time and energy for everybody to shift their thinking from an ‘us’ and ‘you’ to a ‘we’, she said. “And I advocate for us all to get to a ‘we’.”
Miller, who noted she is a product of the ’60s Scoop, grew up in a farming region called Sumas Prairie, east of her home community.
When she came home, she was given an opportunity to work with Katzie First Nation, and through progressive learning and formal education she became a senior person within the organization, and had been content.
However, while studying for her MBA, she met individuals from across Canada and from other countries who seemed surprised she had worked with one organization for 24 years.
“I guess that sort of planted seeds about whether or not I would be interested in working elsewhere,” she said, noting she did briefly work for another First Nation before taking her current role with K’atlodeeche First Nation.
Miller spotted the job posting on the Indeed website.
“It’s a different opportunity,” she said. “I definitely could be a CEO in the South. I have all the skills and abilities to do that. When I applied for the job, I thought, ‘They’re never going to contact me. I live 1,900-plus kilometres away from them.'”
Now that she is in the North, Miller is noticing differences with how things work compared to the South.
“Canada’s approach to the treatment of Indigenous people in my short two-and-a-half weeks here is distinctly different than how it treats its Indigenous population in the South, and that is fundamentally wrong,” she said.
One difference is in how programs and services funding dollars are managed.
“In the South, we have ancillary services in our education that enables us to provide certain supports to families, and that’s not given here,” Miller noted as an example.
The new CEO describes herself as a “pretty direct” kind of individual.
“I speak the truth,” she said. “I tend to look around and say very clearly what it is that I see.”
Miller, a mother of seven, still has her family in Langley, B.C., while she comes to the North to K’atlodeeche First Nation.
“I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” she said. “I’m working diligently and trying to learn as much as I possibly can.”
One thing that Miller admits to being uncertain about is the upcoming Northern winter.
“Snow in southern British Columbia is very different,” she said, noting communities there might close down because of a couple of inches of snow. “Here, I hear kids still go outside and play in zero-degree temperatures.”