Shift by Alberta Innovates

Diversity, equity, and inclusion drive Calgary-based HelpSeeker Technologies

October 21, 2021 Season 2
Shift by Alberta Innovates
Diversity, equity, and inclusion drive Calgary-based HelpSeeker Technologies
Show Notes Transcript

Monique Fry, VP of Community Success for Calgary-based HelpSeeker, a technology business that provides access to community, health, and social services to over 38 million individuals who make Canada home, joins us for this episode. 

As a First Nations woman, Monique walks us through her experiences and the importance that HelpSeeker places on values that recognize a diverse clientele and partnership base.

BIO
Monique is from the Xwchíyò:m First Nation on her grandfather’s side and from the shíshálh Nation on her grandmother’s side. Both Nations are located on territories that are currently known as the province of BC. She holds a Blackfoot name gifted by Elder Dr. Reg Crowshoe, which in English translates to “where the water meets the west shore spirit”.

Monique has 12+ years experience in cross-cultural communication and stakeholder relations with a focus on successful engagement and partnerships with Indigenous communities. She brings both a lived experience perspective as a First Nations woman as well as career and academic experience holding an MA in Communication and Culture from the University of Calgary.

She is recognized as a Cultural Mediator, and holds relationships with diverse Elders and Knowledge Keepers from across Turtle Island. Her work in Calgary has included the intersection of understanding and tackling poverty, homelessness, health, human rights, education, justice and employment of Indigenous peoples. One of her strengths is in relationship building and connections to community leaders, as well as those in non-profit, corporate and government.

 - taken from HelpSeeker About Us

Jon:

Today we feature Monique Fry, VP of community success for Calgary-based HelpSeeker, a technology business that provides access to community health and social services to over 250,000 people. As a First Nations woman, Monique walks us through her experiences and the importance that HelpSeeker places on values that recognize a diverse clientele and partnership base. Sit back as we dive into Shift.

Jon:

Thanks for joining us today. Monique, pleasure to have you. Tell us about HelpSeeker.

Monique:

HelpSeeker is a really interesting company. I had no idea what this company was about when I applied for the job to be totally fair and honest. What really drew me to the position that I was originally hired for was they were really upfront about being social disrupters and social change and transformation and all these really interesting sort of buzz words on what it means to tackle some big problems within the social fabric of Canada. HelpSeeker was born out of this need to look at solutions to problems in a different way within the social sector. So it's a social innovation and technology company. That technology could be digital products, and it could also be different ways and perspectives of doing things for human technologies. It's this interesting sort of combination.

Monique:

Founders Dr. Alina Turner and Travis Turner come from the education world married with nonprofit, with lived experience of understanding some of the concerns that a lot of Canadians face in the social ecosystem, if you want to say, and that there's a lot of stigma around looking for help and finding help.

Monique:

Travis used to be a teacher. As a teacher, he helped so many students, probably hundreds over his career, and was always tasked with trying to find his students the right help that they needed and not always having the information at his fingertips. And Alina worked in the space of housing and homelessness in Calgary, has done a lot of work and looked at solving these big, strategic things for years.

Monique:

One day they were positing you can go on Yelp and you can find the restaurant and you can know when it's available and if there's any reservations. People, they know what's the closest Thai place to their community and if it's good, those kind of things. Gee, I wish there was something like that for the social service sector, for people who need food, for people who need housing referrals. There wasn't anything like it. And so, they were like, hmm, maybe somebody should make that. Like, maybe we can do that.

Monique:

And so, it turned out this sort of interesting combination of consulting work that Alina had been doing and then Travis like literally quit his job. At that time, he was a principal and was like, "I can do this," not knowing much about technology, not knowing much about the how, but just knew that there's got to be a way and nobody else is doing it. That's how HelpSeeker technologies was born in about 2017 or so.

Monique:

They started literally in their basement with Travis being the main go-getter of the group. And now, we're still in that startup, scale-up sort of jive. But within even the year that I've been at HelpSeeker, I was hired October last year in the pandemic in my quarantine time in an apartment, I think I was number 28 employee, and now today we're up to 60.

Jon:

And you guys are out of the basement now.

Monique:

We're out of the basement. Everyone still works from home, but I think he actually updated his basement so that now he doesn't have to have a green screen or a pull-down hiding behind his laundry. So, yeah.

Katie:

Well, I love this, Monique, and I know that you also have a very unique perspective that you bring to HelpSeeker. You have some lived experience that really helps with your community involvement. Would you mind telling our audience a little bit about your journey and how this affects your culture?

Monique:

Yeah, thanks. I'm First Nations. I'm originally from the Cheam First Nation which is part of the Sto꞉lo tribes in the Fraser River Valley of British Columbia. I grew up in Vancouver. I'm an east Van girl but have lived in and around Calgary in Mohkinstsis Treaty 7 territory for just as long as I lived over there in BC. Both are sort of home now.

Monique:

I came to post-secondary education quite late in life. Probably a story for another podcast, but I lived in Spain for a couple of years which was amazing and fun in my late twenties. Came home pregnant with my first son, Jacob, and realized quite quickly that my theater degree that I had New West, BC probably wasn't going to cut it in terms of providing for a son.

Monique:

And so, quite quickly after he was born and I was tired of making like $8 an hour, I said, "I need to go to university." So I went to university, got an undergrad degree in communication and culture at U of C. Met my husband there in undergrad, had another kid, did a master's degree. He did a master's degree. And we've really moved on from living in Calgary housing as a single mother to having the quintessential Western life of two kids and a dog, the house, the picket fence even, from a Western perspective; but coming from a place of understanding that I'm a survivor of intergenerational trauma, of my own traumas, as a First Nations woman.

Monique:

My mom was a part of the Sixties Scoop which is why I grew up in Vancouver and not on the res. My husband is also First Nation, and his mother is a residential school survivor. So we have those connecting pieces. I'm not going to say resilience, because sometimes I think that takes away from the fact that that bad stuff still happens, but it's something more than that. It's some perseverance. It's conscious decision-making to realize there's a cycle that needs to be broken here, and so how do we do that?

Monique:

University was definitely a way that my husband and I both decided quite early this is how we do it. And not that that's been easy and neither has our career choices been easy either in terms of what that means to be an indigenous person almost exclusively sometimes in non-indigenous organizations or entities, where that is when you're the only one or you're a tokenized person.

Monique:

Coming to HelpSeeker was really an interesting one. As I said, I didn't know anything about the work, the job. I'd never heard of the term systems planning before from that space in the social sector. But applied on a whim because we had just come back and Texas. My husband and I both were in oil and gas there and took seven passages to come home because COVID, Trump, all those wonderful things, and got the job with HelpSeeker on the spot in the interview. It was amazing. They said the right things. I guess they thought I said the right things. And I was hired as a systems planner with indigenous relations as a focus.

Monique:

Because they said those interesting buzzwords that I mentioned before on social disruption and changing the system, I said, "I've worked for places before where they didn't really want to hear what I had to say. I was hired for a roles on paper that looked like we're about changing the system, we're about challenging the status quo, we're about moving the needle and all of those things, but when it came down to it, they actually didn't want me to do that work." It just wasn't true. And so I said, "If this is what you're trying to do, and you need your one token indigenous person for the job, then I'm probably not the one you want." And so, they're like, "No, no. Yeah, [crosstalk 00:09:41]

Katie:

That's really bold of you, by the way. Like, holy cow.

Jon:

Sure, yeah.

Katie:

Sorry. Continue.

Monique:

They were like, "Nope, this is awesome. We want you. Take the job now." I was like, "Okay. This has never happened before."

Jon:

Wicked.

Monique:

That was probably one of the coolest things. I don't know if it's because of I'm older now. I have two teenage kids that are annoying. My husband and I have survived quarantine together, multiple travels around the world, different stints for jobs or school or whatever where we've always had to count on each other. I'm like, I'm older and wiser now, and I've seen a lot of non-indigenous people, especially in their career spaces, stand up for what they want, ask for more, be specific, and get it. You know what I mean? I'm like, wait, you can do that? You can...

Katie:

That's so bold of you. Oh, I love it.

Jon:

I've got a couple of quick things. First, as you were describing your story, I don't know if you're all familiar with Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was a former MP in the Liberal government, Aboriginal woman. They said all the right keywords to her too. She jumped in thinking she was going to be able to move the dial. We know how that story turned out, sadly.

Jon:

But this leads into my second question, or my real question, which is Katie had sent an article. I didn't get a chance to read the whole article. She summarized it for me in talking about how a lot of Aboriginal business people don't necessarily have mentors or enough accessible mentors. Now hearing your story and Jody's story, how's that challenge been for you to navigate through your growth in that world?

Monique:

Yeah, that is totally true. And I think that is one of the things that all of my colleagues, my best friends, my sisters, my soul sisters, the community people that I surround myself with, we have become each other's mentors; and not even everybody working in the same systems, in the same sectors, but because there is nobody like us.

Monique:

I don't want to say that it's like we're some sort of unicorn, because sometimes that's what people think too. Like, oh, there must be something special about you that you got to this space.

Monique:

Hmm. Okay. Maybe I'm cool. I like to think that I am. I like to think that I'm smart, and I have things to contribute, but I'm not a unicorn. I think the thing is, like I said, it came to a point where a lot of the people that I surround myself with and myself and my husband, we're like, we have to become our own advocates, because there's nobody else like you.

Monique:

I am now sitting as a vice president of HelpSeeker of community success. Within one month, I realized, okay, this work is more than they think it is. If we want to really embed indigenous thought, if we live by our values that reconciliation and inclusion, diversity, equity, sovereignty, all those things are really embedded in our work and our framework, we need to not worry so much about what's the strategy, what does the paper look like, what are the policies. Those are important, but what are we actually doing that's embedded in our work? How are we handling our clients, whether they're indigenous or not?

Monique:

Those clients are police chief boards, and they're municipalities, and they are community foundations, and they're community groups where indigenous people represent a high percentage of the portion of people who are in poverty, who are homeless, who have mental health concerns, who have the highest suicide rates. All of those things that we're trying to "find solutions and fix the problems", Indigenous people make up a high proportion of those peoples.

Monique:

And so, after one month in the job, I said, okay, this is good. I'm learning about what systems planning is and what the role that some of the solutions we have to offer can help. There's something more missing. I need to be able to work strategically across the company, not just within my own team. Because it's not enough to leave it as, oh, well, it's only meaningful for the teams that work front space and community. No, our innovation team, our development team, our UI/UX person needs to know. Everybody needs to know. Data scientist who knows nothing about residential school, he's working with data, we need to think about bias. We need to think about how is that information being analyzed? What's the code and the algorithms we're using? Have people looked at that deeply?

Monique:

And so I said, "I need to be at the leadership table." And luckily, my VP at the time, who's now the EVP, Jesse Donaldson, was like, "I believe you. You need to come. And what do you need me to do to make that happen?" I'm like, "Well, we need to have a conversation with the Turners and say this is what needs to happen." And they were like, "Yep, you're right. You need to be at the leadership table. You're now VP. Here you go." And I was like, "Okay."

Katie:

I love this. And so, what kind of practices have you been able to embed in to your HelpSeeker team that really help reduce those biases and help bring your culture to the forefront?

Monique:

I'm a huge believer in intentionality and being really explicit. And it fits in with what I'm learning about other practices that tech companies or these startup companies, these theories and ways of doing things like agile. I'm learning all about these, agile stuff and scrums and sprints and all these technology spaces.

Monique:

And for me, it's about finding the parallels. These are things that I've learned from indigenous elders that I've worked with here in and around Calgary. Dr. Reg Crowshoe, for example, from the Piikani First Nation really has embedded this work in and around Calgary, this idea of finding the parallels.

Monique:

It's all about language and being able to see when you say you need to go to the city to get a building permit to make a building, because there's bylaws and these practices and regulations, and you've got to follow this process, from an indigenous perspective, you need to ask the land, which means you need to have a song, you need to have a ceremony. There's a process. There's a fee that you pay. There's a way that things happen. Both of these things are true. It's just about finding the combination that parallels the other concept.

Monique:

And so, in the same way that we think about there's a technology or a way of doing, indigenous people have their own technologies, their own ways of doing, and have for millennia. It's just that we've decided that one is superior to the other, or one is more modern, or one is more whatever. I'm extremely intentional in always acknowledging and providing those examples. We became very intentional about what it means to hold our values accountable.

Monique:

We are a social B corp enterprise. It allows us to be competitive as a business. We're not a nonprofit. We are a company. We're there. We all need to get paid. There's a bottom-line thing, but we follow those extra bits on like the sustainability piece and the environment. We extend that to the relationships we have with indigenous peoples.

Monique:

And so, I'm often the person called upon to set the tone and intention, in particular, in the way that we do our staff meetings, in the way that we respond or don't respond in social media to current contexts and things. And have become, I guess by default, a pulse check in some cases. Because what people don't know, they don't know, and so then they're not able to act accordingly. We've really set the tone at HelpSeeker to like, well, when we do know, we will not be inactive, and we won't just push it under the table kind of thing.

Monique:

If you ever have a chance to listen to a podcast by Alina or get Alina to come on to a podcast, she's a total character. I love her. She will talk about social justice in a way that probably most tech companies aren't thinking about, because she has that background. And so, it's this interesting marriage of technology is a tool for us, and it's the future, and we know that, we all believe in the fourth industrial revolution and AI and all of those great things, but we're not going to say it takes precedent over people, diversity, culture, indigeneity, and respect to the environment and the land, which is unique.

Jon:

Well, it's a huge point, especially, and you mentioned this before, those cultural biases that we may have. And AI, artificial intelligence, is such a huge thing right now. The data scientists you were talking about at the company that they employ, what's ensuring that they're not investing their cultural biases into the development of those AI that they're the building? So, it's huge. It's a huge consequence of all of these companies, because it's such a huge part of it.

Jon:

I'm curious. The point you made about people don't know what they don't know, when you're dealing with an external company, a partner, individual, and again, they come in with only what they know, how do you deal with misconceptions that they may have of you personally? The way you're talking about the respect and the culture and the community and the environment and all that, they're not there on that level, so they may speak perhaps in a way that might be construed as offensive. How do you rein that in and deal with that respectfully?

Monique:

Yeah, that's a good question. And I think, for the most part, we've been pretty lucky in that we are able to at least pick those partners or those collaborators where we know they're going to align with our values. No matter who the clients or the community that we're working with is, we make sure that they understand up front, this is who you get when you hire HelpSeeker. We're always trying to figure out how do we make sure that people understand what our values are.

Monique:

We actually just had just before September 30th a renewal of our land acknowledgement that we do. We really took the time. I had asked everybody to think about there's land acknowledgement and then there's understanding what it is. So even now before meetings, I don't even read the land acknowledgement. I talk about where I'm at in the space in my connection to the environment and knowing where I am and my place in this space which is connected to land. But it's more than reading the lines of texts to where you happen to be situated. And so, we developed a broader and stronger land acknowledgement as a whole.

Monique:

Because we're all across Canada too, our team, we came up with a blanket statement that talks about we understand the impacts of colonization, and we're calling out those pieces that it's still marginalizing and challenging the sovereignty and all of these pieces of indigenous peoples, as well as understand the historical impacts of the space that we're in. And then, every team member, wherever they're living, can acknowledge the space that they're in. So there's that.

Monique:

I introduce myself in meetings. In particular, when it is with chiefs of police and mayors and deputy people within, everyone's going to say, I'm the VP of whatever. VP of HelpSeeker is the last thing I say. It skews who I am, where I come from, where I was born, the context. And then, by the way, I happen to be the VP of community success. Don't think I'm just this. I'm all of these things.

Monique:

I think in our deliverables in terms of there's a report, we're analyzing some data, we're giving some information. Even if the client hasn't asked for tell us about how we're doing with reconciliation or tell us about how we're doing with relationships, we're adding those pieces in because they align with here's what the data tells us and here also, by the way, are best practices. If you're looking at creating better outcomes in Abbotsford, then you should acknowledge that you don't have a relationship with the people in the community [inaudible 00:24:10]

Jon:

In the business parlance, for lack of a better word, it's the value add by offering that sort of thing.

Monique:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:

And I gotta say your first comment I loved so much in response to my question. The question was so long-winded, but you make sure people understand what they're getting and who they're getting so they understand HelpSeeker's values. And that's so pivotal, because I think we've all heard stories about businesses who just chase the dollar, right?

Monique:

Yes.

Jon:

And they're willing to conform to whatever their client wants, because at the end of the day the customer is always right so to speak. So you can sell yourself short or sell yourself out.

Katie:

I think you're on to something, Jon, and I think we've even talked on the podcast before about how, I hate to say trend, because I don't think it is a trend, I think this is the way forward, about how businesses are really starting to incorporate this social innovation aspect as part of the core of who they are and what they do. A really great example of that is our podcast with Connie Stacey of Growing Greener Innovations and how she really tries to include the environment and diversity into her practices.

Katie:

So Monique, what type of pillars, for lack of better term here, do you identify with for social innovation? And what can companies take away from you with all of your wisdom and background?

Monique:

Sure. I think one of the things that we really pride ourselves on at HelpSeeker is human-centered approach. So no matter if that's about the products we're trying to design, the experience of the users, our general audiences are HelpSeekers. So those who are looking for help, whether that's you're a mom, you're a teacher, you're a service provider who is looking at our platform, looking at our app and saying, I just need to know where is the nearest food bank to me, that's a target. The decision makers who support, whether that's by the people who fund programs, the people who create the programs and need to know what is the landscape that's already out there, those are some of the key stakeholders. And then, of course, the bigger decision makers, like municipalities, policy, government, whatever that might be, that if you're not...

Monique:

I've heard Alina talk about this triangle of you have service providers and funders or decision makers who are deciding who gets the funding, what the program looks like, to try and address solutions. But nobody's talking to the individuals of lived experience or living experience who are experiencing those things to see what might help you. And that's not easy because there could be 50 different experiences, 100 different experiences to think about and how possibly can you make something to fit everybody. But that's another complex piece.

Monique:

Human-centered design is something that we really pride ourselves on. People often miss that, so we try to bring that. We really believe that diversity is an edge, not just having different people in the company, which although we do, we want to make sure that our hiring practices are done in such a way that we know that everybody comes from different places culturally, whether that's linguistically, they're from other countries, but that they're bringing those other perspectives as well.

Monique:

We are constantly engaging with our staff. Sometimes maybe to our detriment, because at the leadership level we're like, okay, we don't want to bake everything too much. At a leadership level, there are decisions to be made, so we want to bring them to the staff. Because they've gotten used to providing their input, whether that's in defining what our mission is, whether it's looking at our values and say, do these still resonant with us?

Monique:

When we did our values originally it was 28. Now, we're at 60. Today, we're like, hmm, maybe we need to bring those values back and say, are we still on track?

Monique:

We are aware that not only in our product development and the way in which we process things, we need to continuously be iterating and be agile and ensure that we're keeping sustainable not just the company but the culture of our company as well. And so, diversity really is important to us. And those perspectives, I think that's really important.

Monique:

Back to one of the comments about data bias and AI and working in this tech sector, there's also a flip side to that from an indigenous perspective. Because in most cases, indigenous data is often discounted because there's not enough or we don't represent a certain enough amount of population. Therefore, it gets excluded. In my experience as a researcher, as a master's student when I was completing my work, was that, no, no, we have to also acknowledge that there sometimes needs to be bias to a certain way because those perspectives have not been included. There's like, oh, the sample size isn't big enough. How? It doesn't really matter if the sample size isn't big enough. Because then you have no indigenous perspective if you say they only make up 2% or 5%, therefore it's not statistically whatever the words are.

Jon:

Relevant or-

Monique:

I was not a statistician in my work.

Jon:

That's very interesting. Actually, as I was reading up on HelpSeeker, I noticed that there was the First Nation data policy. I wanted to ask you about that. I think you've kind of explained it.

Monique:

Well, a little bit. It's tricky. We do follow the principles of OCAP which was designed at the First Nations Information Governance Center and the Assembly of First Nations. It was designed out of the health sector to ensure the ownership control, access, and possession for all First Nations communities for their data. We are a community that has been researched to death literally. I'm sure you've read about things that have come out of the residential school, but most of the time we were researched on. We were not researched with. So there was this real push, in particular, for health research to have some control. So these principles were created, the OCAP principles.

Monique:

We adopted the OCAP principles, I think, last year or the year before, not really knowing what it means. But we just knew that, oh, this is something we should pay attention to. Since then, we have undertaken OCAP training. The data science team has had it. Our systems mappers have taken it. My team has taken it and really have a better understanding of what this means.

Monique:

It's still, in my opinion, not perfect because it's designed for a health sector and not a tech sector. There's still a lot of questions about how do we make it work. We're working closely with the few people in that sector to understand how do we create this. We have come up with some intermediate solutions if there needs to be data-sharing agreements, in particular, when we're doing projects with nations.

Monique:

It gets tricky because it's on a community level. The opt-in or the buy-in has to come from the whole community and not an individual for these things to be, so it does become a jurisdictional thing.

Monique:

But we did a recent project for the Assembly of First Nations on a systems mapping of on and off reserves, housing, and homelessness-serving agencies. It was really challenging for us, because we're like, okay, we can't put them on our map, because they have to opt in to it. So, how do we do that? It became a really big challenge for us to complete the project in a meaningful way. But we gained a few steps closer to what we think will eventually be better.

Jon:

That is tricky.

Monique:

But yeah, it's still a work in progress.

Jon:

Sure. And that just describes innovation to a tee though. Innovations don't come out fully baked like, ah, done, never have to look at that again. It's just that iterative process rather than paralysis by analysis. As you referenced earlier, that OCAP, you guys didn't necessarily fully understand it, but it seemed important. You incorporate and start to build on it. Next thing you know, it's serving.

Katie:

Monique, I want to switch gears just a little bit here and talk about indigenous innovation, specifically indigenous innovators. There was a really great article that I read, and there was a report by RBC that talked about how today indigenous businesses are worth $30 billion to our economy but that's expected to grow to about $100 billion in five years. That's incredible. What do you think what's really inspiring this onset of new business from indigenous communities, and what can we do to support them?

Monique:

Yeah, that's a great question and a great point. I think there's been this looming growth for a number of years exponentially, I think, in terms of the stats around we're the fastest-growing population, all of those things. I think part of the innovation from indigenous people has been, I don't know, maybe I'm speaking for myself and my husband who are always like, man, one day I just really want to be my own boss. It could come out of we've had crappy experiences working for other people and not being valued enough; not my experience now, obviously, but in past, not being valued enough, being given the jobs that nobody else wants to do or being hired and not doing what you thought you were being hired for or being the token, those kind of things.

Monique:

I think I know a lot of people who are constantly, in the indigenous space, looking how do I do my own thing, how do I be my own boss, how do I do something where I connect totally to all the values, to all the pieces that I believe are important that they don't always find in other spaces. And I think the necessity too that for the most part nobody else is going to do that for you.

Monique:

And so, there is that spirit of survival in a lot of cases that you see in particular among women. Indigenous women are a big part of that. If you look at community, indigenous women are doing everything. No offense to the men. My husband is great. He's one of the exceptions. But there's a lot of single mothers out there. There's a lot of women who are going to post-secondary and raising children and doing it on their own, and they're volunteering everywhere, and they're on every board. They are in community work.

Monique:

I was one of them. I said yes to everything, because this was about networking, it was about experience, it was about giving back to your community in a way that we have never seen before. It speaks to, in some communities, the matriarchal society framework of no matter what we're going to take care of everybody. I think you see the rise of that innovation in part of survival, but it's also because I think we have so much to offer. We're not always honored or respected for what we have to offer, and so we do it ourselves.

Katie:

It's interesting you say that too, because this report also said that indigenous women are starting businesses at twice the rate as non-indigenous women. That's definitely why.

Katie:

I spoke a little bit before about your boldness that I just admire so much about you and just really taking the bull by its horns. I wanted to talk about what makes an indigenous innovator different from a non-indigenous innovator. What kind of things can our audience pull from indigenous innovators and incorporate into their own lives?

Monique:

That's a great question. I don't know. I don't want to be too general or give anybody the wrong impression, but I think that there's something there about how much we have to lose if we don't innovate and how difficult it is. Again, I hate to just throw around the term resilience or the decisions that we have to make, but I used to be jealous that in my master's degree program, for example, which was a small cohort of us at U of C, maybe a dozen, when you did these reviews of what people were doing for their thesis work and the kinds of projects that people picked, I thought, wow, what a privilege it must be to pick something, and I'm not going to say other people's work was non-important, that isn't about changing the world, isn't about solving a big problem for your community, isn't about fighting racism or fighting the man or whatever it happens to be, that they could do projects on queer theory and gaming, which is awesome, or food labels, how they're labeling...

Monique:

I don't know. It felt like such a privilege to pick whatever the heck they wanted. I felt so much is riding on me, so much is riding on my ability to be the first person in my family to get a post-secondary degree, to get a master's degree, to show my children what the possibilities are so that now they have...

Monique:

Like, they live a freaking cushy life, these kids. My husband and I are like, they are so spoiled. Sometimes we get angry at how spoiled they are. I have to remind him, but think about this for a minute, they have zero trauma. They have none, and we did that.

Katie:

That's incredible, Monique.

Jon:

Yeah, that's powerful.

Monique:

I think we have more to lose. I say we innovate because we have more to lose, and we have so much to gain from how we can innovate. It's frustrating that there aren't enough of us, in particular, in the tech. I think like 2%, and I'm not sure what those jobs are. Quite often when you see the jobs that people are in, like if you look at energy sector, we're the people working at the work camps. We're the people who are working in the laundry and are housekeepers. We're not the engineers. We're not those people. We're bank tellers. We're not the people working in strategy and loans and whatever.

Monique:

So, it's not enough just to look at, oh, 2% in the tech industry, that's not bad. But what are we doing? What are the jobs that we're doing? How many of us are VPs?

Monique:

I saw one lady who works for Google. I read an article, Tara Rush, she works out of the Google in Canada. As soon as I saw it, I reached out to her. I'm like, another person, another First Nations woman working in the tech industry. Okay, HelpSeeker is not Google, but we're getting there. And I thought, wow, there's just not enough. There's not enough. So we have to be our own mentors. We have to be our own advocates. And we have to be our own innovators. We have to do it so that the people coming next won't have it as hard.

Jon:

Moments ago, the thought popped in my head as we were talking. You had made this distinction, or not, rather, it's not a distinction. But when you first started talking about innovation, typically people think about widgets and technology. But it's social. There's social innovations here too which don't fit into an iPhone or something you hold in your hands. It's a new methodology, a new approach. And so, it's thinking more broadly about how it can innovate.

Jon:

And also, you mentioned an elder's name earlier, Dr. Reg Crowshoe. You had said he had given you a Blackfoot name which means where the water meets the west shore spirit. May I ask what the name is, what your Blackfoot name is?

Monique:

You're going to get so mad at me because I don't have it memorized or written down. But Dr. Reg Crowshoe, the same one that I referenced before, yes, he gave me the Blackfoot name when I graduated from my master's program at U of C. That was really wonderful. He tried to think of something that represented where I come from, from Vancouver, from the West, and that spirit. I interpret it as the ebbing and flowing with the water against the land. Sometimes it's soft, and sometimes it's hard, but it's dynamic. So it's something that I really appreciate.

Katie:

I love this conversation, Monique.

Jon:

Yep.

Katie:

It's been so, so amazing. I think for me one of the important takeaways is that innovation isn't always creating something new, but it's going back to your roots.

Monique:

Totally. I think about that a lot when we look at environmentalism, when we look at land stewardship, when we look at all these "new technologies" like solar power. Yeah, you all didn't invent that.

Monique:

We see passive use of solar so often in the build and the placement of homes within indigenous communities. Farming techniques, there was so much technology and knowledge that we had that really just got obliterated and forgotten and erased because we had become less than human in the eyes of society at the time. So much has been lost. That's really interesting to me and to most indigenous people. We see something, and we're like, "Oh, your science finally caught up with us. I told you we were here for a bit more than you said you were." We were all like, "We told you that." Like, so many times, we're like, "Yeah, yeah, we know. Good for you. Your science is finally catching up to us."

Katie:

I love that. Before we end, is there any final words of wisdom that you want to impart on us and our listeners?

Monique:

Oh my gosh, I think-

Jon:

No pressure.

Monique:

Yeah, right? I think there's something to be said with looking at the transferable skills that people have. I came from non-profit. I come from an academic background. I love to teach. These are the things. I had no idea about anything technology. Even still, I'm like, why isn't my Slack working? I don't know how to do things. It's funny to be working for a tech company.

Monique:

But I think even since I've started, I've hired a couple of First Nations people to come and work for us and our team. I'm not going to lie. There's like, "Oh, they don't know anything about this sector, or it will take them a while to learn and dah, dah, dah." And I've stuck to my guns. I'm like, "No, no. I know. I know this is going to be great. You don't know how great this going to be."

Monique:

And it's been such a success. I think we sometimes limit ourselves to, and this is across all sectors, it's not just this sector, what people's resumes say or what education they have. If we're going to say that we're a person-centered company, where lived experience and the holistic experience of a person that we're trying to solve problems for, then we have to take into consideration what perspectives does each individual person on our team bring to the work. What's teachable? What can we train people to do? And what is things you can't and is inherent? That will really help our work.

Monique:

I would challenge, given that there's not a lot of indigenous people within the tech and innovation sector, to ask yourself, why is that? What are the reasons? And if it's something that you can do something to change, what are you going to do about that? How do you make that happen? Because I think it's not enough to say, oh, well, they don't have the experience or they don't have the education. That's not really changing the system. It's not really balancing out anything. And so, what is our position?

Monique:

When I think about what we're doing at HelpSeeker and how we're trying to do better in all of these factors, whether it's data sovereignty, whether it's hiring practices, they're only one part of the puzzle. There's many pieces, but you've got to start somewhere. The more diverse people you have within your workspace, the more you allow the space to be open, their ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the table, the more innovation you're going to bring and the more creativity. You don't even know yet.

Katie:

That is well said.

Jon:

Yeah, that was awesome.

Katie:

We need to just end right there, because you can't get any better than that last bit. Thank you, Monique. This was amazing.

Jon:

Yeah, it was awesome having you.

Monique:

Thank you.

Jon:

Thank you for your time.

Jon:

Shift can be found online at shift.albertainnovates.ca or email us at [email protected] On behalf of everyone here, I'm Jon. Until next time, have a great day.