Five minutes with Ruby Littlechild, National Director, Indigenous Relations in Canada
Can you tell us about your role at SNC-Lavalin?
I am a Treaty no. 6 grassroots member of the Ermineskin First nation in Alberta. My role is that of a bridge builder at SNC-Lavalin, which I joined a year ago. I sit on the ED&I Canada committee. I am also on the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) committee for which I work on developing SNC-Lavalin’s Indigenous Plan of Action.
I live in two worlds: I have a mainstream education and I am part of the Indigenous community. I know the substantial infrastructure issues that these nations face, the lack of trust that they have toward mainstream companies. I also know the engineering industry very well, having worked with engineers and geologists since 2011. I admire the professionals that I have had the chance to collaborate with. There are only a few Indigenous engineers, which is unfortunate given the significant understanding and awareness needed to build our Indigenous communities.
I wish to build trust with the various Indigenous communities. I find that our Indigenous leaders are willing to listen and share their issues with me since I am a grassroots member. I was frustrated to keep reading about the infrastructure issues and that nothing would change. SNC-Lavalin is a leader in infrastructure and has a definite role to play.
What does community engagement entail and more specifically, Indigenous relations?
There are seven cultural teachings that elders remind their community members to live by: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth. I need to use a balanced approach when engaging the various communities – I must remain humble when talking to them yet be assertive enough to help them negotiate with the various stakeholders to create social change. Some of the communities are deeply rooted in ceremonies which can help me build trust.
There is a fear in Alberta that stems from the residential schools that have failed and scarred so many Indigenous people. And that mistrust exists across the country. There are more than 600 Indigenous communities in Canada, and 1,200 in North America. There are systemic funding issues. There is also a gap in knowledge of what engineers and geologists can do.
The living conditions of several Indigenous communities in Alberta and across the country are deplorable, especially when it comes to water and roads. When my grandchildren visit my parents on their reserve, they are appalled. Indigenous relations can help build these communities with sustainable and equitable infrastructure, empower community leaders and resolve these ongoing infrastructure issues for good.
Are there things that you are grateful for or looking forward to that you would like to share with us?
I am looking forward to rolling out the SNC-Lavalin Indigenous Action Plan. I am also grateful and proud to see the eagerness that Andrew Karvonen (Senior Vice-President, Western Canada, Infrastructure Engineering), Garrett Taylor (Vice-President Operations, Environment & Geosciences) and Stephen Dyck (Vice President, Ontario Government Relations) have shown. To create social change, you need allies, champions. These leaders see the need, and they want to build relationships between SNC-Lavalin and the Indigenous communities.