Qwelminte Secwepemc are a collective of seven Secwépemc communities: Adams Lake Indian Band, Little Shuswap Lake Band, Shuswap Indian Band, Simpcw, Skeetchestn, Splatsin, and Tk’emlups te Secwepemc. In April of 2019, Qwelminte Secwepemc launched the TeamSku7pecen Intern Program, an initiative that builds capacity for the participating communities by inviting Indigenous university students to become active players for transformation in land and resource management in ways that uphold Secwepemc law, jurisdiction and governance. This unique and multi-faceted intern experience supports the Interns' professional growth and helps support them to become well rounded practitioners of the future who can walk in both worlds.
We had an opportunity to talk with Sunny LeBourdais, Qwelminte Secwepemc’s Director of Transformation, as well as former Intern and now Forestry Strategic Coordinator Kateri Koster, about the initiative. Here’s what they had to say:
Interview with Kateri
When was your internship and what project(s) did you work on?
My internship was during the summer of 2019, from May to August. I was a member of the inaugural cohort, assigned to forestry. Given that we were a new organization, much of our work centred around building understanding, establishing our process and systems of operation. Working on behalf of the Qwelmínte Secwepemc (QS) communities, we helped shape the launch and promotion of the work that we were embarking on. We focused on working as a team, collaborating on process documents, work plans, and projects. After my internship, I had the opportunity to stay on with the QS as the Forestry Strategic Coordinator, with a focus on forestry initiatives, projects, and opportunities.
How did the experience impact you? What did you gain / learn?
The experience was fulfilling both personally and professionally. It is rare to have the opportunity to work within a Secwépemc (Shuswap) organization, led by a strong Secwépemc woman, that is also predominately made up of Indigenous women. I have learned so much from our leader, Sunny LeBourdais, and colleagues in an environment that not only supports our Indigeneity, but truly understands, upholds, and encourages it as a backbone to the work that we do.
Professionally, our work is a modern application of international instruments such as the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recently passed BC legislation, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, or DRIPA. Our work actively stands up Secwépemc law, with real-world impacts and importance to both QS communities and the general public. I am constantly in awe of the gravity and seriousness of our work. I have gained experience and deepened my understanding around Secwépemc law, language, tellings, and teachings. Often, these teachings are not understood or taken up appropriately by standard institutions, or academia. However, we work with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Secwépemc leaders on these teachings and other facets of tellings and law. We implement them, centring them as a foundation to our work. It continues to be a truly humbling and exciting experience and one that I am grateful to be a part of.
I have gained experience and deepened my understanding around Secwépemc law, language, tellings, and teachings.
In what ways did your work support the community?
One of the best parts of the job is working with the seven Secwépemc communities. Our office operates as a technical hub of expertise, emboldened and made stronger by the communities that we work with. We develop and coordinate policy development, support operational work, and strengthen and re-energize Government-to-Government relationships. Our work supports community and collective efforts across a range of topics, including governance, natural resources, and stewardship.
What were some of the most memorable moments?
The most memorable moments were with #TeamSku7pecen, in the trenches of this work in both light and dark moments – this work can be difficult and really test your mettle. It’s great to work with a team who takes things in stride and can find the humour.
What would you tell other students who are considering applying to the program?
To new applicants, I’d say: Buckle up! If you’re looking for an opportunity to work with communities, be an active member of a team, and cut your teeth in the realm of governance, communications, stewardship, and natural resources [forestry & wildlife], then look no further. It’s fast-paced, challenging, and continuously pushes you outside of your comfort zone, while also being supportive and responsive to your interests and needs, with added moments of levity. It’s a wild ride, but one that is truly transformative.
Interview with Sunny
Can you tell us a bit about the Internship Program?
The Qwelminte Secwepemc Intern Program (aka TeamSku7pecen) was designed and built to provide a supportive environment for university level students who would like to wade into in the area of Indigenous Governance (e.g. Aboriginal Rights and Title) with focuses in natural resource management. It is fully founded and grounded in Secwepemc Indigenous Law and in our Ancestral Stseptékwll (oral telling) of the Sku7pecen (Porcupine) telling, which speaks to bringing together two different groups of people to build common understandings. Due to this direction, it is fully informed and implemented in the spirit of Walking on Two Legs - respecting both the Western and Indigenous governance systems and ways of knowing and understanding the world.
When did it start, and what is the main goal?
The interns are an integral part of implementing a government-to-government agreement between a collective of seven southern Secwepemc communities and four BC Provincial ministries. The internship program is housed in the Qwelminte Secwepemc (QS) and delivered through our office which operates as a teaching institute to support capacity building and while developing the next generation of practitioners in the area of Indigenous – Crown relations and reconciliation.
The TeamSku7pecen Intern Program was started in April 2019, with the first cohort beginning as their coursework wrapped up where the interns were launched into our 90-Day Challenge, which aimed to fulfill a number of immediate commitments under our government-to-government Agreement. The cohort in 2020 focussed on designing, developing and completing a number of summer projects which further support the QS-BC work and relationship from projects such as a Cumulative Effects Model and the QS website.
Interns are an integral part of implementing a government-to-government agreement between a collective of seven southern Secwepemc communities and four BC Provincial ministries.
What will be the focus for this year? What projects and issues will be addressed?
In 2021, we are looking to build our internship program to include eight students who will work together with our collective of seven southern Secwepemc communities on four different summer projects. These projects could include work in education and outreach such as development of cultural questionnaires and tools for Limited Entry Hunting regulations, to further work on Cumulative Effects model development and enhancements, or other field work and projects supporting habitat conservation and stewardship. The 2021 cohort will also be working more directly with the seven communities' Territorial Stewardship Offices and teams supporting ‘boots on the ground’ projects and activities.
What skills / experiences are you looking for?
There are two major teams in our QS Office: the Tmicw Team and the Communications, Community Engagement, Education and Outreach (CCEEO) Team. The Tmicw Team focuses on those actions relating to natural resource management supporting forums and working groups and transforming how resources are managed in the territory. The CCEEO Team focuses on education, outreach and building awareness in both our QS collective and the broader public. The skills that are required are therefore very broad and we are looking for individuals who would like to expand their skill set and experiences to include policy and legislative reviews and assessment, project coordination, and communications related skills. The two teams also work together quite closely so students should be prepared to really tackle their work very holistically and the experience will provide an opportunity to think critically about the logistics and realities of task management when working together in teams.
How should people apply? Where can they find additional information?
Please see our website and social media for more information about applying. Any inquiries should be made to Tamara Archie (Program Coordinator) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website offers all sorts of details about the internship. Our Facebook and Instagram accounts really highlight the feel of what it is like to work with us - plenty of photos and short videos to check out. Our intern program was also recently covered in local media in October 2020 with respect to our intern celebration.