Growing up in the Alberni Valley, Jolleen Dick always wanted to be a leader.
“I took the leadership course three times in high school,” Dick said with a laugh. “It was fun, it was volunteering, it was being part of the community.”
Taking that course paid off sooner than Dick could have expected at the time.
At only 24 years old and fresh out of the tourism program at Vancouver Island University, Dick is set to bring change to the Valley.
On April 4, Dick was elected to the Hupacasath First Nation council. The Valley-born and raised Dick will not only be the communications coordinator and founder of the Sunset Market at the Victoria Quay but also one of the youngest ever Hupacasath First Nation councillors.
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But while she might be young, she’s spent her whole life soaking in what a leader should be.
“My late grandfather was always a leader. He was a hereditary chief,” Dick said. “Growing up, I didn’t really know what that meant, the difference between traditional leadership and elected leadership.”
To Dick, the difference is in how the leaders are prepared.
“Hereditary is a bloodline so you’re groomed from an early age. You’re taught who you are, you’re taught your relations, you’re taught to be humble.”
While she’ll be an elected leader, those lessons have stuck.
“To me the No. 1 thing is that a leader is humble. A leader inspires and a leader brings ideas to action.”
Her grandfather was Hugh Watts, who died in early April.
Watts believed in always having faith and that’s something Dick has made a mantra of.
“Whatever you’re doing, always have faith in it.”
Growing up with a hereditary chief, or a ha’wilth in Nuu-chah-nulth, taught Dick more than she ever realized as a child.
“I guess I didn’t realize the extent of my grandfather’s history in Nuu-chah-nulth territory.”
To her, he was just her grandfather.
But as Dick grew up, graduated high school and moved onto university, she realized the impact he’d had.
“He played a major role.”
Watts worked as an Indian government advisor during his tenure with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC).
“He went to each individual community and consulted with everyday people, so he became well known all along the coast. Then he worked at the hospital… I just didn’t realize the extent of influence he had.”
Seeing her grandfather connect with people in their communities helped her redefine her definition of networking.
“I used to think of it as just business networking but network is just building relationships.”
As a small nation of about 300 people, Dick sees the Hupacasath’s relationship outside of the community as essential for further growth.
“Doing our own thing, off to the side, I guess it has worked… we lived sustainably for thousands of years… but I think the time and the climate and the atmosphere’s right for us to come out of our shell a little bit more.
“I think the No. 1 thing is relationships because that’s how you get things done. You can’t do things by yourself. You need support from other first nations, from other governments because we’re all in this together.”
While Dick sees the withdrawal of the Hupacasath from outside life as a possible symptom of having lived through the residential schools, she thinks that enough time has passed that it’s time to reach out.
“I think my generation, and maybe the generation above me, we weren’t as harshly affected by the residential schools. We’re growing up in better environments which allows for better thought processes and a little less pain from residue from harmful effects from those schools and those harsh times.”
Forging new relationships is just part of Dick’s effort to challenge the status quo.
“Why do we do things this way right now? How can we change it? How can we make this more effective?”
She believes in taking the best practices from outside the community and blending them with more traditional knowledge.
‘There’s the elders’ knowledge and then there’s modern day knowledge,” she said.
There’s a willingness to learn from each other on both sides.
“Non-aboriginal people are more open to Aboriginal people. They want to learn their history. The relationship has been so black and white and now it’s starting to blend.”
Dick already sits on the Alberni Valley Heritage Commission, is the Hupacasath Chamber of Commerce representative and attends Art Rave meetings but she sees more holes that need to be filled.
“There’s so many vacant seats where Hupacasath can have a voice and we need to at least be there for the conversation.”
Participating in the conversation opens up opportunities for the Hupacasath to work with the city and others in the region.
“There’s room for a partnership. If they’re trying to do something to better the city and that service is essential to Hupacasath as well, we should partner up and lobby governments or private companies together.”
Economic development will be crucial for the Hupacasath going forward. Projects like the T’Sou-Ke First Nations solar energy initiative and the Huu-ay-aht’s LNG facility proposal inspire Dick.
“I want to see more economic development but I want it to be sustainable and I want them to be well thought out.”
That last bit is key.
“I’ve been told that Upnit… it works and it doesn’t.”
The Upnit Power Corporation is a 6.5 megawatt hydroelectric project on China Creek started by the Hupacasath. Mainly owned by them, the partnership includes a 12.5 per cent share to Synex Energy Resources Ltd., a 10 per cent share to the Ucluelet First Nation and a five per cent share to the City of Port Alberni.
While the project is an example of how to start a successful partnership, Dick believes that it could have progressed better.
Victoria Quay, currently used only for the Dick-founded Sunset Market—a partnership between the Hupacasath and the chamber of commerce—is another space she’d like to see utilized more efficiently.
“Yes, you can always go big but the little things still count.”
She’s aware, however, that developing on her nation’s traditional land may be more complicated than for other nations.
“Hupacasath traditional territory has been taken over by the city of Port Alberni pretty much and we share with neighbouring nations. So I don’t know what we can do and if overlapping territories are going to be a preventative measure for us.”
But before she makes any major decisions, Dick wants to engage with her community and see what it is that they want. To some degree, that’s part of her role as communications coordinator. But it’s also a way for her to learn what her people want.
“Community engagement is essential to community development. You’ve got to know what the people want to do and what they’re willing to do to improve their quality of life.”
One thing Dick is sure about is that the Hupacasath need to focus on Aboriginal tourism development.
Through her previous work at the visitors’ centre, she’s seen the interest in it from tourists and being involved in the city has shown her that it’s something locals are keen to see too.
“I just want to see change, I just want to see community engagement and I think I can accomplish that as a councillor.”