Regional Chief relates: Cam Alexis a lesson in lifelong learning for local students

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“Good day, all my relations! It is good to see that the good spirit has brought us together! I pray for all of you to succeed in life as we know it. We pray for the future of our people now and tomorrow!”

With these words, spoken in the Stoney language, Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Cam Alexis instantly captured the attention of a room full of high school students from Morley, Alberta.

Alexis delivered this powerful introduction to kick off an inspiring keynote speech at a celebration hosted at the Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute to recognize participants of Project NOWE (Nakoda Outdoor Wilderness Experience), a local leadership program focused on empowering Indigenous students to stay in school and become leaders in their community.

The Morley students, brought together at The Banff Centre by the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation and Outward Bound Canada, benefitted from hearing Indigenous leadership and management director Brian Calliou, Indigenous Program Council member Patrick Kelly, and Chief Alexis outline their career paths and future ambitions.

“Don’t think it ends after grade 12, or even university,” Alexis said. “You need to keep moving forward. Learning never stops, it’s lifelong. Don’t just think six months ahead or next year. Twenty years down the line things change and you need to continue keeping up. You need to dream big.”

On this sunny winter day in the Elder Tom Crane Bear Room on Sleeping Buffalo Mountain, Alexis was a shining example of continued lifelong learning for the fastest growing population in Canada: Indigenous youth. He was on campus to take the final of six courses to earn his Certificate of Indigenous Leadership, Governance, and Management Excellence.

“When you start to see all the different career paths, you can feel the wheels start to move. You realize there is a need for quality and continued education,” he said, continuing to engage the local students. “There will be tough times along the way, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, which is why it’s good to learn how to think outside the box.”

In an interview in Vistas Dining Room, Alexis spoke about a key moment in his own career. At the outset of his Banff Centre experience, he was Chief of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. He remembers faculty member Leroy Little Bear talking about Nation building and Indigenous governance. He knew he wanted to help rebuild his community, and recognized that Indigenous Leadership and Management programming would be crucial along the way, not just for him, but for others in the Nation.

“There were lax policies at the time, no idea on where we wanted to be in the next 10 years,” he said. “We created our mission, vision, and values then developed and recognized an environmental scan and strategic plan.” Alexis decided then to complete a full certificate. “Banff gives you a subtle paradigm shift in the way in which you view the world.”

A Nation of 1,600 on traditional lands just west of Edmonton, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation built a casino, truck stop, small farm, and an oil field construction business. They sent council members, managers, and staff from the community to The Banff Centre throughout the process. “We were able to sit down and say ‘we can actually do this’ and being at Banff allowed us to look beyond just having a store and craft shop.”

One of the key drivers for the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation was being able to draw on the varied perspectives in Banff Centre programming–not only the faculty and educational content–but the range of participants. “It allows a great opportunity for networking,” Alexis says. “You get a sense of what’s going on across the country and where the concerns are in every region. What’s taught here works across the board for many different situations.”

Raised by his grandparents in a cultural and spiritual environment, Alexis spoke about the value of having Elder Tom Crane Bear onsite for stories, prayers, and counseling as part of the learning process. “It allows for a cultural component that you don’t always get in other programs.” He also had high praise for other programming elements. “You have to get out of your comfort zone, whether it’s buckling up with high ropes and building trust, or speaking publicly.”

Prior to his political career, Alexis spent 23 years as a member of the RCMP working in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and BC. Indigenous Leadership and Management programming allowed him to build on his existing skills and apply them to business, political, and governance aspects. “Sometimes you need to make choices that people don’t want to hear and you need to best communicate why a decision is being made. There are steps of due diligence to truly make the best decision, to comprehend any initiative. You need to learn to communicate to do this.”

Alexis admitted that the transition from policing to politics was a difficult choice. Stationed near Stoney Plain in Alberta, a mere 30 minutes away from where he grew up, he was approached out of the blue by a group of Elders who asked him to return home and run for Chief.

“I made the decision because of cultural and spiritual responsibilities. It was a commitment to community.”

He served as Chief of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation for two terms over six and a half years before serving a year as Grand Chief of Treaty 6, eventually making his way to his current role as AFN Alberta Regional Chief. His current portfolio is Policing and Justice, where his biggest file is an ongoing investigation into missing Aboriginal women, a highly publicized national issue that has gained support from the UN and Amnesty International. Alexis is currently looking at ways of raising awareness about the issue among Canadians and the federal government.

Since his career change, Alexis has been part of a First Nations delegation to speak to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva. He has also received the Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, and has served on boards locally, nationally, and internationally.

In words true to his own leadership experience, Alexis challenged the Morley students with this closing statement. “Go out and see the world. Whatever tools you learn, you are going to be able to bring back to your community. You are the leaders of your community. Anyone can dream, but you need tools, knowledge, and wisdom to get there. Build your tool chest.”