Hello, my name is Janis Brooks and I am Sto:lo from Sts’ailes (Chehalis Indian Band) located in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
Growing up both in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, I have always been fortunate to be close to my community, culture, and family. From a young age, I have been involved in Aboriginal activities, programs and community initiatives and have always had a passion for education and business. While some of my friends were more focused on the freedom that finishing high school would bring, I was always looking forward to the opportunity to get my degree, get involved in community programs, and start my career in business.
I sometimes struggled with the fact that my drive and motivation made me different than some of my peers but as I moved through university and accomplished my goals, I realized it was okay to be different. Likely, in part, because others began to recognize me for the things that set me apart from others and I was honoured with numerous provincial, national, and international awards and scholarships for my academic achievements and community involvement.
During my degree program, I knew I wanted to broaden my experiences and learn more about Aboriginal people in different parts of the world. I wanted to see how they were able to succeed in their communities and in the business world. Instead of picking up a book or trying a new course, I went on an adventure and moved to Australia where I was able to complete an exchange at Deakin University in Geelong. Before I left for Australia, I reached out to the internship coordinator and explained my interest in working with Aboriginal organizations. Not only did the university help place me in one position, I ended up getting internship placements with both the Wauthrong Aboriginal Cooperative and the Koori Institute for Education.
The experience of moving away from my family and community was hard but the struggle resulted in the best learning experience. This situation taught me that it’s okay to tell your story to people and to ask for help to advance my goals and myself. It was surprising and exciting for me to learn that people wanted to listen and work with me to make opportunities accessible.
After graduating from Vancouver Island University with my Diploma and Bachelor Degree in Business Administration (with a specialization in management), I moved from part-time work to full-time work with Indigenuity Consulting Group, a company my mother started 12 years ago. Having a mother who is a trendsetter for Aboriginal relations in the business world has been a blessing and I know that I’m very fortunate to have a built-in mentor who is just a phone call away. I knew at an early age that I wanted to follow in her footsteps and work to build relationships between First Nations and the broader corporate and government sectors; however, following in her footsteps and entering in the business world has come with challenges.
Simply put, being a young Aboriginal woman in the corporate sector is not easy. Our clients are often multi-million (or billion) dollar companies in the resource and energy sectors and I am always working to prove that I am just as capable in the workplace as any other person, male or female, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. There is often an assumption that I may not be well versed in the contexts of our projects or on technical information for example, which is so far from the truth. The best piece of advice I can offer individuals facing situations like this is to prove people wrong with your competence.
Be confident in yourself, your capabilities and your knowledge and let your ability to excel at your job prove them wrong. This has worked for me and I look at every new project and every new client as an opportunity for me to smash the expectations and stereotypes people may have of young Aboriginal women in the workplace.
After graduating, I wanted to expand my community involvement and was lucky enough to come across the Aborignal Human Resource Council’s Inclusion Works event in 2009. I want to give back to my community and help encourage and inspire other Aboriginal professionals to take risks and chase their dreams.
Wherever your journey may take you, believe in yourself and in your ability to succeed. Think creatively and find a career that you are passionate about. Put your natural talents to use and don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek new opportunities; the people you meet and the experiences you have will help you grow and find your personal path to success.