Janice Ciavaglia

Janice Ciavaglia

Janice is the CEO of the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa, Canada, the advocacy body for the more than 640 Indigenous communities across Canada. Described by peers and employees alike as an innovative and visionary guide and lead-by-example CEO, Janice liaises, collaborates, and negotiates with governments, including Deputy Ministers, The Crown, the public sector, the private sector, and the general public.


Transcript

Maureen Farmer

It's my pleasure to welcome CEO Janice Ciavaglia to the Get Hired Up! podcast. Janice is the CEO of the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa, Canada, the advocacy body for the more than 640 Indigenous communities across Canada. Described by peers and employees alike as an innovative and visionary guide and lead-by-example CEO, Janice liaises, collaborates, and negotiates with governments, including Deputy Ministers, The Crown, the public sector, the private sector, and the general public. Janice also directs the daily activities of the AFN to achieve the goals, objectives, and the mandate of the AFN that drive its advocacy efforts while supporting First Nations issues. She's also been recently nominated for the prestigious Canada's Top 40 Under 40 Award—a dynamic awards program that identifies outstanding young achievers in Canadian business, visionaries, and innovators changing the way things are done. They are inspiring others and already giving back to their communities and to Canada.


So Janice, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Get Hired Up! podcast today.

Janice Ciavaglia

Thanks, Maureen!

Maureen Farmer

So Janice, as the CEO of the Assembly of First Nations, tell me a little bit about what you do there.

Janice Ciavaglia

So, the AFN is a national advocacy organization and we represent First Nation citizens in Canada. There's about a million First Nations people living in Canada in about 639 First Nation communities from across the country. So the AFN, we work with chiefs, the leaders, the rights holders from these communities. And they pass resolutions from the Chiefs in the assembly that's held twice a year in July and December. And these resolutions that they pass, give the AFN the direction that they need to advocate on behalf of First Nation citizens.

Maureen Farmer

That's fantastic. So, I'm thinking regional Chief. How many of those do we have across the country?

Janice Ciavaglia

So actually, we just acquired a new region. So, we were going to be having 11 regional Chiefs and one national Chief.

Maureen Farmer

Excellent, representing about 1 million people across the country. Correct?

Janice Ciavaglia

Yeah!

Maureen Farmer

And the assembly of First Nations is a fairly large organization, as a national organization, you have how many employees across your organization?

Janice Ciavaglia

It's about 170 right now. And we have office in Akwesasne and we also have an office in downtown Ottawa. But we also have our regional offices. So, each one of our regional chiefs has an office within the region.

Maureen Farmer

And so the Assembly of First Nations, what are some of the challenges that you have been able to overcome just, you know, maybe one or two things that come up for you?

Janice Ciavaglia

Sure. I mean, I think for First Nations people living in Canada, we're still really, you know, bound by very systemic racism—racist policies. So you know, the Indian Act, legislation...So, what's happened over the past seven years, is that the new government in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, and by direction from the Chiefs in assembly, we've been able to break down some of those systemic racist policies. And we've seen new legislation come into parliament, I think of C-91, which is a language legislation for First Nations languages. I think of C-92, the child welfare reform, as well as we just saw, you know, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People get solidified into law. So I think, you know, we are starting to see a movement where First Nations rights are being recognized, and the nation to nation relationship is being honored.

Maureen Farmer

Wonderful, and it's about time for sure. I guess, is this a good time to talk about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation? 

Janice Ciavaglia

 Sure. Yeah!

Maureen Farmer

I'm so excited about this orange shirt day and we here at Westgate have our day all planned out. And our vision is t be writing some letters to members of parliament. But I'd like to know a little bit about maybe...can you talk a little bit about orange shirt day and its history and what organizations can do across the country to recognize and honor the day?

Janice Ciavaglia

Sure! I mean, orange shirt day has been around for a long time. And it's really been celebrated mostly in schools. A woman named Phyllis, a First Nations woman in BC, started the day. And it really went to talk about her her situation and her experience at residential school. And, you know, she was a young child, she was going to residential school, her grandmother took her out and bought her an orange shirt, which she was very excited about.

Maureen Farmer

Of course, a new shirt!

Janice Ciavaglia

And then when she got to residential school, you know, they stripped the children of any identity that they had, you know, they cut their hair and they took away her orange shirt, which she was obviously very upset about. And so the orange shirt represents, you know, a lot more than just a shirt of her identity. The genocide that First Nations felt and are still impacted by through residential schools. And then now we, you know, we recognize the intergenerational trauma that residential schools have had on communities and people across the country.

Maureen Farmer

And that was back in 1973. That was a long time ago, and this is just really coming out now. People in the mainstream are just now learning about this tragedy.

Janice Ciavaglia

Yeah, I mean, we've seen you know, we've seen the discoveries of over 1000 First Nations children and unmarked graves this year alone in Kamloops, Saskatchewan, and some communities in Manitoba, and Ontario, and it just kind of hits home for Canadians.

Maureen Farmer

It hits home for parents, I cannot imagine. This is a very, very tender and difficult topic. I watched the TV over the past few months when my mother was ill and I watched a lot of TV and I learned a lot. And it was very, very traumatic and shocking, I guess is the word that comes to mind.

Janice Ciavaglia

Yeah, and I think you know, it's a great time for this day to become a federal holiday. You know, you're seeing in Nova Scotia where you are that the province has made it the holiday. But I'm in Ontario and the province has not made it a holiday. So you know, there's still work to be done. And so it's great that we've overcome the first hurdle of enacting the federal holiday. But now we have to get the provincial governments to recognize it as well. 

Maureen Farmer

That'll be a letter to my MLA! So, the former senator and chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Murray Sinclair says, "it's not just about marching and dressing up and getting some time off school, or work", he said, "If you fully understand what that ceremony is about, you won't prevent yourself from crying". So, talk a little bit about him and his role in this process.

Janice Ciavaglia

Yeah, so Murray Sinclair has been a senator. He's an amazing man, he was part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And so the TRC calls to action—that is part of this day. And so the truth reconciliation day is about, you know, looking at the TRC calls to action, reading the report, and looking at, you know, of the 94 calls to action, what ones can I start to implement in my daily life? So I think of businesses, Maureen, so you know, call to action 92 is all about the corporate sector. So, number 92, says we call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the UN Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous People as a Reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous people and their lands and resources. So, it's about meaningful consultation. It's about training staff about, you know, Indigenous history and legacy of the residential schools. And I think, you know, this year as we approach orange shirt day on September 30th, you know, each corporate sector and each corporate business can step up and do that education piece.

Maureen Farmer

Absolutely. So, I guess in terms of orange shirt day, I know that there are lots of...I was just noticing online, lots of places to buy orange shirts. So, that's what we're going to do as well. I'm going to kick off our first commemoration of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. So, we can train people at the board level inside corporations, we can purchase the shirts. What else can we do Janice to honor that day?

Janice Ciavaglia

Um, you know, it's funny because I live in a small town here in Ottawa, and I've had a lot of neighbors ask me the same question. And I think, you know, my answer has been, you know, the fact that we're having this conversation is the first step. And so you can't have reconciliation without the truth part. I think educating yourself, reading books, you know, there's a great book called 21 things you may not know about the Indian Act, which is, you know, policies that First Nations people are still living under, you know, there's an Assembly of First Nations toolkit, which has lessons and lesson planning for teachers that's free online. And then I think it's about you know, recognizing and talking to your neighbors about it, and demystifying a lot of the assumptions that Canadian people have of First Nations People. 

Maureen Farmer

My daughter works in the water resources industry, and she has a copy of the Indian Act on her coffee table. And I have not read it yet. She's read it. And so she is very much involved in advocacy for water rights. And so it's already in our home. But we're all learning and we're all starting from the very beginning...many of us and anything that we can do to learn more, and to learn more about the truth is going to bring much needed attention to this really, really important part of our world, in our society. So, I'm looking forward to it on Thursday. We're recording this on Monday, and it's coming up on Thursday. So, I'm so excited about that.

 And so Janice, I know you're very involved in your community, you're very involved as a passionate leader and CEO at the Assembly of First Nations. I would love for you to tell the listener here what else is coming up in the next few weeks for you?

Janice Ciavaglia

Well, Maureen, as you know, I was a young, new CEO in 2020. Right on the cusp of our global pandemic, I was nominated for Top 40 Under 40 for Canada. So, that's super exciting. I'm actually just very honored to have my name on a list with other amazing people across Canada. So, you know, I'll wait for the results, I'm hopeful. But again, I also recognize that, you know, a lot of amazing people were nominated this year for Top 40 Under 40.

Maureen Farmer

Well, no matter which way it goes, you're still a winner. So, that's great.

Janice Ciavaglia

Thank you, Maureen! 

Maureen Farmer

It is a true honor. And I know there have been a lot of people who have been nominated across the country. I'm excited for you. And I'm looking forward to learning the outcome for that. And I would love for you to tell us a little bit about what's next for you, what big projects do you have on the horizon Janice?

Janice Ciavaglia

So, you know, when I came into the AFN, I came in as an employee, and so I was a Director of Education, I worked at the Assembly as a senior policy analyst and so something that I wanted to kind of pick up right away, was reorganizing our Secretariat side. So reorganizing the policy side of the AFN and so, you know, we implemented that in April, it took over a year of planning, but now we're in this new organization and it's exciting and we just did a survey to find out you know, from our staff, how is it going, what's working, what's not working, what do we need to improve on and so I'm excited about the next steps because, you know, hearing from my staff about what the good, the bad and the ugly is...it allows us to kind of you know, work on some aspects of the reorg that may not be working so I'm excited to kind of dig my heels into that and get going for that. But also you know, we're coming up to our next special Chief Assembly in December and so it's been really hard because we haven't been able to gather in person...

Maureen Farmer

...will you this time?

Janice Ciavaglia

No, we were so hopeful we were going to be able to do a hybrid approach and have you know, some Chiefs meet in Ottawa, but with the numbers being so high in Alberta, it's just not worth the risk. So, we're gonna do another online, but it's a time for us to kind of reflect on how far we've come from the Assembly, you know where we're going to go. And with the federal election having just ended, you know, we know our partners on the federal side. And I think it'll be a good working relationship to continue pushing policy and legislative change.

Maureen Farmer

And I know that you are very good at building relationships, and you've done a lot of work in that area. And change management...it's a key CEO competency, and it looks as though you've done a really great job, you've got your reorganization, the billions of dollars of funding transferred into the First Nations. Lots of really great things going on and it's been such an honor to have you here today. Janice, I have a final question for you. What has surprised you most in your career so far?

Janice Ciavaglia

Wow, that's a great question. Um, I think having worked with you for over a year, and, you know, you helping me through a lot of this new change that I've been seeing and been able to be part of in my new role as CEO, I kind of think back about my trajectory of my career, and, you know, I'm a teacher, I went to teachers college, I taught. And so I think back, like, when I was younger, and I never thought I would be a CEO ever in my life. And, you know, I think now about how there's so many opportunities for people. And it's kind of just about trusting your path, and kind of taking risks and taking that leap of faith and I think that's what I've been able to do is kind of, you know, have a risk taking attitude and put myself out there. And I've gotten to someplace, you know, I'm at the top of my organization, and I'm so excited and honored to be here. But I think about when I was 23, and just started teaching...it wasn't that long ago. So, I would just say to all the listeners, let let your path guide you, because it's going to bring you to really high, high places in life.

Maureen Farmer

By the way to the listener—that was not scripted. So, thank you very much for that accolade Janice. And I say success favors the bold, and you've done a tremendous job. And I see a comparison, a parallel competency between CEOs and teachers, because they're there to serve their employees. They're there to serve their students or their employees, and they're there to serve as a guide and mentor and help guide the organization. So, I think that there's a very logical connection between those two roles. And I can't wait to see what's next for you. Maybe you'll come back again in another little while, and we can have another conversation about what's new and great in your career and in the world of First Nations issues.

Janice Ciavaglia

Sounds great, Maureen, thanks so much for having me.

Maureen Farmer

It's my pleasure. Take care!

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