Roberta Tom talks about her leadership journey

Roberta is a Tla-o-qui-aht community leader, mother of 5, grandmother of 4, great grandmother of 2, and member of the Leadership Vancouver Island (LVI) – West Coast Chapter class of 2016. She works multiple jobs and also operates a water-taxi business while maintaining strong commitments to family and community. This spring, she shared some thoughts about her experience in the program. Read what she has to say below! 

Local Education: conveniently rooted in territory

Between work and family commitments, life can get busy. Having LVI offered here at home made it easy to say, “yes” to the next step in my leadership journey. But beyond convenience, it was meaningful to do this personal and community development work in our territory, learning from the place we call home and feeling comfortable here. So often we’re working so hard it doesn’t allow for time to slow down and connect to the place. LVI helped me reflect on teachings from my mother and family I received when growing up Tla-o-qui-aht; it helped remind me of what I already know, gave me tools to stand up and let my voice be heard. It helped me be proud of who I am.

Remembering teachings passed down to me

Those who know me know I can be a little shy. LVI helped me boost my confidence. It helped us students realize that we’re all leaders in our own capacity. I remember at one point during LVI there was a presenter in the house in Ahousaht talking about how to be the best version of yourself. I asked them, “did you talk to my mother before coming here?” It was like I was re-learning traditional teachings my mother taught me… my mom knew what she was talking about. It was amazing to realize I already held this knowledge, I just had to tap into it.

In Tla-o-qui-aht teachings, being a leader doesn’t mean just telling someone to go do something. Leadership includes meaning: there’s a connecting story behind a task. For example, it isn’t “just do the breakfast dishes,” but “do the dishes because we have a great day ahead of us, and the dishes are connected to food, and the food connects us to our environment and fuels us for the day.” When we were growing up, we were taught about protocol.  We had to listen with our hearts and minds before speaking. Everything is connected through the water through the air… the end result is that we’re all going to do this together.

Together with an open mind

At one point we were doing an exercise on conflict resolution that made me think about this togetherness, and how it is connected to open-mindedness. The exercise challenged us to acknowledge our differences as individuals with different life paths, then to come together to plan and overcome our inabilities to come to a conclusion. It made us realize that while we can’t fix everything right away, we do have the ability to just sit with each other in the discomfort but not run away. To take the time to simply hold an open mind. Having an open mind is hard when you’re outside your comfort zone, and it’s hard to feel togetherness when you’re uncomfortable. When I joined the group, I was very outside my comfort zone. Being in LVI helped me be outside my comfort zone in a good way. I learned that it’s okay to have a voice and not be shy. We all have difficulties in one way or another. It made me comfortable in saying “I don’t know” – we’re all in it together, and together we can know!

Post graduation

Since I have graduated, I feel a lot more confident in standing up for myself and having my voice heard in a positive way. Being able to say that I took the program has helped me succeed professionally, enabling me to hold management roles where I am employed. It helped me as an entrepreneur managing a water taxi business, and also gave me the confidence to get into the Aboriginal Management Program at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Lately I have even been interested in learning boat mechanics! 

I have taken a number of courses through my life, but LVI was a “bridge” in so many special ways. It was a bridge to many different people and communities on the west coast. It was a bridge to Sauder and to get the financial support that let me do it. It’s been a bridge to networks beyond the west coast. I have connected to LVI alumni on the east coast of the island too. We can link up with the network, get contacts, friendships, professional relationships and all that great stuff. 

Every chance I get, I say “do LVI, it’s great and leads to to success for you.” I want to help get people going on their own journey just like I did.