Lesson: Sometimes, just showing up counts.

26, a brilliant age to make life-altering decisions:

  • Graduate from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Watch all your classmates return to Toronto to family-owned businesses, Bay Street and more.
  • Decide to head north to Canada’s Yukon. It will be an adventure, it will be fun, it will pay off my student loan.

Queen’s University Grad Picture….don’t laugh too hard at the hair….it was the 80’s!

“You will be back”, they all said, “you hate winter”. The bets were made, 6 months and my family called. “Come home”, they said, “you won the bet”.

I stayed.

It seemed like such a brilliant plan, return with zero debt, money in the bank. A hard year in the dark and frozen north, a few interesting experiences and I will be further ahead back home.

None of this seemed to come to mind as I lay in a freezing cold trailer unable to feel the lower part of my right leg. In Ross River, a small indigenous community of 400 it was already dark mid-afternoon, deep into a cold winter and I was alone. I tried to get up, no luck. I couldn’t reach the phone on the desk, and in the days before cell phones that was my only option. All I knew was I fell and hit my leg on a very sharp piece of metal trim on the floor and I could see the blood.

Map – Yukon, Canada with Ross River circled

After a while a woman walked in the door, Dorothy John. Dorothy was one of the women in Ross River who had befriended me and helped me in many ways, I can’t recall why she was even there this time.

“Please help me?” I pleaded. She helped me up and the two of us walked to the door.

“You need to go to the nursing station” (no such thing as a doctor’s office in these places) “the blood is running down your leg,” said Dorothy, a lovely person, soft spoken and a member of the Ross River Dena Council First Nation.

I assured her I would be fine, I was invited to my first Chief and Council meeting and could not miss it. She understood. When you start to work in an indigenous community you are an outsider, and there is no reason to embrace a newbie who is probably not going to stick around anyway, no matter their immediate intention.  I was told to expect a year before the Chief would speak to me and the best thing I could do would be to just keep showing up, meet people, talk, drink tea and listen respectfully. 

I would not miss the meeting.

“Why do you keep pacing?” the Chief asked after I made my way slowly, very slowly to the meeting.  I told him I fell and hurt my leg.

He could see the dried blood on the lower part of my right leg and asked to see my leg. As the Council looked on we all saw the long gash of dried blood across my shin.

“You really should have gone to see the nurse,” said Chief Hammond Dick.

Note to self…..first meeting a huge success, the Chief spoke to me.

Pie Throwing Contest at Queens University – before departing for the Yukon.


About the Author

Janet Sheriff

An innovative entrepreneur, Janet brings her extensive experience in all aspects of strategic planning, management, indigenous affairs and communications to start ups, new ventures and the mining & exploration sectors. Janet focuses her entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and vision to create new opportunities, award-winning innovative programs and new ways of conducting business. Her strong commitment to community engagement, sustainability and inclusion provides her the proven ability to work effectively and respectfully in cross-cultural environments.