Trust Me.

Lesson: Find good advisors and consider their advice in your final decision… but own the decision.

I am sure my husband thought I was crazy, and I think he even said so. But after years of working together he learned to trust me when I would suggest what seemed to be the craziest ideas.

We were working on a remote northern project sometime around 2009; having just staked the project, I suggested we meet the Chief to let him know we were in his backyard and ask him for the ground rules. All made sense to Bill, and we jumped in the truck to head to the Chief’s home community.

“So what time do we meet the Chief?”, asked Bill.

“I don’t know.”, was my reply.

Bill Sheriff and former RRDC Chief Jack Caesar

“So we don’t have an appointment?”, he asked.

“Nope.”, was my reply.

Bill definitely looked puzzled when I explained that we were driving to the community, about a 5 hour drive, and we would just see who was there. We would say hi and if the Chief was there, we would see him and if he wasn’t, someone would let him know we showed up.  It made perfect sense to me and since we were already on the road we just kept going.

Fortunately (luck or smarts?) it all worked out well, the Chief was there, and they did meet. I knew the Chief from other projects and he was blunt and frank about where he wanted mining and where he did not. Clarity was not an issue. We drove home.

When Bill and I started working in the Kaska Nation we headed off to Ross River, Yukon, operating by the same methods. Ross River was a longer drive, about 7 hours, so we broke it up and along the way I gave Bill some rules to follow. The main rule was Bill was not allowed to fill the gap. You don’t know Bill and you likely don’t know what I mean by filling the gap, so let me try to explain. Bill is American, Texan to be truthful, he loves to talk. Silence is a space to be filled. Working in Ross River (which I had done for 30 years before meeting Bill) you learn to allow time for conversation. Filling the silence (talking) doesn’t facilitate good conversation (listening and letting others speak). I was asking Bill to allow appropriate time for people to speak.

Janet Sheriff, Chief Caesar and friends

When we did get to Ross River we met with Chief and Council and, as painful as it was, Bill did not dominate the conversation, but waited with moments of silence for people to speak. The look on his face spoke to the pain it caused him, but he didn’t fill the gap.

A few times Bill looked at me, with a look that clearly was asking if he could speak, I would subtly shake my head no. I am pretty sure my lifelong friends (who I also consider family) saw this exchange and proceeded to have a little fun with their new Texan colleague. The silence gaps grew longer and longer and I could tell (as could they) that Bill was trying very hard to work within the cultural norms. Just when it looked (to Bill) like this was going on forever, the joke was over, laughter filled the room as Bill was welcomed in. And the conversation flowed like old friends.


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.