A Conversation with Gail Joe and Paul Lacerte: the resurgence of Indigenous identity, resilience, transformative power of technology, and their roles at Indigenous Tech firm; OneFeather
Drawing from their experience serving Indigenous Peoples and lived wisdom, Gail Joe and Paul Lacerte discussed topics important to Indigenous Peoples today; the re-enfranchisement of Indigenous Identity, resilience, the transformative power of technology, and what they hope to bring to OneFeather, as the first members of the Board of Directors. Their visions in service to Indigenous Peoples are nothing short of beautiful.
Meet Gail and Paul
Gail Joe lives in the Nicola Valley on the Lower Nicola Indian Band; she is is a fourth-generation rancher and mother of three. Her 30+ years of Indigenous economic development experience has made deep and significant change for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Gail worked with all Nations Trust Company for over 21 years providing development business loans to Indigenous businesses. For the last 11 years, she has owned and operated her own practice Focus iN Consulting. In her practice, she works with the Community Futures Development Corporation of Central Interior First Nations in Kamloops, providing business recovery and financial literacy support to entrepreneurs. For the past decade, Gail has worked with the First Nations Market Housing Fund, a federal housing initiative to support and enhance individual homeownership throughout On Reserve lands across Canada. In the past year, and as a result of the pandemic, Gail has been project manager of various non-repayable grants delivered by the Indigenous Tourism BC organization, supporting Indigenous Tourism businesses throughout BC.
Paul Lacerte, traditional name Gilam Giloh, is a born and raised member of the Caribou clan in the Carrier Nation in northern British Columbia. Paul is an inter-generational residential school survivor and went to a church-run day school until grade 7. These experiences drove his decision to only work for Indigenous Peoples and organizations with a focus on healing, community development, and innovation – and he’s making big waves. Paul served as CEO of BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centers for 20 years. His transition to the innovation space began when he and his daughter founded Moose Hide Campaign (a national charity) to end violence against Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and children. Paul served as the founding co-chair of the Board of Directors of Reconciliation Canada for 5 years and on the Board of Directors for the Vancouver Foundation for 6 years. The first 2 national Indigenous innovation summits in Canada surfaced the need for social finance and access to culturally safe capital, specifically equity (non-collateralized financing). This inspired the three founding partners of Raven Capital Partners to come together, where Paul leads as one of the Managing Directors.
Lets Dive Into The Conversation
A Resurgence of Indigenous Sovereign Identity and the Residential School System
On the importance of sovereign identity, Gail stated “it is imperative - it’s a part of the concept of self-sufficiency and self-identity. No one is going to empower us. We have to empower ourselves.”
Joining in, Paul added, “so much around Indigenous identity reclamation is about the resurgence of our people.” He discussed how baptismal records in the residential school experience replaced traditional names with the first name of the brother or priest that added individuals to the registry. “We have huge families now in most of our communities where our Indigenous identity is anchored off of [someone] who was extraordinarily harmful.”
6700 residential school survivors told their truth with Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. Paul noted a pivot period – “more Canadian and institutions are on a journey to understand how they contribute to harm and how to do less harm and more good in their relationship with Indigenous Peoples, with territories, and the rights that we have that are inherent and recognized by the constitution and the Canadian Supreme Court.”
Resilience: a Generational Story
Gail shared a story of resilience about her mom who turns 90 this summer; overcoming poverty, the residential school system, achievements, the hardship of a ranching family, and embracing modern technology.
“She’s become littler and littler. [Or] maybe I’ve been getting taller” Gail said with a smile. Gail’s mom grew up with her parents and 4 siblings. “[They] lived in a little shack... they didn’t have running water or power, and if you were lucky, you had a horse and buggy. At 9 years old [mom] went to the Kamloops Indian residential school. She did amazing things – part of the first graduating class, went to business school, learned to shorthand, and at a time where band offices were quite small, she was the only staff person at Kamloops Indian Band. She holds a lot of oral history. Fast forward 60 years she was a ranching wife, raised four children, has an iPhone, texts, calls, sends pictures, and FaceTime’s” shared Gail.
Transformative Power of Technology and How it Benefits Indigenous Peoples
Reflecting on OneFeather’s purpose Gail sees the organization’s present-day and future as “combining cultural livelihood with modern technology…in every form of a community: governance, health, economic, development, our elders, our youth… and seeing how we can move forward to be on the forefront of technology.”
Many people have heard the story of an Indigenous grandfather and his granddaughter getting arrested at a bank in Vancouver - one of thousands of stories of the experiences of institutional racism that Indigenous Peoples have - “[Indigenous Peoples are] immediately starting from a position of deficit in the eyes and the minds of [many] individuals in western financial institutions” says Paul.
Paul added how OneFeather APP removes the barrier of going to a financial institution and added that every time an Individual uses [it] they are contributing to the OneFeather Box of Treasures – and not just a loyalty program.” He explained as “an embedded, constant idea of giving back to our own people – an expression of our culture. We work to lift up our people and our communities, not to lift up ourselves.” He went on to add “OneFeather is reflective of our traditional teachings and mindset, we think of the collective good, the love, care and the wellbeing of our people and territories…. It’s nothing short of revolutionary to have this product that we are about to launch.”
Sharing her community-oriented approach, Gail noted that “Communication is very key within any community… We’ve evolved into using [social media] platforms for community.” Diving into the importance of communication Gail expressed that - “enhancing, supporting, improving communication within a community, amongst Indigenous Peoples, or industry sector, is going to assist the wellbeing of people.”
Acknowledging that lateral violence can exist within communities, she went on to celebrate how OneFeather addresses this. “The platform improves the communication and building [of] a very strong community – so that lateral violence is lesser, and lateral kindness is more – that is very much a part of the healing process.”
Indigenous Sovereign Identity and Data
Diving into the intersection of technology and identity, Paul said “identity sovereignty and data sovereignty gives us control; the individual and the Nation…. and that is undoing the intergenerational effects of the Indian Act, the residential school system, and colonization – which is at the core of the value proposition of [OneFeather].”
”The fact that you can do something as seemingly simple as take a selfie and go through a verified [identity] process with OneFeather…is absolutely transformative,” said Paul on the technology being used across OneFeather’s products. He added, “this is really a form of resistance and Indigenous strength and community development that is fundamentally contributing to the wellbeing of our communities.”
Empowering Indigenous Democracy
“We are re-enfranchising ourselves.” There have been many intentional efforts to disenfranchise Indigenous Peoples including the removal of participation in decision making and legal extermination by progressively reducing the definition of a status person on the federal Indian registry. “Participating in democratic processes and increasing our ability to have a voice is fundamentally important to undo the damaging effects of colonization and particularly statutory impacts from the Indian Act,” said Paul.
Paul added, “For an individual to participate in the democratic process of electing Chief and council [through OneFeather], no matter where you live, on your device, and breaking down the barriers of distance and access… is important.”
Paul spoke broadly about how OneFeather is “removing barriers to participation in the economy and democratic processes.” making room to focus time on other things important to us.
A word to Indigenous Peoples During The Pandemic
Gail and Paul Each Offered a word to individuals during these times. Gail: support. “Providing assistance, communication, and being resourceful. She says, “it’s crucial that support is provided individually, to community, to organization(s).”
Paul: relationship. “Relationship To ourselves…relationship between us as genders, as generations…between us, our territories, and the natural world… between us and spirit world. Most of our culture is about animating those relationships… doing things to strengthen those relationships. It is the essence of our culture – these relationships exist, are centered in love, and they are there for you to access at any time… If the alignment is loneliness and isolation – the medicine we need is relationship”.
The Good Medicine They Bring to OneFeather
Both Paul and Gail have deep roots with OneFeather – they shared stories of meeting Lawrence Lewis, CEO and founder, nearly 30 years ago.
Gail met Lawrence early on in his entrepreneurial pursuits and says she was “always very impressed with Lawrence; someone that sees a need for assisting Indigenous Peoples.” Gail went on to say “I want to be a part of a team that has a strong vision of moving forward and being creative and innovative… How can we move forward? How can we exceed at our own thoughts and vision of what we can do for Indigenous Peoples?”
At OneFeather, Gail is most excited about OneFeather APP and the election and voting APP. “We are empowering individuals to be mindful, having a sense of pride, and building stronger financial abilities… building stronger governance and transparency…especially when we look at [OneFeather’s] elections and voting platforms; it’s very transparent.”
Paul met Lawrence when they were students at UofVic. In addition to his Board Member role, Paul’s firm Raven Capital Partners is a significant minority investor in OneFeather.
“It made my heart leap that we could be having a corporate conversation about a venture capital investment and the one thing on the CEO’s mind is making sure that the way we are structuring that arrangement in service of our people. I knew that we were investing in the right place,” said Paul.
Paul noted, “In many cases, OneFeather is Lawrence Lewis… and a straight line to the intergenerational wellbeing of Indigenous People – facilitating the removal of barriers through culturally safe cutting-edge technology.”
One of the good medicines Paul hopes to bring to the board is to increase the cultural competency throughout the organization - continuing to support Lawrence and the team in the journey of Indigenization of systems and processes.
Paul is most excited about 1FTs, (Indigenous only OneFeather Token Rewards points). “It’s just so beautiful – because the playing field is not level… targeted benefits as a key feature of the work that this company does is really reflected in the 1FTs. And the idea of The Box of Treasures is straight-up groovy.”
Closing Remarks: Celebrating Gail & Paul at OneFeather
About OneFeather's work, Gail beautifully said, “combining the equitable processes and the recognition process with the democratic process is so vital.” We are honored to have her undeniable positivity, valuable economic experience, and leadership join us in continuing to bring this vision to fruition.
We are equally honored to deepen our relationship with Paul. Paul’s engaging nature and unmatched success in the Indigenous innovation space will surely continue to lend valuable guidance in the resurgence of Indigenous identity.