Following Opportunities and Leading Community: Bobbie-Jo Greenland-Morgan’s Northern Career Journey
“My career journey has been one that wasn't just a straight plan. It was all about picking opportunities, which led to other opportunities. I'm very grateful that my journey has taken me to a lot of different places,” Bobbie-Jo Greenland-Morgan smiles. She is the strategic adviser to the Gwich'in government of the Gwich'in Tribal council in Inuvik and also served one term as the Grand Chief to the Tribal Council in 2016, the first woman to ever be elected to the position.
While she was proud to be chief, she didn’t seek re-election and took time off to be with her family, coming back later as an employee. Self-government is the file she’s active in and cares very much about as her community proceeds with final negotiations of their agreement. She grew up with a sense of responsibility to be involved where she lives.
Growing up, she looked up to her eight older sisters and the successes they have enjoyed. Her father was a chief in their community for over a decade and she was always around when he was working. Her grandparents influenced her, too. “Our culture is really what motivated me,” she continues.
Before she worked in government, she started earning her own money at the age 12. Aklavik is the small community she grew up in, which had a population of under 1000 and she was born in neighbouring Inuvik. To get a high school education, students had to leave and go to a different town. During the summers, her family would go to Old Crow, Yukon, where her mother was from, giving her time with her grandparents and their culture. Greenland-Morgan did grade 10 in Saskatoon, where her sisters were going to university, then did the rest of her high school in Inuvik.
Her strong work ethic helped her in many jobs and she didn’t consider politics until she was in her thirties. Greenland-Morgan worked with different Indigenous organizations and governments and even participated in the Circumpolar Young Leaders Program, an internship for youth in her area.
She applied after leaving university and was placed in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Indigenous People Secretariat for six months. Living in a different city and a different country after being raised as a small town girl was a challenging but positive experience that helped her grow professionally and personally.
She ended up getting a diploma in First Nations Management Studies. Post-secondary wasn’t something she really enjoyed. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices to really achieve goals in your life, especially with education,” she offers, and she went back to work after her diploma. She took some time off school to spend time with her aging grandmother, realizing school would always be there but her grandmother wouldn’t.
When she first made those plans, she thought she would be helping take care of her grandmother, but it turned out to be more mutual care for each other. Greenland-Morgan learned from her grandmother and grew in her identity as a Gwich'in woman. “I think I learned so much more from her in that one year than I think I did in all my years of post secondary, in a whole different context, of course. But that was really important,” she recalls.
After her time with her grandmother drew to a close, she realigned her priorities, advanced in her career, achieved more of her goals and found balance in knowing how to deal with life stresses and overcome challenges. With new knowledge and confidence, she started looking at politics.
When her term in government was over, she went back to school for a degree in Indigenous Governance through Yukon University, with an anticipated graduation date in 2025. Greenland-Morgan doesn’t regret leaving school to spend time with her grandmother, even if it delayed her graduation, and she misses her grandmother a lot. School is more engaging because of her practical work experience and she’s someone who believes you never stop learning.
Her advice for Indigenous youth leaving their home community to pursue education is to not let fear or self doubt stop them from pursuing their dreams and your goals. She had a lot of self doubt moving to Saskatoon with its bigger population and school full of strangers. It almost kept her from going but she let her curiosity win. Greenland-Morgan points to the nomadic traditions of Indigenous people, moving around a lot throughout history and she wanted to go and try things.
She encourages youth today to pursue the many great opportunities out there, particularly in different programs, federal, provincial and Indigenous. “You won't know until you give it a try. Never feel that you're alone, or that you don't have support, because there's a lot of supportive resources and networks out there to help you along as well,” she advises.
Looking back at her own younger years, she wasn’t ready for college and ended up into the party scene too much. She managed to graduate thanks to the encouragement of family and friends. “It's really important to accept help, ask for help when you need it, and to look at the positive role models in your life,” she urges.
Getting in tune with her own culture, spending time on the land and connecting with her identity, finding a healthy balance between unplugging and staying in touch are important to her and have helped her as a learner. If she could offer a message to her younger self it would be, “be proud of who you are and where you come from.”
Raised in a Christian home with mixed ancestry, her faith kept her grounded, even when she took different paths and made mistakes. Her values, teachings, spiritual beliefs and cultural knowledge helped her find her way back when she strayed. That’s why Greenland-Morgan urges youth to connect with who they are and where they come from, learning from elders and accepting their knowledge so they can pass it on to young people themselves one day.
Her career journey has been one that wasn't just a straight plan, it was all about picking opportunities which led to other opportunities. Bobbie-Jo Greenland Morgan’s journey has taken her to a lot of different places, to Denmark, to Government, and many places in between. Coming home to herself has been just as important and it’s something she hopes to model for youth who are trying to find their own way in challenging times, so they don’t lose themselves as they gain a career and education.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
August 2023 Updates: Bobbie Jo recently left her job with the Gwich'in Tribal Council in order to take on a new job with the Federal Government Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Arctic Region. She is the Senior Manager for Reconciliation and Indigenous Knowledge. She continues to work on her Indigenous Governance Degree online.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.