For the Love of the Game and Her Hometown: Davina McLeod on Winning In Hockey, Business and Life
“From an early age, I think I was really, really pushed towards business… I honestly didn't see myself doing anything else, just because I love the idea of it,” shares Davina McLeod. She was born and raised in Aklavik, Northwest Territories until she was fifteen, when she moved to Whitehorse to go to school and play hockey. She is Gwichʼin and Inuvialuit, raised by small business owners who worked in heavy equipment. Growing up, she remembers her mom would be at her desk full of papers and she would be at her own small desk with papers she had taken from her mom.
As a teenager, McLeod worked for her parents and she later got a Bachelor of Business Administration and Management. “I was very interested in what that could mean as an Indigenous person, and what that could do for Indigenous communities,” she recalls. These days, she works as a community relations coordinator and office manager for Casino Mining Corporation and works part time as a research assistant for Queen's University and their Indigenous Hockey Research Network.
Hockey has been a big part of McLeod’s educational journey. Coming from a small town of just 600 people, she didn’t necessarily value education and felt like it was a dead end. She stopped going to school in grade nine until the principal told her she couldn’t play hockey unless she attended. Eventually, she sat her parents down and told them she wanted to pursue hockey and school elsewhere. Whitehorse was a perfect fit and after high school, she considered working for a year but her sister helped her apply to universities and urged her to go for a year and try it out.
She ended up playing hockey and going to school at NAIT in Edmonton and really enjoyed it. She got her diploma and decided to keep going, knowing in university she could keep playing hockey. The fact that her university courses were in line with her interests also motivated her to continue her educational journey.
After the experience of leaving home to pursue work and school, her advice to youth considering doing the same is to find support in their new location and keep their connections back home strong. She knows leaving can be bittersweet but knowing home was waiting for her and would be the same when she got back was comforting. Going away to get educated so she could come back and help was encouraging to her. Thinking of the solace she found in the faces she knew she would always see in community, she was eager to return and become a face others could expect to see, too.
Raised in a predominantly Indigenous community, she was pretty sheltered and the experience of moving to the city and becoming a minority was an adjustment. McLeod faced isolation and micro-aggressions she wasn’t prepared for. While she was away for school in the South she was homesick and didn’t feel welcome, but she pushed through and got her degree, met people and had new experiences and is so glad she persevered despite the challenges.
At first, McLeod was nervous of seeking support from the cultural center at her school because she thought being from the Arctic that it wasn’t a space for her and that the other Indigenous students would be a lot different. When she heard someone speak with the same accent as her, she was relieved. Looking back, she feels she forgot how welcoming Indigenous people are and the generosity and warmth she could expect if she put herself out there enough to connect.
If she could give a message to her younger self it would be around resilience. She wishes someone had told her it’s okay to not be okay and to be sad, to be missing your family. “You don't have to be resilient and strong and everything all the time. You're going into young adulthood and you don't have to be big and strong all the time,” McLeod advises. She would want to encourage more kindness towards herself and to find healthy coping strategies.
While she doesn’t agree with the pressure to be resilient, she is inspired by the resilience of her people in the face of colonial atrocities. McLeod is also inspired by youth-serving organizations, Indigenous organizations, and her grandparents who still get out and paddle every day. “Just seeing my family and my Indigenous communities and everyone still thriving. I think that's really inspirational, people enduring all of their hardships and still being able to take something from it, build something for themselves and for the people after them. I think I'm always just continuously inspired by the Indigenous community that is around us,” she muses.
In her day to day work, McLeod goes out into the community to discuss her employer’s project and keep everyone in the loop as to what is going on. Half the time she’s away from her desk discussing partnerships and creating opportunities for First Nations communities to get into the trades and the rest she’s at her desk keeping things running administratively. It gives her a unique perspective of the business from multiple angles.
To manage her mental health and physical well-being, she enjoys cold plunges and ice baths which help with her anxiety and panic attacks. The cold helps her reset her mind and body. McLeod spends time outside and goes for walks, too. She also speaks to a mental health professional, something that she has found helpful, as much as she appreciates being able to talk to friends and family. “Talking to someone sooner rather than later is a great strategy to try to implement into your life,” she urges.
Feeling like others have bigger challenges and so there isn’t a reason to seek help is something McLeod encourages people to push past and ask for the help they need. “There’s always gonna be someone who's going through something worse than you. I don't think that's any reason for you not to try to take care of yourself to the best of your abilities, if you have the resources to do so,” she offers. Taking care of herself, she can show up the way she wants to in the work that she does and in her relationships.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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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.