Moving Forward in a Good Way: Peal Leishman’s Journey as Leader of the Fort Providence Métis Council
“Be positive and go forward,” urges Pearl Leishman, a member of the Deh Gáh Got’îê First Nation who was born and raised in Fort Providence. For the past ten years, she’s been the executive director of the Fort Providence Métis Council. After high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do so she took secretarial training, thinking it would be easy to find work as a secretary. Later, she took training in early childhood education, thinking she might start a day home in her community. Ultimately, she got work doing finance with the Council and also worked with local small businesses.
“Not all people hire just based on experience, so you need your education.”
With extensive work experience but without the educational background she wanted, she decided to go back to school at the age of forty for management studies through Aurora College in Fort Smith. From there, she got a Bachelor of Management from the University of Athabasca. She worked in other communities until it was time for her to come home and she got work again in Finance with the Métis council. When the Executive Director left, she was promoted and now oversees all the administration, finance and their wellness programming. They are looking at hiring a victim services worker also and then she won’t be the only staff member.
Her advice for Indigenous students leaving their home community to get their education is to go for it. “Education.. it could be two years, four years or less. That's just a small part of your life. Go get your education while you’re young,” she urges. In completing their education, Leishman feels youth have something to look back on and feel a sense of accomplishment and it can be really intimidating to be going to school when you’re a lot older with much younger classmates.
When she went away to school, she struggled with loneliness and learned she just had to go out there and make friends. Today’s youth going to school away from home can keep in touch with friends and family through video chats and when she was in school, she talked to her family every day to stay in touch and have support. Something she learned at school was the importance of staying in contact with classmates because they become your networks.
She didn’t have as much support as is now available in schools and she had to learn how to budget and get through the month financially. Leishman was lucky to have someone from her territory in her building when she was at school and they were able to support each other and trade childcare between them. She suggests reaching out to school counsellors if you need support or guidance in choosing a path forward with so many more options available now. She didn’t realize she could change programs which is important as interests change.
To manage her well being and mental health, Leishman has been on a sober journey for 32 years, supported by other sober people in her community and learning from their stories. She goes walking, gets exercise and spends time with positive people. As much as people in her circle have been there for her, she wants to be there for others and her community. She’s been photographing them and helping them feel seen, and sharing her own photos of her many travels so others who can’t travel can see the world.
In closing, Leishman says, “I just encourage the youth to go to school. There's so much opportunity out there. There's so much that you could do for your community when you come back to your small community or city. Just go experience life.”
Pearl Leishman encourages youth to be positive and go forward because that’s what she’s always done. Starting her education late in life, embarking on a path of sobriety, photographing the beauty of the people in her world, she has found ways to move towards a brighter future and shed light on all she has to appreciate in her community. Trying to set an example for youth through a sober way of life and bringing others along on her travels through her photos, she’s going forward the best way she knows how.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
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.