We recognize and celebrate brave female leaders. The women we are featuring in our Brave Women Leaders blog demonstrate resiliency, bravery, and the ability to radiate their light brightly. They have gifts to share with the world and take tiny steps of bravery each day to share them with the world.

It is my honour to introduce you to Kim van der Woerd. Kim is a proud member of the ‘Namgis Nation from Alert Bay BC. Her family gave her the name T,łalisam in their families first potlatch after the potlatch ban. She started her company, Reciprocal Consulting in 2003, and her team have worked on over 230 projects that centre Indigenous wellness and justice.

What does bravery mean to you?

I’m so grateful for this question, and it has definitely given me pause for thought. It happens to be Orange Shirt Day as I write this, and I’m immediately reflecting on the Indigenous children who were taken from their families and how they had to demonstrate bravery in the most terrifying time of their lives. I think about the bravery of the Indigenous families who faced their grief of their families being torn apart, and actively resisted. I think about tenacity and bravery of our ancestors who took our languages and ceremonies underground and hid, knowing that these brave acts would provide comfort, solace, integrity, identity and strength for their descendants. 

I think bravery shows up in Indigenous families who continue to navigate and work through the impacts of colonialism – who do so with fierce commitment to speak up and speak out about injustices. I think about the bravery of our communities who continue to find joy and humour in the face of ongoing injustices, and just how powerful it is to continue to love and persevere. I think bravery shows up in embodying who you are meant to be and respond to the ancestral wisdom that has been passed through to my generation.

What is one of the bravest things you have ever done?

I think the bravest acts that I have engaged in is speaking up about injustices, especially in places where that dialogue is not welcome. There have been numerous instances where I have encountered racism in my work and professional life which have brought me to my knees.

There are so many instances where I have had to speak up and name what just happened. Probably the instance that stands out the most is a time where we were in a very corporate setting and we had to address the abject racism. I took some time to gather wisdom, teachings and guidance from Elders and family and work team. I was incredibly nervous, but I knew the risk of NOT saying something was way more detrimental. I felt the strength of all of my ancestors behind me as I explained that learning about their racism was a gift for their heart and gave them a place to work from.

As one of our Elders has said, “you cannot say goodbye to a problem until you have said hello.” I take this teaching to heart as I think about our future generations and the opportunity for young Indigenous people to embody who they are meant to be, with hope and joy.  

What benefits have come from leaning into bravery? 

Orange Shirt Day is such a profound day to reflect on bravery. I think about the generations before me who leaned into bravery and prayed and dreamed for the safety and wellbeing of my generation. I think about all the brave Indigenous children and their families. I think about my friends and loved ones who walk alongside me, and think about the generations to come. I pray and hope for astronomical benefits from our acts of bravery to create safety and pursue justice for Indigenous women and families, and for our planet. I hope our benefits are the opportunity to be good ancestors for generations to come.

To follow Kim, and find out more about her work, please find her at reciprocalconsulting.ca