An Ahousaht First Nation member has begun work on her newest plum position.
J’Net Ayayqwayaksheelth has been named as the director of Indigenous Relations and Community Engagement for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).
With this newly created position, Ayayqwayaksheelth will help guide the implementation of the NFB’s Indigenous Action Plan as well as its organizational transformation.
Though she had been performing some administration work for a few weeks to prepare for her new job, Ayayqwayaksheelth’s first official day with the NFB was on Monday of this week, Sept. 20.
She’ll be working closely with the NFB’s existing Indigenous Advisory Committee. And she’ll also be part of the NFB’s executive committee.
The NFB will also soon be naming a director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Like Ayayqwayaksheelth, this new individual will report directly to Claude Joli-Coeur, who is the NFB chair and government film commissioner.
Ayayqwayaksheelth is joining the NFB after spending the past seven years as the Indigenous outreach and learning co-ordinator with the Learning Department at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto.
And before she worked at the ROM, she was the developer and manager of the Indigenous curriculum at Centennial College in Toronto from 2011 through 2013.
She also briefly worked as the partnership facilitator at the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts, an arts service organization based in Toronto.
Now that she’s working for the NFB, Ayayqwayaksheelth will continue to live in Toronto, which has been home since 2007.
Starting next week, however, she’ll be moving to Sept-Iles, a city in eastern Quebec in order to take a three-month French-immersion course.
“I have to do that to fulfill my commitment to be bilingual (English and French) as a government servant,” she said.
Though she describes her current French as “minimal”, Ayayqwayaksheelth said she has been bilingual for more than 30 years. Besides English, she is fluent in sign language.
As for what she hopes to accomplish with the NFB, Ayayqwayaksheelth recited one of her favourite quotes from Dr. Leroy Little Bear, an officer of the Order of Canada and a respected advocate and leader for First Nations education, rights, self-governance, language and culture.
“It’s your job to change the conversation,” Ayayqwayaksheelth said, quoting Little Bear. “That’s my hope as an Indigenous leader in a national venue.”
She added she’s thrilled the NFB created this new position.
“For an outspoken Indigenous arts leader like myself, this opportunity represents a turning of the page in authentic Indigenous storytelling in Canadian filmmaking,” she said. “We are overdue to have these difficult conversations. By introducing this senior-level position, it signals that the NFB is ready and willing to do the work of remembering and acknowledging ongoing Indigenous excellence and innovation.”
She had heard about the NFB job posting earlier this year.
“So, I reached out to some of my leadership mentors,” Ayayqwayaksheelth said, adding she was convinced to apply for the position after a 45-minute chat with Jesse Wente, an Ojibwe who is the chair of the Canadian Council for the Arts, who felt she was an ideal candidate.
After a pair of interviews, Ayayqwayaksheelth was offered the position in late August.
“They’re very excited to have me on board so I can get to work on their Indigenous Action Plan,” she said.
The NFB first announced its plan in 2017.
“J’net will help us to transform our organization to respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the concerns of Indigenous creators,” Joli-Coeur said. “She is a champion for systemic change who is committed to building bridges and fostering dialogue. And I’m excited to begin working with her to help us better meet the needs of Indigenous peoples and the country.”
Besides working on the NFB’s Indigenous Action Plan, Ayayqwayaksheelth will also be responsible for supporting the board’s Indigenous activities, as well as working with senior management to remove barriers for career opportunities for Indigenous people.
Her responsibilities will also include making sure that the cultural and spiritual needs of Indigenous employees and artists are being met and understood. And she’ll provide cultural awareness to non-Indigenous staff and artists.
During her first official day at the NFB on Monday, Ayayqwayaksheelth met with various members of its Indigenous advisory committee via Zoom.
The 10-person committee includes legendary Indigenous filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, who is also a producer/director and cultural attache for the NFB.
Other members of the committee include Monika Ille, who is the executive director of programming for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Jason Ryle who is the artistic director for the Toronto-based imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival and filmmakers Tasha Hubbard, Lisa Jackson and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers.