Introducing Jamie-Leigh Gonzales: RAVEN’s new Communications Strategist

With a background in film, podcasting and multi-media production, Jamie-Leigh is coming to RAVEN with a diverse set of skills to share stories and amplify ideas. All her work to date has been rooted in mentorship, collaboration and uplifting voices from below. As a single mother of an energetic 2-year old, Jamie-Leigh wants to use technology and storytelling to shift the status quo and build a better world for her kid and future generations. 

Here’s a look at how Jamie-Leigh ended up at RAVEN and how she continues to tie the threads of community and collaboration through all her work.

Outside of RAVEN you co-founded a multimedia platform called Grounded Futures. Can you tell us more about that?

It’s a platform that I co-founded with carla bergman and Melissa Roach, for women, gender diverse, and BIPOC folks, or basically people whose voices are typically marginalized. It’s a space for us to amplify them and to share our skills; it’s also a place for them to create their own content and to tell their own stories. We teach folks to do the media-making, but we also pay them. For example, we have a resident right now, Oceaan, who is a musician. They’re so great!  They have a show coming out in the new year called Resonant Rest

Our work is always really focused on youth as well, and how we create spaces for youth to be involved and to lead. We have our pilot show, the Grounded Futures show, which started with two youth hosts and then myself and carla bergman co-hosting. And we supported them sometimes when they needed it, and mentored in some ways, but, honestly, they mentored us so much more. And now in season 2 of that show, it’s just carla and her kid, Liam, hosting it. It’s just so cool to see this 17 year old saying “all my ideas are super valid and I have so much to say.”

We have a few other shows too. One is called Mentorship in Motion, which is all about how we skillshare and learn things, especially when access to traditional educational spaces is so difficult for some people who face barriers – like financial barriers, and time constraints. I can’t imagine now being a mom and going to school in a way that I did when I was 20. There are these systems that are not set up to support people to learn new skills, and so we ask: How do we break that down? And how have we broken into our own industries despite it all? The answer is that it’s mostly through mentorship, and it’s through non-traditional forms of learning. That show is also coming out in early 2022. 

But overall, we have a lot of freedom to create whatever we want, we want to do print and video too, but we’ve mostly been doing podcasts because of the pandemic. I’m really excited too that I get to take these skills and join forces with RAVEN as we’re currently working on the launch of season 3 of the RAVEN podcast!

A photo of Jamie-Leigh standing on a beach with large rocks. She is looking at the camera with a slight smile
Photos of Jamie-Leigh by Maia Anstey Photography

Do you have any mentors that stand out for you?

I have so many mentors, I’m so lucky. I went to Capilano University for film: specifically, documentary film. And then I worked there as a film technician for five years. I got most of my actual skill from my colleagues and peers when I was working there and less from the program itself. In terms of mentors, I actually do have some really incredible mentors from that time in my life. Things were really hard then – the film industry is really messed up, as we all really know now, and when I was working there things were just starting to shift. The #MeToo movement started happening while I was working there, and things were really hard for the staff and students who were women. And a lot of them inspired me. Some of them I’m still close with and are leaders in their spaces. 

I had Doreen Manuel, who is an incredible Indigenous Film mentor for so many people. She has been paving the way for so many of us. I had Ki Wight who was my producing teacher, but also as a colleague where I saw her solidarity with the other women in the space, especially students. And Michelle Mason, and Seanna McPherson were also pushing back against the sexism that has been passed down through the film industry for a century. Those are all people from that time who were really incredible to me and who also really had my back. 

I had such an incredible group of mentors at that time who really did lift me up. Moving on from that, I worked at SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, primarily working with community in the Downtown Eastside. One of my close friends and mentors, Sarah Common – co-founder of Hives for Humanity – was a real leader for me in that community. And then through that job at SFU, I met carla bergman, and Melissa Roach, with whom I co-founded Grounded Futures. There’s just so much love, respect, and so much uplifting between the three of us. We always prioritize the people over the project. If the project dies, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a project. But if we burn out because of the project that does matter. That’s not what we believe in. 

We’re doing this because stories need to be told, because systems need to be changed. And also, because we love each other, and we want to talk about how we’re thriving. I have a lot of mentors: Tia Taurere-Clearsky, Rebecca Peng…the list could go on, and on, and on, and on. And I’m very lucky for that. Knowledge sharing and having people that hype you up is super important.

 What drew you to this role at RAVEN?

It was kind of an accident actually. I’d been working in somewhat of a communications world for a little while, but I actually applied for a different job that I was not qualified for. And someone saw my resume and thought well, you’re not qualified for the job you applied for, but I got a call from Laurie (MacKenzie, RAVEN’s Development Director) and she said “We have this other job, it’s a communications role and we think you should apply for that one.” So I did! 

I was drawn to RAVEN as an organization because of the way that RAVEN engages with this intersection of colonial legal systems and Indigenous sovereignty – it’s a difficult world to be in and a difficult intersection to navigate and it’s seems like there’s so much integrity in the work and in the RAVEN team. 

What is your favourite part of the job so far?

Despite me having only worked remotely so far, the support that everybody has for each other is my favourite thing. It always comes back to relationships for me. There’s this openness and love for each other and support for each other that I have not seen in a lot of workplaces. The love for each other is the most exciting part because I don’t think we can do this work without it.

A photo of Jamie-Leigh seen kneeling on a beach with out of focus rocks and sand in the background. She is looking directly to the camera and pulling her hair back on one side. The wind is blowing her hair around her face

What does Indigenous sovereignty mean to you? What does it look like?

There’s so many ways to answer this question. I’m gonna go with my heart. What it feels like, for me, is that Indigenous sovereignty goes beyond the legal ideas of being independent from the Canadian government and so on. For me, to go a step beyond, Indigenous sovereignty means that our identities and our reclaiming of our culture isn’t wrapped up in an Indian Act and whether or not you have Indian status; the Canadian government doesn’t get to decide how Indigenous you are. Our communities do, and you yourself and your true, honest feeling of how you show up, decides that. 

I think sovereignty means looking forwards to the future so our kids have a world, and have opportunities to learn to connect to spirit. It means that cultures, even though they have been impacted by colonialism, are still flourishing and that we don’t have to apologize for being modern or traditional: or both at the same time! It means undoing the expectations on Indigenous people who have suffered due to colonialism. Instead, it means building space where our cultures are based on who we are today, rooted in who our ancestors were and for the future generations. Let’s build spaces based on how we live and love, and believe and trust. 

Ultimately, for me, Indigenous sovereignty looks like autonomy. Without it there’s no moving forwards. There is no truth and there is no reconciliation without actual autonomy. And that’s how I approach parenting too: my kid doesn’t get to be who he wants to be if he doesn’t have autonomy. And he doesn’t get to explore the world in his own way. 

For instance, recently on Instagram, carla posted something that her kid, Liam, said eight years ago when they were nine. And Liam said “I don’t need adults to empower me, I need them to stop having power over me.” He needed autonomy. People need autonomy. Cultures and communities need autonomy to live in trust. And when we base our cultures on capitalism and colonialism, we become disconnected from the Land, and disconnected from each other, and from our ancestors, and from spirit and from the things that are actually important, that are real and tangible. I think that’s my answer. 

But, it’s complicated because so much of it is healing. We talk so much about truth and reconciliation, but it’s healing. I can only speak for myself and my experience, but healing the shame that my grandfather carried his whole life and that was passed down….healing ancestral wounds is really important. And I believe that when there’s Indigenous sovereignty, people can come back to the land and can come back to their ancestors and ask “who am I and where do I come from?” Walking a path that is good for them and is in good relations with the land and themselves and their communities: that heals the Land too. 

What is something that makes you feel connected to the Land and Water?

My kid. Seeing Land and Water through his experience of it has reconnected me to the spirit of them in such a way that I didn’t even know I’d lost. I’ve been living in the city now most of my adult life, and it’s hard sometimes to remember how to connect. And from when Rook (my kid) was very little we’d go for neighborhood walks and he’d immediately pick up a little rock and hold it in his hand for the whole walk. He always needs to be physically connected to the Land like this. He needs to be out and running and playing, and picking up sticks and hitting things and touching every leaf and poking at bugs: doing these things where he’s learning about the world around us by actually being in it. Living in cities can sometimes really make you lose track of that. Also though, to be totally real, in the city it’s a privilege to have access to the Land. A lot of folks don’t have access to this kind of medicine because there are so many barriers for folks who live in precarious situations to actually access nature. 

Are there any specific life experiences that led you to this job or working with RAVEN or standing up for Indigenous rights and sovereignty?

I’ve been on an ongoing journey of reclamation. For me, I have to always come back to: though my roots are in the Squamish Nation, I’m not somebody who can ever speak on behalf of Indigenous folks, or for the Squamish Nation. I didn’t grow up in the community. I don’t have the connections there yet (that I dream to one day have) and I just don’t speak for that community. I know where I came from, but that doesn’t mean that I am that voice. So much of my work has been about amplifying other voices while doing healing work for myself and answering some questions that I have about my ancestry and my dad’s family and connections. So, I think that I’m trying to uplift Indigenous voices without being the voice of them, and that’s what brings me to do this work. That is what brings me to do the work that I do at Grounded Futures and what brings me to raise my kid the way that I’m trying to raise him. I’m really trying to be aware of how much space I take up, also, because I’m white too – of Portuguese ancestry on my mother’s side. I have a lot of privilege. I didn’t grow up experiencing racism. Even my brothers have darker skin than me and I’ve seen the difference of how they’re treated and how I’m treated. It’s wild the privilege that this face gives me. I’m just trying to recognize who I am, what my skills are, and then ask: How can I uplift and amplify community? And where am I best suited to do that?

A photo of Jamie-Leigh and her kid, Rook. Rook is on her shoulders holding a dandelion up to her nose to smell. They are on a grassy path in front of a line of trees.

What is something that brought you joy in 2021.

Besides my kid? I could go on about him forever! He’s so funny and so joyful, and the most beautiful thing in the world to me. I’m so obsessed with him. But other than him, what gave me joy in 2021 was actually working on the Grounded Futures project. Being able to decolonize skill sharing. Coming out of institutional spaces myself, I don’t want other people to go through that: I want to offer an alternative way of learning media skills. Because it’s super dangerous for a lot of people to go through institutional education systems. It’s not a safe space for a lot of people. And it’s also just not an accessible space. And so, building this thing with some of my mentors and favourite people, and also with our community is incredible. Being able to ask folks: What do you want to do? What are you actually interested in? How can we share your story? And how can YOU be the one that does it? That’s been a real joy for me in 2021.

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