Introducing russ elliott: RAVEN’s new Office Administrator

russ elliott is from Moh-kíns-tsis (what is currently called Calgary, AB) of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Treaty Seven, where the mountains meet the plains. russ is happy to now live in the Lekwungen territories where they originally came to do their Masters degree at the University of Victoria in sociology and social theory. 

After graduating at 23 with a Masters, russ took a job working for the government, but quickly realized that he did not want to work for the state. Check out the interview with russ below to learn more about how working with RAVEN is a hell of a lot more fulfilling than his previous job.

a photo of russ from the shoulders up looking at the camera smiling. He stands in front of brush and trees

What does the day to day of your job at RAVEN look like?

My official job title is office administrator. I also manage RAVEN’s donations, which can look like processing individual donations, handling customer inquiries, sending out tax receipts, managing and streamlining data, and improving the systems by which we do those things. Essentially I make sure we have the apparatus we need to ensure that we can adequately receive and send the money we raise out to the Nations we work with. I’m also still learning about what my job requires, and growing into it my role on the RAVEN team.

What drew you to working with RAVEN?

Well, in addition to wanting more from work, I’ve known of RAVEN for quite a while through activist circles and academic friends. At the time, I was really hoping to move towards the non-profit sector and do something that aligns more with my values. I want to do work in service of, and help support, Indigenous justice and further the decolonization of the colonial settler state. And, RAVEN is awesome! Raising money for Indigenous land defense and legal cases? I couldn’t be happier.

A photo of russ smiling and looking at the camera. He is surrounded by autumn trees that have shed their leaves.

What does Indigenous sovereignty mean to you? Or look like for you?

This is such a big question. I like how you’ve phrased it too: what does Indigenous sovereignty look like to you? That second part is the practical application of the question. It’s important that we don’t just think of this as a metaphor. For me, it starts with concepts like autonomy and self determination, but those are settler concepts. So I’m not actually going to label what I think it is; rather, I try to listen to what Indigenous folx think of it. 

As a settler, I am trying to envision what Indigenous sovereignty looks like outside of the ontology and epistemologies of the Western colonial empire. And I’m asking myself: how do I not play by the rules of that game? How can I inhabit the visions and realities already outside of that? I’m inspired by a lot of Indigenous futurist writing. For example, Daniel Heath Justice, Billy-Ray Belcourt, and Rebecca Roanhorse — I love that kind of work. A big shift for me was also learning to think beyond settler futurities — how settler colonialism captures the future —  and try to live in the dream space of decolonial and Indigenous futurities. How can we think of the future in the plural? And how can it all be grounded in Indigenous thought, and within Indigenous traditions?

What is something that makes you feel connected to the land and water?

This is a complex question, but I’ll try to answer it simply: it is topographies that are filled with boundaries and edge states –  things like mountains make me feel at home. I love the jaggedness. I love feeling so small within the vastness. I’m still getting used to the ocean. I’m definitely a mainlander, but I’m coming to appreciate the ocean more. It’s hard on these old bones of mine. I’m used to big sky prairie country, so it feels a lot more enclosed here. 

I have a few years of horticultural experience, so I feel at home in the forest. I feel at home with the growing things. And part of the way I got in touch with the land is to learn about the plants around me. Back in Treaty 7 Territory I basically knew all the plants and trees and shrubs. Not so much the annuals, but the more native ones. The biodiversity here though has made me feel disorientated. So I’m trying to connect back to the forest and learn more about the native plants where I live, now. That is one of the ways that I get to know the land too. Oh – and cold water dips. Whether it’s summer or winter here, the ocean is freezing. I’m not saying I’m good at going into the water, but I like to try!

A photo of rust from the chest up. He is smiling and surrounded by brush and trees

Are there any specific life experiences that you feel led you to this job at RAVEN? 
So much of my life has led me to this job. But one particular highlight was the action in support of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs at the BC legislature in February 2020 — the month before the pandemic lockdowns. I don’t want to romanticize it, but it was so beautiful and powerful. And really challenging: sleeping outside in winter is really hard. But the Indigenous youth did an incredible job organizing. They had settlers, protesters, and land defenders all mixed together: it was so coordinated. They had us form blockades to protect Indigenous youth. Here was just a real beautiful choreography of human bodies all coming together in defense of Indigenous rights and youth. It was so special. There was this collective effervescence that I can’t describe…it’s just something you feel. And honestly, I wanted more. Because I realized: this is what it’s supposed to be like. But also, my path to RAVEN wasn’t linear. So many things led me to this.

What’s something that brought you joy in the last year?

Honestly, it’s been one hell of a year. But sometimes, I feel very content. Just the other day I was feeling so at peace: I just had such a feeling of embodied contentedness that I was tearing up just going for a walk. It’s hard for me to think of one thing, but working on un-learning colonialism, patriarchy, ableism, etc. in myself tends to lead to better mental health (and, ideally, justice). It’s coming together as I am getting a better grasp of my own health and disability, and I am better learning how to listen to my body. I have been working really hard on processes to take care of myself since I was 18 or 19 years old. And it has been a slow growth…more of a fungal decay or transformation of things that I’ve wanted to change and just getting a year older and sitting with that. Mindfulness and meditation have been bringing me joy too. So, not just one thing has brought me joy, but the culmination of the work I’ve been doing for years is really bringing me joy now. That…and cooking shows!

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