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Five Traits of a Modern Leader as Shown by Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir

Bruce MacLellan

Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir,Chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation is navigating one of the toughest leadership roles imaginable, helping her community find peace, truth and reconciliation around the lost children of a local residential school. We can all take lessons from her.

Last week, those of us attending the national conference of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) were honoured to hear remarks by Rosanne Casimir, Kúkpi7 (Chief) of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation. Kúkpi7 Casimir was recognized with the CPRS President’s Award for her leadership in bringing to light the lost children in the residential school system. In her community, in May 2021, ground penetrating radar identified up to 215 potential graves on the Kamloops Residential School site.

Kúkpi7 Casimir was thrust into the international spotlight with the discovery of these unmarked graves. The story was horrifying and the media attention almost overwhelming. Managing this international attention required thoughtful communications, while taking care of the local community was most important.

Kúkpi7 Casimir is facing this intense external scrutiny while working through mixed opinions internally in the community. As reported by CBC, the survivors of the school are not agreed yet whether the bodies should be exhumed.

We could write a long list of Casimir’s leadership attributes, but these five made a mark on me last week:

Empathy: Kúkpi7 Casimir speaks carefully and gently about her community and the children who lie in those unmarked graves. She knows the emotions will never be far from conversations and she acts with a gentle protectiveness.

Calm: No one could blame a leader in her role for outrage. Compared to comfortable, pensioned, politicians who often feign outrage, Kúkpi7 Casimir exudes a calm, practical and optimistic approach. As she says, “We must walk on a healing journey together.” 

Find the facts: Modern leaders must bring facts to the table as well as navigate the opinions and emotions. It’s hard work to unify people. Residential schools conjure many emotions with survivors. Kúkpi7 Casimir knows that and brings a strong commitment to consensus. She goes further to say, “We are utilizing science to support each step as we move forward.” Our society needs traditional and new knowledge.

Transparency: “There is no roadmap for what we are doing,” says Kúkpi7 Casimir. She readily admits we are learning as we go, taking careful steps to honour these children and address the pain within her community. There will be consultations, discussion, thought and careful decision-making. It will be a community exercise and Casimir humbly admits she does not have all the answers.

Determination: Leaders must lead. Kúkpi7 Casimir was part of the group of Indigenous leaders who travelled to the Vatican in March 2022 to meet with Pope Francis. They hope his trip to Canada this year (health permitting) includes a formal, full apology and a commitment to share all records. In conversation with me, Kúkpi7 Casimir said, “Apologies matter.”  

As you can see, I was greatly impressed by Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir. She wants to build a better Canada in positive, constructive ways, for Indigenous people and everyone. We are in an important period of history where we must think carefully about the attributes we want in leaders. What do you want to see?

June is Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Day. It’s a great time to learn more.