On Equity: An interview with Sxwpilemaát Siyám (Chief Leanne Joe)

Tue, 28 Sep 2021

Kim Regala
Communications & Events Coordinator, SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's On Equity interviews are those of the interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University, SFU Public Square or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

The On Equity interview series is part of our 2021 Community Summit Series: Towards Equity. In these interviews, you’ll get to know people working towards equity, justice and systemic change from a variety of fields and perspectives, and learn how you can support them. We hope they will inform and inspire your own conversations and actions towards equity.

Read on to hear from Sxwpilemaát Siyám a.k.a. Chief Leanne Joe, Lackett Joe Hereditary Chief of the Squamish Nation, and the Transformative Storyteller for Economic Reconciliation at SFU’s Community Economic Development Program. She is also a Squamish Nation Trustee, a member of our Towards Equity advisory committee, and a member of the SFU Faculty of Environment's External Advisory Committee.

What do you want people to know about your work in pursuit of equity, justice and systemic change?

The main objective of my work, as it relates to equity and justice, is to create space for dialogue where we can educate ourselves about the inequities we may be a part of. It’s important to know that oftentimes, these inequities exist because of our unwillingness to be curious about what’s possible and find courage to be transformative.

How do we make systemic change?

It begins with acknowledging the truth of your space. Many people are doing deep healing work in equity, diversity, social justice, sustainability and environmental protection, but there are those in a constant state of holding onto that negative space that isn’t allowing them to move forward. Systemic change comes with facing our truth and the willingness to be uncomfortable enough to feel it in your heart, soul and spirit.

What does equity look like to you?

Equity means that we are living as one with the land. We are at peace with who we are and we are connected. We can walk the land barefoot and feel it. We can connect with its ancestors, with its history, and with the truth of it. We can live in a space that is equitable with the land, where we only take what we need and are not reaping it of all of its resources.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the guiding question for Towards Equity: What must we understand—and do—to recover equitably from the pandemic and reimagine our systems to confront the intersecting crises of inequality, systemic racism and climate change?

The most integral part of any transformative space is to forgive and heal. I have to forgive those that haven’t treated me equally and I too have to give space for those individuals to be able to forgive and heal themselves as well.

What gives you hope? What inspires you?

As an Indigenous woman, I know my role and responsibility in community. I’m connected to land, culture and my family. To all of my nations, I know who I am, and therefore I have hope. Hope has been given to me despite all of the inequities, discrimination, racism and genocide.

Do you think there is more potential for systemic change at this moment in time? Why?

I hope so. Given the demand I see from students at SFU for change in programs and curriculums to reflect the need for systemic change, it is very powerful. Given that many more truths are coming out, especially around our Canadian history, I hope that this is catapulting space for that systemic change.

What do you think is an overlooked challenge that more people should be paying attention to?

The truth. Every truth. Doesn’t matter what it is. If we’re not allowing that space for the truth to just be our truth, then we’re never going to be able to allow it to be our story.

What should we be reading? Watching? Listening to? Please recommend books, articles, podcasts, films or other media you think people should read/hear/watch on topics surrounding equity and justice.

Click here for a comprehensive list of recommendations from Chief Leanne related to economic reconciliation and more!

What are some organizations we should be paying attention to and supporting?

If this Towards Equity Community Summit Series had a playlist, what artists or songs would you want to see on it?

I'd love to see an "Indian Playlist"—any song that is sung in our communities!

What else should we be asking? What question do you want us to ask our next interviewees?

What are you holding space for?

Who would you like to hear from in an upcoming interview? What other questions would you like us to ask interviewees? Let us know. Send your ideas to Chloe Sjuberg, Communications Coordinator, at

On Equity Interviews