“Reconciliation is not about words,” says Dawn Drummond, “it’s about action.” As director for Indigenous Relations for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), Dawn has devoted more than a decade to collaboration and consultation on thousands of projects with Indigenous communities in the southern interior region of the Province. Throughout the course of her career, Dawn has come to understand that the actions required for Reconciliation can take many forms: the action to complete and honour commitments, to understand the unique history and stories of a community, and to appreciate culture and traditional language. But most important, Dawn stresses, is the action of not giving up. Perseverance goes hand-in-hand with trust and vulnerability on the many steps of the Reconciliation journey.
Dawn’s earliest awareness of the concept of Reconciliation and how it might be applied to her work came after the completion of her first fully executed Reconciliation highway agreement with an Indigenous community. At the signing ceremony, she was gifted a drum and was asked to learn a Secwepemc song to play at the gathering. Dawn was overcome with emotion at what her and the community had accomplished working together. The experience brought new purpose to her work and spurred her to start down a path dedicated to resolving historical reconciliation agreements, with continued advocacy for change, innovative solutions, and a commitment to keep coming back to a community even when the discussions are challenging.
One memorable challenge issued to Dawn was a particular road with 40 years of unresolved issues. It was a tough file, but Dawn is known as the MoTI Champion for a reason. During a meeting in 2016, the Chief asked her to shake on a guarantee that a new road would finally be built through his community. “Through this handshake,” he told her with a smile, “you’ve committed to complete road construction before you move onto another job.” These are the kinds of commitments Dawn identifies as vital: support for communities where there was little for decades, and an obligation and desire to work hard to get the job done. Even with the complexities of COVID, Dawn was thrilled to fulfill her promise in 2020 with the completion of the road.
Truly at the crux of Dawn’s work, in tandem with commitment, is community. “When I think of my community,” Dawn says, “I think of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.” Over the course of her career, Dawn has witnessed many positive changes, including increased awareness of Reconciliation and the power of the work they do, the words they use, and the actions they take. Her family and colleagues have given her tremendous support to continue to grow and learn, and, in turn, Dawn is always happy to bring people along on the journey. She also cites the trust imbued in her by her executive, someone willing to take the leap when Dawn begins a sentence with, “I want to try something we’ve never done before…”
It’s Dawn’s hope that this evolving mindfulness will shape the future of MoTI and chart a positive path forward inclusive of everyone. “The innovation and creativity that I bring to the table for negotiations is successful,” Dawn says, “because of collaboration with communities. Each community is unique in what they are looking to achieve and what works for one community may not work for another. It’s my job to listen and understand how my work can help resolve immediate issues [but] also contribute to the community as a whole.” As an example, Dawn and the Williams Lake First Nation collaborated on alternative procurement language for a project that included a minimum value committed for Indigenous economic opportunities. The alternative language was successful and has since that time been used for other projects. “I’m proud that we developed this language,” Dawn says, “and that my colleagues and executive were supportive to try a different approach. This established a path to provide more economic opportunities within highway projects for other First Nation communities.” BC Reconciliation Award juror Chief Sophie Pierre was also struck by this element of Dawn’s work: “Dawn is an outstanding example of an individual doing a job exceptionally well. She’s acknowledged by the First Nations she serves and described as someone who gets things done. What a great model she provides for other ministries to follow.”
“I’m truly humbled to be recognized for my work through this award,” Dawn says. “It’s an honour to work with a community and their leadership. I appreciate their willingness to not only work with me but to get to know each other and share moments in our lives.” Dawn recalls fondly how the milestones of her personal life, like her marriage and births of three children, have been noticed and celebrated by her work partners. Dawn is quick to reiterate that Reconciliation is not easy. The work required to understand historical grievances and find a way to collaborate with each community in setting a path forward is immense. But with these collaborations comes the power of meaningful, genuine connection, and wonderful friendships too. “I love travelling to communities,” Dawn says, “sharing a meal, having a laugh, and then getting down to business.”