By Paige Hopkins.
Photographs by Agnieszka Pajor. Video by Agnieszka Pajor and Dustin Wentzell.
Shakat Journal Editor, Paige Hopkins sits down with Yukon Regional Assembly of First Nations Chief, Kluane Adamek.
With her 1st term underway as Chief, Paige tries to get to know her, her position on leadership in the North as well as her roles in the Assembly of First Nations.
“When you sit down with Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief for Yukon Kluane Adamek it’s like you are chatting with an old friend. She is exceptionally approachable, warm and gracious. She is also confident in her words and in her messages.”
Raised by her mother, Chief Adamek was always taught to push herself and work for the things she wanted. Her grandmother corroborated those teachings by telling her “Just do it, don’t wait. Just do it.”
Looking at the Regional Chief’s extensive portfolio, one can see that she took the advice of her grandmother to heart. The national portfolios she currently holds are Environment, Mental Health, Modern Treaties and the AFN Youth Council – all topics that are extremely important to the Yukon.
Supporting the Youth Council must be second nature, as Adamek has been working with youth since before she was a youth herself. Being the eldest sister of four brothers, she also coached basketball, helped out at Culture Camp and worked at Skookum Jim’s Friendship Centre.
It was when she went to University and took First Nation Studies and Canadian Studies, that she realized there is so much work that needed to be done with young people. Young voices sometimes are included in the conversation but not heard. However, as Adamek pointed out, there are organizations who are working on engaging youth and getting their voices out there. The AFN Regional office is one of them, and Adamek encourages young people to reach out and let her know how they can better support them.
Providing that support for Yukon’s young people has been something of a mission for the Regional Chief, since the passing of her cousin at a young age. That is when she co-founded Our Voices with a number of other budding community leaders, as a part of her fellowship project. For three years running, youth gatherings were held on the land, with programming aimed at better supporting them in roles of leadership and to connect them to the land, each other and their communities.
“We came together and we created a network. And that was powerful,” says Adamek.
The impacts of these gatherings are still felt today. A number of those involved have gone on to fill leadership roles in their own communities, Nations and industries.
As a young woman, in a notable leadership position, she has had her challenges. Though she had always known that for women, in general, there are double standards that exist, but she never felt it until stepping into her office. “The colonial ways in which women are responded to in society are difficult to begin with. Being the youngest at the executive and one of three women, was challenging,” adds Adamek. She sometimes feels that women’s voices get diluted in the conversation and that she needs to be more aggressive, or louder, to be heard.
Although, when met with challenges or difficult situations, Chief Adamek asks herself how one of her many women mentors, Elders or her mother would respond. She is grateful to feel supported by the women she has standing beside her, guiding her.
In turn, she is doing her work to support other young women in leadership. Her biggest piece of advice for young women is that 90-100% of the time, all the negativity/lateral violence they may feel has nothing to do with them. “We need to be kinder to each other and to support each other.” She enjoys the encouraging environment of her all-female office.
In any position she holds, Chief Adamek brings everything she has to the table.
As for her work in the AFN Regional office, her goal is to expand upon the work of the regional Chiefs who came before. They have done so much; now is the time to build upon that legacy. “As hard as it can be, and as frustrating in those moments, at the end of the day, I know that what we are doing is good work and I know it is having an impact.”
For those in political offices (and many other industries) the feeling of always being on call and always thinking about the work, is customary. “Take time to disconnect, spending time with the people who are your people,” is the strategy that Chief Adamek uses to unwind.
In her limited spare time, Adamek enjoys sitting on her mom’s couch, visiting with Elders and mentors, all the while balancing time with her partner. If time allows, once a year she will head to her traditional territory to hunt with her father.
Chief Adamek notes that Yukon First Nation women have always had incredible roles in leadership, they were and are the matriarchs. Yukon First Nations women have always been leaders and will always be leaders.