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The importance of Indigenous leadership

By Rae Carlson, Communications Staff

Oct 11, 2023

Local 012 member Jessica Pope shares her story

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Jessica Pope was starting Grade 12 and visiting her grandmother when an overwhelming question burrowed through her mind: How on earth does someone pick a career? 

Pope’s grandmother sat down next to her. “My girl,” she said. “If you find a job in water, you’ll always feel at home.” Those reassuring words have stuck with Pope to this day. Her grandmother was right. 

Pope, who is a proud member of the Plains Cree Nation, has been an AUPE Local 012 member for 18 years. She works as a Surface Water Quality Technologist with the Government of Alberta and is grateful to care for our province’s rivers and watersheds. 

“If you take care of the land, then the land will take care of you,” says Pope. “Water is our most precious resource, and so I do this work in solidarity with all human beings.” 

Pope has steadily become more involved with AUPE over the last five years, serving on the Women’s Committee, Local 012’s Occupational Health and Safety Committee, and as a Convention delegate. She is currently a member of the union’s Human Rights Committee. 

Pope’s story resonates with AUPE Vice-President Bobby-Joe Borodey, who is also chair of the Human Rights Committee. 

“Not all of us jump right into union activism,” says Borodey. “This is especially true for members who do not come from traditionally privileged backgrounds. Part of our work is to break down these barriers and make participation accessible for everyone.” 

Pope admits her first Convention was overwhelming, but she became more confident thanks to her fellow Local 012 delegates. Asking questions eventually became easier, and so did using her voice to advocate for the members she was there to represent. 

“As that anxiety subsided, the activist part of me ignited. It’s empowering to see the union from that perspective,” she says. 

With 2023 being an AUPE election year, Pope encourages Convention delegates to act on behalf of the membership that elected them, seek out mentors, and ask a lot of questions. 

“Don’t be willfully ignorant. There are no stupid questions,” she says. 

Pope says her activism really picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift away from in-person meetings and the cancellation of AUPE’s Kids Camp were especially disheartening for members, including Pope. But where others saw a roadblock, she saw an opportunity to become a more dynamic union. 

“When you join any working committee, you have to abandon all your expectations and ask yourself: how can we be flexible in these wild times?” says Pope. 

Borodey echoes Pope’s advice, including how embracing new ways of thinking can help us advocate for social justice. 

“Exposure to committees and Convention offers the best opportunities to bring knowledge back to the job site and inspire others to get involved,” says Borodey. 

The Human Rights Committee focuses on ensuring all members receive equitable treatment and protection from discrimination. Pope is proud to work on a committee that recognizes Indigenous people as victims of systemic injustices that were intentionally created to oppress them. 

“We have not forgotten the children, the elders, the languages and the cultures who suffered and were destroyed because of colonization."
Bobby-Joe Borodey 2023

Bobby Joe Borodey, Vice-President

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Within a democratic union like AUPE, voices like Pope’s can be elevated and become influential. However, Borodey believes much more support and change is needed to reconcile the impacts of the Residential School system. 

“We have not forgotten the children, the elders, the languages and the cultures who suffered and were destroyed because of colonization,” says Borodey. “Through storytelling, advocacy, and somber reflection, we seek to honour the Indigenous peoples lost to the brutal conditions of a system built to disenfranchise them.” 

Pope has also played key roles in LGBTQ+ advocacy as part of her Human Rights Committee duties. She helped organize AUPE’s Pride 2023 event in Lethbridge, as well as the Pride barbecue held at AUPE headquarters this August. Pope and Borodey are especially proud of the event at headquarters, which offered members and their families a free lunch, face painting, and a photo booth to show off Pride outfits. 

According to Pope, advocacy and activism is not just hard work. Sometimes, it’s enough to celebrate the diversity and strength of our membership. 

“The energy and emotions at our Pride events were just... wow!” says Pope. “It made me so happy to be part of it all, to advocate for AUPE members and LGBTQ+ Albertans.” 

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