Indigenous Advisory Circle
The Alberta Human Rights Commission established an Indigenous Advisory Circle in August 2021 to assist the Commission with the implementation of its Indigenous Human Rights Strategy. The Circle will provide advice and guidance on best practices, community engagement, and priority actions. The Terms of Reference outlines the Circle's mandate, membership terms, responsibilities, and administration.
The Circle is comprised of twelve Indigenous individuals from all regions of the province. In June 2021, the Commission invited Indigenous people across Alberta to submit Expressions of Interest to participate in the Circle. Members were chosen through an open competition process. In selecting the Circle members, the Commission strove to include people with diverse experience and expertise (including women, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, and persons with disabilities), from multiple cultural backgrounds, as well as ensuring the Circle would have both urban and rural perspectives.
The Circle members include: Kelly Benning, Justin Gaudet, Janet Gobert, Heidi HeavyShield, Bernadette Iahtail, Nadine McRee, Jo-Anne Packham, Cindy Provost, Sarah Sinclair, and Rachelle Venne.
Circle member biographies
Kelly Benning is a Métis woman from northern Alberta with family roots going back to Manitoba and throughout Saskatchewan. Kelly has over 30 years' experience working within human services, social programming, and social advocacy, with a special focus on Indigenous rights and services. She has served the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre in various capacities as a Board member, President, and Executive Director. She was also Treasurer and Secretary of the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association in Edmonton, each for one-year terms. Kelly worked at the Grande Prairie Regional College as the Aboriginal Liaison Coordinator for seven years and again from 2016 to 2019, when she worked to create an Indigenization plan within the college. She is currently the President of the National Association of Friendship Centres.
Justin Gaudet is a member of the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement, where he was born and raised. After high school, Justin spent ten years working in the hospitality industry across the province. In 2016, he earned a Bachelor of Management degree from the University of Lethbridge with a specialization in Human Resources. In 2018, Justin returned to his home community where he worked as a Consultation Coordinator and then Acting Administrator. From 2019-2022, he served as the Chief Administrative Officer for the Métis Settlements General Council. Early in 2022, Justin again returned home as Chief Administrative Officer for the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement. Having survived numerous cancer diagnoses throughout his life, Justin has had to adjust to the lingering physical effects of cancer treatment. Having first-hand knowledge of what it is to live as an Indigenous person with a disability, Justin is a strong advocate for accessibility and inclusion.
Janet Gobert is of Anishinaabe descent and is a member of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation from Saskatchewan. Janet currently lives in Bonnyville, where she serves as the Community Initiatives Coordinator for the Bonnyville Native Friendship Centre. Janet studied Nursing with a Psychology major, and she also studied Business Administration with a specialty in Health. She has 25 years of experience working with First Nations communities in the areas of health, mental health, community wellness, family supports, and parenting education. In her current role, she also works in the areas of rural homelessness, women empowerment, and human trafficking.
Heidi HeavyShield (Aksistowaki), MSW, RSW is a member of the Kainai Nation, Blood Tribe, which is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy in the Treaty 7 area. She is a clinical social worker in the Alberta criminal justice system, working in a provincial correctional institution for over 15 years as the Indigenous Programs Coordinator. Working from a social justice and human rights framework, she integrates Indigenous cultural and healing methodologies and ceremony with clinical interventions specializing in the areas of trauma, loss and grief, family of origin, and advocacy. She is particularly active in the areas of incarceration of Indigenous people, restorative justice principles and practices, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as areas regarding the legacy of residential schools and colonial policies. She is a sessional instructor with the University of Calgary, Faculty of Social Work, and has taught courses based in diversity and oppression, social policy and social action, practice with families, social determinants of health and colonization, as well as created a social work and the criminal justice system course. She is a proud mother and partner in her own family, and seeks to honour her ancestors and traditional clan of Kainaiwa in her work by recognizing those who have come before her.
Bernadette Iahtail was born in Attawapiskat First Nation and is a Muskeg Cree from Treaty 9. She is a registered social worker, advocate, researcher, writer, film producer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and grandmother. She is also the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Creating Hope Society, an organization dedicated to providing people with a safe and supportive community from where they can make changes, new life choices, and be successful in mainstream society. Bernadette has been part of the leadership team for the Edmonton COVID-19 Rapid Response Collaborative, the Government of Alberta's Anti-Racism Advisory Council, and is now serving on the Board of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee. Bernadette is committed to bringing awareness about the importance of addressing and preventing systemic discrimination and advancing a fair and inclusive society where everyone is valued and treated with equal dignity and respect. She wants to increase awareness of the high percentage of Indigenous children and youth in care of child welfare, Indigenous education, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls+, and incarcerated Indigenous women and men in the prison system. She also wants to work with others to create an environment in which the political, economic, social, and cultural issues in Indigenous communities can be brought to the forefront in order to advance a vision of human rights that reflects Indigenous perspectives, worldviews, and issues.
Nadine McRee is a proud member of the Saddle Lake Cree First Nation and a member of the Steinhauer clan that hails from Treaty 6 Territory. Nadine started her career in community work by spending six years working in and for Tallcree First Nation. She was initially hired as a summer student youth worker and Elder's coordinator, but stayed on and eventually developed a full-time youth department for the community and surrounding area. Since then, Nadine has worked for Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, Native Counselling Services, and the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations in the areas of health, food security, and youth. Nadine earned her Masters of Public Health with a focus on Indigenous Health Promotion and, for the past five years, has been working for Alberta Health Services (AHS) in their Indigenous Wellness Core. She is currently focusing on addressing racism at all levels within health systems and is acting co-chair for the AHS Anti-Racism Advisory Group within the Diversity and Inclusion department.
Jo-Anne Packham is a Métis woman and a member of Métis Nation of Alberta and Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935. For 25 years, Jo-Anne has worked in child and youth care, child development, and most recently, in addictions treatment and homelessness programming. The majority of her career has been focused on Indigenous service delivery, addressing systems of oppression for Indigenous people through front-line programming and advocacy. Currently, Jo-Anne is the Executive Director of the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society and sits on the Reconciliation Advisory Circle for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. She also sits on the Equity and Inclusion Committee of Wood Buffalo, and is a Director with Waypoints Society, a social profit organization working to end domestic family violence, sexual assault, abuse, and homelessness in the Wood Buffalo region.
Cindy Provost, M.O.M., is a proud member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Pikani First Nation in Treaty 7 Territory. She is currently the Director of Indigenous Relations at the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary, where she is building an Indigenous Education for Newcomers Toolkit to help foster interconnectedness between peoples and reduce discrimination and racism aimed at Indigenous Peoples in Canada. She is also a retired member of the Calgary Police Service, having served Calgarians for more than 22 years in multiple roles. Many of those years were spent as the Aboriginal Liaison and Indigenous Strategic Engagement lead, where she focused on building bridges for understanding and peacekeeping between Indigenous communities and police. For her work, Cindy received many awards and was acknowledged with the highest honour in policing in 2019: being appointed to become a Member of the Order of Merit for Canadian Police Forces by Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada. Cindy grew up with her culture, sitting and learning from her Elders, Ceremonialists, and Healers. She learned how to listen from their offerings and garner the ability to see with long-vision and how conversations today can work towards a mutual purpose that helps all people in their life, decades into the future.
Sarah Sinclair is a member of the Peguis First Nation, an Oji-Cree nation in Treaty 1, Manitoba. Her passions are Indigenous justice and natural law. Sarah was born and raised in Mohkinstis and attended school at the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia. Throughout her legal career, she has worked exclusively for Indigenous individuals and organizations in private practice as a pro bono volunteer and now as the lawyer for Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas, Calgary Legal Guidance's Indigenous justice program.
Rachelle Venne is the CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women with experience in the non-profit, corporate, and government sectors. Rachelle was one of six Canadian NGO delegates selected to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2017. She is Secretary of Métis Local 1904 for St. Albert - Sturgeon County, Director of the Alberta Recycling Management Authority, a member of the Alberta Métis Women's Council on Economic Security, and co-chair of the Alberta Joint Working Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In 2012, Rachelle received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for her community service with REACH Edmonton.
Revised: November 17, 2022