Protecting the Sacred Cycle: Indigenous Women and Leadership

By: Robina A. Thomas, PhD


Xwulmuxw Slhunlheni (Indigenous Women) have, since time immemorial, played critical leadership roles in Indigenous communities. However, with the imposition of racist and sexist colonial policies, Indigenous women’s roles were systematically displaced. As a result of these policies, which formalized colonial governance systems, the vital informal leadership roles the Xwulmuxw Slhunlheni play rarely receive recognition. This book strives to honour the women in our communities who continue to embrace their important roles as givers of life and carriers of culture. This book reviews new ways to view Indigenous women’s leadership.  Thirteen women from various Hul’qumi’num communities on Vancouver Island and the Mainland, share their thoughts on leadership and stress the importance of living our cultural and traditional teachings. A central theme for leadership emphasizes the importance of keeping the past, present and future connected – a Sacred Cycle that will ensure we bring our teachings forward for the future generations.

Foreword by Dr. Gwendolyn Point. Reviews by: Dr.’s Lelie Brown, Jeannine Carrière, and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

  • ISBN: 978-1-926476-20-9
    Price: $33.00
    Binding: Paperback
    Date: 2018
    Rights: World
    Pages: 147
    Size: 6″ x 9″

  • Table of Contents

    Table of Contents

    By: Shoysqwelwhet (Gwyndolyn Point), EdD


    Chapter 1: Introduction

    Chapter 2: From Matrilineal to Patrilineal: Problematizing Leadership

    Chapter 3: Hwulmuhw slhunlheni

    Chapter 4: Remembering Wise Slheni and Tul’tuluw Slheni

    Chapter 5: Indigenous Sisters

    Chapter 6: Sacred Cycle Leadership

    Chapter 7: Mosquitoes

    About the Author

  • Robina A. Thomas, PhD

    Qwul’sih’yah’maht (Robina A. Thomas) is a member of Lyackson First Nation and has Snuneymuxw and Sto:lo roots through her grandparents. Robina is an Associate Professor and holds a faculty position in the School of Social Work at the University of Victoria. Presently Robina is the Executive Director, Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement.

  • Dr. Robina Thomas (Qwul’sih’yah’maht) eloquently and courageously models the leadership she explores in this book that honours the critical place of women in Indigenous culture, family and communities. She speaks back to the systematic displacement of Indigenous women that has occurred through colonization and at the same time offers us all hope. Whether Indigenous or not, whether a woman or not, the traditional teachings of Nuts’a’maat (we are all one) underpin true leadership. The women she learned from and who share their knowledge with us all in her book inspire a way forward. This book belongs in everyone’s home and office; its teachings belong in everyone’s life.

    Leslie Brown, PhD

    Professor Emerita
    University of Victoria

    Professor Thomas has gathered the wisdom of Indigenous women and leaders from her Nation as well as from across many Nations on Vancouver Island and British Columbia. The words and actions of these remarkable women are woven together in an account that takes us to the places we live as women and leaders—to building up the bonds of kinship, culture and ensuring the continuation of stories, teachings and wisdom. Professor Thomas is a bridge to understanding for the public and her fortunate students. The respect and gratitude she reveals for each woman’s path and contribution to the whole is apparent in every page. She makes her circle of friends and relations our circle, and leaves us with a deeper appreciation of the work underway rebuilding families and nations.

    Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

    Aki-Kwe (Cree/Scottish)
    Allard Hall Law School UBC
    Former Judge and BC’s First Representative for Children and Youth.

    What struck me about this manuscript is Robina’s humility in standing up the amazing leaders who are inspirational women. It is clear from reading their stories that Robina is strongly connected to their teachings and that she was destined to be a leader amongst her peoples. Her Xwi’xwi’em’ (telling stories or storytelling) is a gift to the rest of us whether we are women or from other gender locations.

    Some compelling sentences that spoke to me included: “Leadership is complicated” and “Indigenous women and men must work together”. These concepts are such important reminders as we each strive to do the work of resistance, decolonization and resurgence of Indigenous cultural teachings. There were many times in reading this work that my heart and eyes were full. One such instant was when Robina described a visit with her sister Jaye and stated that, “she showed us that on [Vancouver’s] Downtown Eastside, there are women who take up those leadership roles and look after all those around them”. We should hold them up as the teachers they are.

    For the student this book will be a magical exploration of teachings about Indigenous women in leadership storytelling, personal location, Indigenous feminism and doing research that counts. For her colleagues Robina continues to teach us in a good way as a walking example of the meanings of ‘uy shkwaluwun’ or doing things with a good mind and a good heart. In my teachings that is the application of ‘all my relations’.

    Jeannine Carrière, PhD

    Sohki Aski Esquao
    Professor of Social Work
    University of Victoria.