Women in Leadership series kicks off with inspirational webinar

Sask Bulletin
November 17, 2021

Chief Tammy Cook-Searson

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation brought some made-in-Saskatchewan inspiration to teachers across the province with its Women in Leadership event series that kicked off on October 26.

The 90-minute virtual event, hosted by STF Executive Director Bobbi Taillefer, was the first of three planned webinars.

It featured Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division Director of Education Gwen Keith and Kerrobert Composite School principal and town council member Candice Kraft. The casual conversation focused on how the three Saskatchewan leaders followed their hearts on their path to leadership and how they guide and support their communities.

In 2005, Cook-Searson was elected the first female chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, the largest First Nation in Saskatchewan with more than 11,000 members. She is currently serving her sixth consecutive term and is also president of Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership, which manages the band’s economic development and employs nearly 1,000 people. She has also been recognized with several awards honouring her leadership in developing solutions for social challenges, advocacy for Indigenous issues and community service. She was excited to be a part of the inaugural Women in Leadership webinar series.

“It’s important for us to take the opportunity to share our stories with other women. Maybe something we said or something we are doing in our life might help inspire them to do something,” said Cook-Searson. “Take that leap of faith, be open, be willing to share and reveal a little something about ourselves.”

Gwen Keith

In addition to being the director of education for the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division, Keith has been a senior administrator in K-12 education for over 20 years. She is the co-founder of the innovative Mother Teresa Middle School in North Central Regina. Keith and her daughter Skylar, along with another mother-daughter duo, co-founded a movement called RaiseHER, a community of women raising women to become leaders in their communities. She shared Cook-Searson’s enthusiasm for the STF’s new series.

“I have a deep commitment to nurturing women, giving women a voice and celebrating diversity,” said Keith, who is also a grandmother of four.

“Knowing what your strengths are is important. One of my strengths is being strategic and I delight in setting the table in places where women can be successful.”

Kraft is the principal at Kerrobert Composite School, a K-12 school with 175 students and 25 staff in the Living Sky School Division.

Candace Kraft

She is a mother of two, wife and elected member of town council in the neighbouring community of Luseland. She believes strongly in putting energy into strengthening the communities she belongs to, including her school, town, committees and teams. She was enthused to respond to a question posed by Taillefer on how each panelist makes room for other women.

“I think that I have a really unique opportunity because of my work setting. I get that opportunity every single day, but specifically with the young girls. I think that I play a role in modeling what leadership looks like,” explained Kraft, who also coaches girls’ volleyball. “These are our future leaders, our future bosses, and I try to tell them that. [The women who are] a couple of generations ahead of us are who is running the world right now, but before long it will be them, so buckle up. When I see leadership exhibited I have a responsibility to recognize it. I have a comment that lingers in my mind from when I was 15 or 16 years old that really stuck with me. It can make all the difference.”

“Having been the first woman as a director of education at Regina Catholic Schools, you have to do something with it,” reflected Keith. “There are lots of systemic barriers. Perhaps it’s stopping a meeting so that parents can pick up their kids; there are a lot of things that are really a big deal when you’re a mom. I would see the relaxation in women’s faces when they realized that I get it. Give space for life’s complexities. In environments where women aren’t dominant [in leadership], strategically set up that environment to give women opportunities that may not normally be available.”

One theme that wove through the webinar was to grasp opportunity when presented.

“I got into leadership a little sooner than I had envisioned or planned. One of the things that contributed to that was that I put energy into things and didn’t realize I was being watched,” offered Kraft, who co-chaired the campaign to bring a community swimming pool to Kerrobert. “It got noticed by the right people and listening to them when there was a chance to leap. It’s been great but scary at the same time.”

Cook-Searson said perseverance is critical to build capacity in anything you’re passionate about. She was one of the driving forces behind getting a wellness, treatment and recovery centre built in northern Saskatchewan. The $16.1 million project is scheduled to be completed sometime this winter.

“There were times when I wanted to give up because we weren’t getting anywhere but there was always something there to tell me that I was on the right path, to keep pushing forward. It’s bigger and better than what I had envisioned,” said Cook-Searson, who lost an older sister to suicide in 2003. “You just don’t give up no matter what your dreams are. You have to have faith; you have to have persistence and keep pushing no matter what.”

Taillefer, who called the group “an amazing triad of women,” asked the panelists what advice they might offer to their 13-year-old selves.

“Fly while you still have wings. Those few little words mean ‘you go girl,’ take each day, grasp it, move with it,” said Keith. “There will be a time when you won’t have the potential and ability or it gets taken away from you. Just seize that day, let it seize you and go for it.”