By Alexander Delorme, Communications Staff
“There’s a beautiful connection to all things living on this earth,” says AUPE member Valisity Gabriel. “Everything living has a spirit. There is a purpose for everything Indigenous people use. We are always praying to our ancestors and always sending good intentions. Everything comes from the heart.”
These principles have informed every step of Gabriel’s journey as an Indigenous woman, mother, healthcare worker, and union activist. Her journey hasn’t always been easy, but she has flourished with an unbreakable optimism that only grows as she shares it with her community and fellow AUPE members.
“We need to stand together, in numbers, to fight for what matters. It shows those in charge that we want to see change. It helps educate others, to show them the possibility for change for the better, and not just for us, but for future generations like my children.”
A member of AUPE Local 047, Chapter 10, Gabriel is a Licenced Practical Nurse working at Points West Living seniors care facility in Cold Lake.
“I wanted to be a social worker at first,” she says. “I wanted to help kids in the system that were like me. But after about one term I decided it just wasn’t for me, so I ended up wanting to help people in a different way.”
Now, after working at Points West for over seven years, Gabriel knows just how life changing high quality care is for seniors.
“It is one of the highest honours for me to be able to help those who need it the most,” says Gabriel. “I believe that quality care for our vulnerable population of seniors matters. It’s something I’m passionate about and is something very near to my heart.”
Her commitment to better working conditions and better patient care conditions galvanized Gabriel’s union activism. In 2016, Points West Living locked out Gabriel and her coworkers for nearly 189 days in the freezing winter.
“It all started when my employer locked us out,” she says. “It was there on the picket line that I got to meet members from all over the province and all sectors in AUPE who came out to be picket captains. They took the time to mentor me and educate me on what my union was.
“I knew I was passionate for standing up for quality care, for improved education, training, and staffing ratios, but I didn’t realize there was so much more.”
Gabriel and her coworkers spent those 189 days on an unforgiving picket line, often in weather so cold their toes froze through their boots. The lockout tested their fellowship, but solidarity won.
The lockout experience and the bonds formed on the picket line were life changing. Gabriel began getting involved in serious union activism, which started with observing her first AUPE convention and realizing just how important it is for members to run the union. She then took a greater interest in union democracy, participated in AUPE’s Education Courses, joined the Human Rights Committee, and was elected as Local 047’s Provincial Executive representative.
Throughout, Gabriel has drawn on her experiences as an Indigenous woman to inform her union activism, with which she puts forward an underrepresented perspective and intersectional approach.
“Growing up Indigenous wasn’t easy. I definitely struggled at a young age because of the prejudice, negative stereotyping, and bullying I experienced. But I am proud to call myself Indigenous."
“I think AUPE is moving in the right direction when it comes to reconciliation. I think members are becoming more open to having conversations, learning from them, and moving forward respectfully.”
While Gabriel believe AUPE is on the right path towards decolonization and true reconciliation, she says our workplaces are a different story and have a long way to go.
“Not everybody is open to change, of just doing things differently to be more inclusive,” she says. “But we must. Taking an anti-racism pledge and standing up to all forms of exploitation is something we all should do.
“We’re also in a fight against the government because they continue to undermine not only Indigenous people but also working-class people. I represent both. I try to take a stand and fight for what I believe in, and in doing so incorporate both of those sides of me together.”
But how can each of us contribute to the cause of justice for Indigenous peoples? Gabriel believes it starts on a personal level; all we have to do is connect with one another.
“Making that connection with another person is amazing,” she says. “In that sense, we’re all trying to find who we are, to find belonging. There’s always someone else going through similar experiences. You just have to have those conversations, even if they’re sometimes difficult.
“You’ll be surprised by how much connection there is between all of us.”