An Invitation to Transform
Published19 May, 2021
Photo credit Tae Hoon Kim
As an entrepreneur, Chastity Davis-Alphonse started with a vision inspired by her own life story. With help from CapU, she reshaped it for growth and national impact.
As a mixed-heritage woman of First Nations (Tla’amin Nation) and European ancestry, who has lived on and off reserve and in urban and rural places, Chastity Davis-Alphonse has a foothold in many worlds.
“I am First Peoples and settler in one person; both experiences shape my world view,” she said.
Davis-Alphonse uses her unique lens on the world to be a bridge for others in their own personal journey of reconciliation.
“My life’s purpose is being part of the reconciliation movement — in all aspects of my life. In my personal journey, reconciling the colonizer and the colonized in me, and combining the strengths in both.”
During the past 15 years, Davis-Alphonse has built a name for herself as an Indigenous Relations strategic advisor.
Her work with more than 125 First Nations, major corporations, non-profit organizations and branches of both federal and provincial governments has helped forge or renew relationships and improve mutual understanding between disparate groups. She speaks passionately about the mediation work and healing circles she has led between the RCMP and Indigenous communities.
“I feel [reconciliation] is the most important and urgent opportunity facing all Canadians,” Davis-Alphonse said. “The only way we will move forward together is being in better relationships together when it comes to First Peoples and mainstream Canadians.”
An equally important part of her work is uplifting and advocating for Indigenous women. Starting as a Youth Representative and later as Chair, she served on the Minister’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Women for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for the BC government. She advised on policies and procedures related to Indigenous women’s health and well-being. This experience was pivotal in shaping her perspective and strengthening her belief in the power of her own voice to advocate for change.
As she explains it, the Indian Act was successful at oppressing and erasing traditional matriarchal culture in many Indigenous communities. It created a barrier and an interruption to an Indigenous way of life that existed for thousands of years. This has deeply affected Indigenous peoples and stripped Indigenous women of their dignity and parenthood.
For Davis-Alphonse, reconciliation and rebuilding Indigenous communities starts by rebuilding the value given to Indigenous women.
“When our women are healthy, our communities are healthy,” she said. “I really want to share the strength and resiliency of Indigenous women through my work.”
She realized most Canadians have little exposure to Indigenous women, and the dominant narrative in the media about Indigenous women is negative. That epiphany became the starting point for Deyen: An Invitation to Transform, a course she created on Canadian history through the lens of Indigenous women.
Deyen aims to introduce real and parallel life stories that demonstrate the strength and resilience of Indigenous women to shift our collective thinking — so people value Indigenous women’s lives, stories, matriarchy and governance — and integrate this renewed perspective into our Canadian values.
“The more that we, as Canadians, can learn about each other and our country through the lens of each other, my hope is that there is more understanding, more unity,” said Davis-Alphonse.
Advising clients plus travelling across Canada to teach her course left her constantly feeling there weren't enough hours in the day. She wanted to spread her teaching further, but as an independent consultant, her reach was limited and she didn’t have the ability to scale her business.
COVID-19 cancelled all of Davis-Alphonse’s pre-scheduled in-person training sessions, speaking engagements, conferences and meetings. Her business model had to pivot immediately to stay current. She needed a pandemic-proof online learning platform to make her curriculum more accessible to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across Canada.
In need of a cost-effective solution, she applied to work with CapU’s Indigenous Digital Accelerator (IDA) program. The program links Indigenous small business owners with students and faculty partners to create information, tools and resources to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Davis-Alphonse was selected as the IDA’s first client. Her project also became the University’s first Mitacs-funded research project because it had a clear vision, strong business case and offered direct hands-on learning opportunities for CapU students.
“Mitacs is a national organization that partners with academia and industry to support research through funding to contribute to Canada’s industrial and social innovation,” said Dawn Whitworth, Director of Creative Activity, Research and Scholarship at CapU. “As the first CapU Mitacs grant awardee, this group carved a partnership pathway for CapU researchers to follow.”
Building on the success of this project, CapU has now received 13 additional Mitacs awards for faculty and student research. The University and Mitacs have also co-funded a new Director of Business Development, which opens further opportunities for our students and faculty, according to Whitworth.
Davis-Alphonse was drawn by the reciprocal nature of the work with students. Her hope was that students would benefit from the experience as much as she would benefit from the finished result.
Fourth-year students Rachel Wong and Haluka Yagi became the project leaders; they were supported by faculty member Carol Aitken from CapU’s IDEA School of Design and Bradley Shende from INDIGENEXT, a partner company also supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs.
“My role is to keep the students on track, in terms of timeline and project administration. But it is really the students who are driving the project,” said Aitken.
Wong and Yagi started by developing a “brand blueprint.”
“When people think of design students, they only think about the visuals, but a lot of our time is actually spent on building the brand itself,” said Yagi. “We start by determining the company values, the tone of voice and where the company stands in the marketplace to develop a strong foundation for the project. We dedicate a lot of time on foundational research.”
As classmates in a close-knit cohort of 18 students, Wong and Yagi came into the project familiar with each other and their individual strengths. Wong describes herself as strong in designing interactive tools, while Yagi’s background is in branding. They had to lean on each other and harness their strengths to meet deadlines and deliver results on time.
“It has been an incredible experience and an honour to be able to work on this project and with Chastity,” said Wong. “I’ve had the opportunity to discover more about Indigenous history in Canada as well as working with Indigenous peoples. As always, there is still so much more to be learned and this experience has encouraged me to keep educating myself even after graduation.”
The project put their design background, gained in the IDEA program, into practice by working with a real client.
“For me, as a student, it’s very valuable to have these real-life experiences before we graduate,” said Yagi. “This is a really nice environment to be able to practice project management, time management and speaking with clients.”
After six months of hard work, Davis-Alphonse, Wong and Yagi organized and hosted an online celebration, attended by close to 400 people, to launch Deyen: An Invitation to Transform, a new online and interactive version of her course that allows Davis-Alphonse to teach Canadians coast to coast to coast.
Deyen is a Tsilhqotʼin word for a person with the gifts to transform. She is inviting all Canadians to the online platform to have an experience that will encourage them to transform their thinking. The launch released the first set of modules, Canadian History Through the Lens of Indigenous Women.
The curriculum is delivered in four modules, including audio, video, live Zoom calls, journaling exercises, opportunities for self-reflection and online discussion boards for learning cohorts.
“The tone of the name was really important for me. When you accept an invitation, it’s a different energy,” said Davis-Alphonse. “We’re not here to impose anything on anyone. You don’t have to learn about our history. It’s an invitation to come, learn, hang out with us and spend time getting to know us.”
Both students are continuing to work on Deyen part-time, “smoothing out the rough edges” of the online platform to facilitate a hand over to a more permanent staff team.
“It’s been so exciting and fulfilling to see this project come to life, and it’s been an amazing journey working with the whole team,” said Yagi.
Davis-Alphonse credits the students for being instrumental in creating Deyen.
“I wouldn’t have this program up without them. They’ve done everything beyond the curriculum development, to make sure that this happens,” she said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with two incredibly bright students who are obviously going to go far in their careers.”
Her goal is to see one million Canadians complete the Deyen course.
“In our traditions, when we’re given a vision from the ancestors or from the creator or from wherever they come from, that means that it’s possible. We’re not given visions that we can’t achieve.”