You are now in the main content area

Embracing an employee’s personal and cultural wellbeing practices

June 30, 2015
Cheryl Trudeau

By Tracey King, Aboriginal human resources consultant, Ryerson University

Tracey King, Essinhs Kwe (Little Shell Woman) is Ojibway and Pottawatomi. Tracey recognizes that Aboriginal culture and perspectives are very diverse, and this article is a personal account written based on her opinions, teachings and experiences.

One of the parts of my role I enjoy most is providing meaningful work opportunities for Aboriginal people. When getting to know candidates, I appreciate that I can confidently assure them that their Aboriginal identities and unique histories will be respected and valued at Ryerson. This month, I’m profiling the workplace wellbeing practices of Cheryl Trudeau, the coordinator of the Aboriginal Education Council (AEC) and encouraging leaders to be mindful of an employee’s personal and cultural wellbeing practices.

Cheryl’s background

Cheryl is both Anishnaabe and Mohawk - a band member of Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, Ontario. She was a part of the Sixties Scoop and adopted by a Sioux woman and Irish Canadian man. Her adoptive mother instilled in her the importance of education. This is a lesson Cheryl reinforces with her three children: daughter Waagosh (Fox), age twelve; daughter Ozawamkwaikwe (Yellow Bear Woman), age nine, and son Chiichaak (The Living Spirit – Crane), age seven.

As a child and teenager, Cheryl wondered about her cultural identity. In her twenties, she completed the two-year Native Community and Social Development Diploma at Georgian College. She acquired many teachings in college with Elders and Traditional teachers. This was her first experience around Aboriginal people and for the first time she didn’t feel like the “outsider.”

Cheryl’s career and personal journey to Ryerson

Cheryl became a part-time Ryerson employee as the coordinator of the AEC in 2012. Previously, she worked for Ryerson about fourteen years ago as an administrative assistant and pow wow coordinator (a co-op student position) for Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services.

In the AEC, she is continuing the journey for reconciliation in her work by building relationships on campus. She promotes Aboriginal curriculum development to schools and departments to hopefully expose faculty and students to Aboriginal history, perspectives and knowledges.

Cheryl’s employee wellness plan

As an Aboriginal employee, Cheryl is careful to plan wellness into her work and personal experience. For Cheryl, this involves:

  • Walking in the quad, it’s a beautiful green space;
  • Attending pow wows with family to jingle dance (a healing dance);
  • Smudge with medicine (sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar) at home and at work for cleansing and prayer;
  • Getting counsel from Elder if having a difficult time;
  • Attending Aboriginal lectures and teachings on and off campus;
  • Sewing regalia for pow wows and making clothes for children;
  • Making crafts like beaded jewellery; and
  • Spending time supporting students to relate to them and assist them.

Being mindful of employee’s personal and cultural wellbeing practices

As noted in Cheryl’s journey, every Aboriginal employee brings with them a unique story of strength and resilience. Ultimately, all employees come to Ryerson through various paths and have developed their own personal wellbeing practices. As people first leaders, it’s sometimes important to encourage open dialogue with employees to learn more about their own wellness plan and to remember to be consciously mindful of each employee’s personal and cultural wellbeing practices.

The Ryerson First Nations, Métis and Inuit Faculty and Staff Community Group formed this past spring to provide space for Aboriginal employees on campus. Our group will meet next on Monday, July 6 in Kerr Hall West in room 389 from 5:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. All First Nations, Métis and Inuit faculty and staff are welcome. If you are attending, please RSVP to me with the contact information below before July 3.

If you would like to learn more about how to recruit, interview, hire and retain Aboriginal employees, or if you are a First Nations, Métis and Inuit faculty or staff member interested in joining our community group, please contact me at or 416-979-5000, ext. 4705.

To learn more about encouraging workplace wellbeing, contact Myra Lefkowitz, manager, workplace wellbeing services at 416-979-5000, ext. 4724 or