Squiala Chief David Jimmie earned the nickname ‘The Brat’ from his fellow Sto:lo leaders due to his teasing ways.
The 41-year-old has an MBA, tattooed sleeves and a mischievous glint in his eye. He grew up listening to punk rock, heavy metal and rap so he’s not against a little light-hearted teasing or some clever humour.
Growing up playing hockey, he wore his hair long at one point and can recall the taunts on ice. He’d coast through town on his skateboard with his buddies looking for fresh asphalt, and sometimes he’d be on the receiving end of hurled insults — or objects.
Those racist taunts stung, as did the mean comments muttered under the breath.
“I think exposure to and witnessing bullying can help shape someone,” said Chief Jimmie. “That was really important to me in understanding how I could make that difference.”
Jimmie never really had political aspirations to be chief that he can remember.
He was into soccer, hockey, skateboarding, snowboarding and music.
“If you ask my mom, I was into mischief,” he laughs. “But I was laid-back and sensitive.”
But his traditional name is Lenéx wí:ót, which means “One who works for the people.”
He was first elected chief in 2009.
Before that he had his own construction company, building more than 200 houses and more than 100 apartments in Chilliwack, and Westbank. When he decided to take a break from building houses when the market tanked in 2008, he bought a ticket to travel around the world.
He made it to 19 countries in less than a year and it opened his eyes.
“It was on that trip that I decided that I would come home to work. Strange, but I always believe the ancestors are watching and guiding us. I really believe it was my grandmother, saying ‘It’s time to go home.’”
Chief Jimmie was recently co-chair of the successful RBC Cup, organized and won locally.
“It was a great experience,” he said, from building the relationship with the Chilliwack Chiefs organization, working with local community champions, witnessing the change of the mascot to the Ts’elxwéyeqw third jersey.
Jimmie is also proud to have worked with local artists on projects such as the third jersey with Jason Roberts, Chilliwack Minor Hockey shoulder patch with Jared Deck and the Vedder Bridge roundabout with Bonny Graham.
Before that he was on the Governor-General’s Canadian Leadership Conference for two weeks last spring.
Later this year work will begin on the joint roundabout art project at the Vedder Bridge, between City of Chilliwack and Ts’elxwéyeqw, which will include a First Nations canoe and paddle design, as well as a water feature, first envisioned by Jimmie.
These days Chief Jimmie is very strapped for time, and you can tell because he talks about trying to regain some life/work balance.
“I’ve tried not to travel as much this year,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it weren’t for the support from my wife.”
He and his wife enjoy supporting their three kids’ activities and sports.
“I want to be there for them,” he said. “I’m learning to say ‘no’ which can be a challenge, especially when there is a lot of opportunity and good work taking place.”
But the pace has been relentless.
Let’s review what he’s been up to:
Chief Jimmie flies to Ottawa monthly as co-chair of the AFN National Committee on Fiscal Relations with Canada, at the behest of the National Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations. He is on the board of the New Relationship Trust of B.C. building capacity in governance, education, language and culture, youth and elders and economic development. He is chief and CEO of Squiala First Nation, president of the Sto:lo Nation Chiefs’ Council, president of Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe representing seven Sto:lo nations. He is a director of the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce.
Building relationships and bridges is key to building capacity.
The economic spinoffs from partnering to build the Eagle Landing development have been valuable for the Squiala community. He first learned about the vast opportunities as lands manager for Squiala before he ran for chief.
He believes in inclusivity, sees himself as an independent thinker who prefers to hang back and analyze a situation rather than jumping in cold. He values emotional intelligence, and works to break down silos separating the aboriginal and non-aboriginal worlds.
No one ever said to him, “Here’s your mentor!” but over the years he’s had several different people in different times in his life who fit the bill to some degree.
“My mom has always been a mentor to me,” Jimmie said of his mother, Tammy Bartz. “She’s a big part of my life, and has such a big heart.”
Another early influence was former Skowkale chief and Chilliwack city councillor, Phil Hall. He was the first First Nations city councillor that anyone can remember.
“Phil was like a second dad to me,” Jimmie said.
He also points to Eric VanMaren of VanMaren Group of Companies as a “direct and brilliant businessman” with whom he had the opportunity to partner and complete several projects.
When they were studying to get their MBAs, Chief Jimmie met MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones, former mayor of West Vancouver, now Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade.
“She is just an unbelievable work horse,” he said with admiration. “We became quite close, and could ask for advice when we were going to school.”
He always hated the fist-pumping cheesiness of “networking” in the business world, but in reality he’s found the practice has become a key part of getting work done.
Now when he flies into Ottawa for meetings of the National Committee, MP Goldsmith-Jones offers her time generously, to open doors or set up meetings with influential types on Parliament Hill.
In terms of the local First Nations arena he points to leaders of substance like Chief Maureen Chapman, Grand Chief Doug Kelly, Grand Chief Joe Hall.
Leaders will often say that “you have to be grounded in culture and maintain balance” so that you don’t burn out, especially when carrying heavy responsibilities.
Seeing Halqu’emeylem on RBC banners in the streets of Chilliwack was a big deal for the elders.
His hope for the 2018 National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21 is basic awareness, and to see the day become a statutory holiday. The event at the Tzeachten Sports Field runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“My hope is for more awareness,” he said.
It’s been an exceptional year.
“I think part of my comfort zone is in a bit of chaos. If I’ve got just one thing to work on, I would go crazy. Having all these different roles works well for me. I feel I do well under pressure.”
It will be interesting to see what comes next.
“What I am starting to learn, sitting at the national table, sitting in provincial engagement sessions, working here in Sto:lo territory, working in Ts’elxweyeqw, is that all of them lend themselves and contribute to our work here. I have to focus here. You can bark up all those trees, and back resolutions at the national table, but in the end it all comes full circle.”