Live with honour, walk with intent, and lead with purpose. - Indigenous Box

Live with honour, walk with intent, and lead with purpose.

The other day, I sat with my cousins, beading and chatting about life. One of the questions my cousin asked me was about tokenism. She said, “How do you avoid being tokenized?” 


I figured others may benefit from my perspective and experience and I wanted to share with you all my answers to this great question. 


For some context, the concept of tokenism is a practice of making superficial efforts to include members of minority or underrepresented groups in order to appear inclusive, without genuinely engaging with their contributions or addressing the underlying issues of inequality. The practice often involves appointing one or a few individuals from these groups to prominent positions, using them as tokens to suggest diversity and inclusiveness, while not providing them with real power, influence, or opportunities to make meaningful changes. Tokenism can undermine the individuals involved, reducing their roles to mere symbols rather than recognizing and valuing their actual skills, experiences, and potential contributions.  


Tokenism is a real issue that perpetuates a cycle of superficial diversity, marginalization, and inequality. It undermines the true potential of diversity and inclusion efforts by focusing on appearances rather than substantive change. Not only that, but tokenism has made way for the rise of pretendianism in our society; a phenomenon where individuals falsely claim Indigenous identity, often to gain access to resources, opportunities, or social recognition meant for Indigenous peoples. I am not a researcher on either of these subjects but merely a member of community and someone who has experienced mild media attention. I share only my perspective and experience and encourage others who are seeking evidence based research on these subjects to explore many publications from their trusted academic sources.  


When I first began my entrepreneurial journey, it was March of 2021. We launched Indigenous Box with the intent to champion Indigenous entrepreneurs. We wanted to highlight the work of Indigenous peoples who were reclaiming this space in commerce and making a difference by demonstrating our value, exercising our rights to economic sovereignty and inspiring others to do what they themselves found purpose in. I was always inspired by entrepreneurs, especially people from our communities. People who looked like me who were taking big risks to make change through the creation of a product or service. I always found strength in their stories and knew that one day I would create just like them. I saw people like Carrie from Mother Earth Essentials and Ian from Pansawan at events, telling stories, leading workshops and holding themselves with humility and integrity. 


When we launched Indigenous Box, it was a wild four days of emotion. I watched our analytics climb with people navigating our website from communities around the world. At this point we were only shipping within Canada but many found us and wanted to support our mission. I watched as people clicked through, adding to their cart, moving through our blogs, commenting, and sharing on social media. We knew right away that our mission was needed and overdue. It was on our first day of sales that media outlets began to seek out a story on our endeavor. We decided amongst ourselves, my husband and I, that there was simply no story there. That just existing was not a story. We imagined the headlines: “Indigenous woman launches new business”. Blah… so we declined all media requests and used the time to focus on our launch. We were plugged in every minute of those four days ensuring the accuracy of the plans we put in place. We aimed high to ensure value, quality, accuracy and trust for our customers. It wasn’t until the fourth day when we officially sold out; our entire offerings that were meant to be a three month inventory offering were sold in four days. Customers were sending requests, emails, messages and comments awaiting a restock; a restock that we were unprepared for, that was until we were able to finance a whole new offering. We offered the restock, made it live and within 24hrs it completely sold out again. That is when we decided ok, here is a story. We took matters into our own hands and wrote our own press release. Doing this allowed us to control the narrative and decide just how we wanted our story to be told. 


We knew right away that my voice was valuable and that we worked hard for space to really make a difference. Our attempt to be champions of others, made space for the opportunity to create transformational change in merging two worlds. I promised myself that I would use every opportunity to shine light on the greatness of our people. I knew that every opportunity I would receive would be shared through this vehicle that we all know now as Indigenous Box. 

I also made a promise to myself that I would continue to live with honour, walk with intent and lead with purpose. This was my declaration and a daily mantra that has propelled me and subsequently Indigenous Box to the space we occupy today. 


Over the last three years and four months, my journey has been paved with challenges, opportunities and the relentless pursuit of integrity. I have been faced with my life's most difficult moments both personally and professionally (although I would say my personal and professional aspects of my life are completely intertwined now). I’ve had to find courage and bravery, somethings I have always wished I had more of, and I’ve witnessed first hand how tokenism can undermine the true potential of partnerships. That courage I carried had to be exercised when I felt I was not being seen as equal, when I had to speak up or take action. 


And I did. 


The way I see it, is that tokenism implies a stronger, smarter, more strategic person of power taking advantage of someone who is weaker, less intelligent, and less strategic. 


You see, none of that applies to me. I know my value, I understand my place, I am driven by purpose and with a growing awareness of courage and bravery, I am learning to drive change where I know I can. When I come up on situations where I feel that I am seen as less than, I stand in my power to not only defend myself but to walk with intent. I believe that I have the ability to see a strategic path that can benefit our mission and allow for education and understanding to take place. We are not the weaker party. 


Long time ago, when danger was sensed on our communities, our camps. Our leaders would not send the weakest warriors to see what was coming over the horizon. Our leaders would send the strongest, wisest, and most capable warriors to listen, learn and take strategic action. (Words that I carry in my bundle, that were spoken to me from a great leader and mentor of mine). We have strong warriors in many spaces now and it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our communities with the knowledge we carry from our teachings, community and our culture combined with the knowledge we acquire from this new space. 


Here is my advice to others in this position as they find themselves up against tokenism. 

  1. Practice being an advocate for authentic representation. This means speak up. “It is better well done, than well said.” Take action in the way you know how.
  2. Build alliances. If those who seek you out as a symbol approach you, be ready to direct them to community organizations, or partners who specialize in teaching the importance of diversity and inclusion. For me this was mentors who were trained in this area and who had the capability to provide the right resources. Understand that not everyone knows where to look for help.
  3. Don’t be afraid to demand transparency and accountability. Ask questions about their intention and what they are doing to take action. For me, this was asking about diversity spend, actions towards supporting initiatives like ours, or researching just who I was working with. 
  4. Leverage your influence to challenge stereotypes, misconceptions and dispel myths about the work you do. Ensure that others had the tools they needed to actually make a difference. Was that working with you? Did you teach and learn at the same time? 
  5. Promote cultural competence by modeling it within your organization. Foster inclusive spaces by creating your own inclusive culture. Build trustworthy spaces where everyone can learn, ask questions and grow without judgment or isolation. Show others that you value diverse perspectives. 

And lastly, remember that in the end, it is through genuine partnerships and a strong commitment to our values that can truly make a difference. We hold the power to write our own story, to create the change we want to see and to ensure equality in any space you occupy. So as we collectively learn to navigate these new spaces and build meaningful collaborations let us remember to live with honour, walk with intent, and lead with purpose. 

6 comments

I would really like to learn more on how I can do this. I seem to have a hundred projects running at the same time and none of them ever work out

Jackson Dionne

You’re an inspiration Mallory. I look forward to watching your continued success!

Sarah Neville

How blessed am I that I get to witness you navigating this life you are creating Mallory. You are a true gem. Keep learning, informing, supporting…just keep doing you. Thank you for sharing 💗

Jody Hartman

Migwech for your inspiring words and the way that you truly help others to be visible.

Pamela Meness

You are such an inspiration to so many, Mal! You are doing great things and managing your business with strength and integrity. I love reading your posts and seeing the changes you are inspiring. Keep being awesome, my friend! ❤️

Danielle

Great blog Mal. I have seen my spouse dealing with this several times over the 16 years we have been together. I truly think it is getting better, due to the integrity of the people involved. Strength and confidence will help make this easier over time! Thanks for the great read!

Denise Stroeder

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