The Governing Circle provides strategic direction for our organization. Thank you / Miigwetch / Mahsi cho / Merci / Welalin for volunteering your personal time and expertise – Sara Lyons, Elisa Levi, Andrew Bear Robe, Jennifer Brennan, Justin Wiebe, Stephen Couchman, Todd Hoskin, Amyn F. Lalji, Andrea Nemtin, Susan Smitten, and Harry Wilmot.
Sara Lyons is Director of Strategic Initiatives for Community Foundations of Canada.In her many years working with community foundations, Sara has seen what great things can happen when you combine a willingness to lead (and listen), the best thinking, and a collaborative spirit with some money, even just a little bit, to move things forward. She is engaged with the Circle to boost role that philanthropy plays in bringing intercultural understanding and reconciliation in Canada. And along the way we can support great leaders, champion great ideas, bring program to scale and support innovation. Sara loves sports and the outdoors and is impatiently waiting for her two young daughters to be old enough to ski, skate and bike alongside her.
Elisa Levi brings forward over 15 years strategic and project management experience in health systems and the philanthropic sector. She most recently led the First Nations, Inuit & Métis Cancer Control Strategy at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Elisa is passionate about sharing the spirit of life-long learning, weaving networks and supporting innovative change-making causes. In addition to her consulting practice – Debisinii – Elisa contributes leadership to several organizations. She is Vice Chair of the Board for the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, Advisor at Small Change Fund and the University of Toronto Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, as well as a Trustee for Edkaagmik Nbiizh Neyaashiinigamiingninwag Edbendaagzijig Trust and a member of the Board of Health for the City of Toronto. Elisa draws upon a Master of Public Health from Lakehead University. She graduated from Ryerson University School of Nutrition and has pursued a vibrant career as a Registered Dietitian. Elisa is a proud Anishnaabe-kwe and member of the Chippewas of Nawash in Ontario.
Amyn F. Lalji
Amyn Lalji is a partner with Miller Thomson LLP. Amyn has specialized in Aboriginal, Business and Environmental law and has represented First Nations in many of Canada’s largest resource based projects, economic development and self government initiatives. In particular, Amyn has been involved in structuring, negotiating and implementing Impact and Benefit Agreements, Participation Agreements, Joint Ventures, Limited Partnerships, and many other commercial arrangements. Amyn has also advised First Nation clients on developing Trusts which seek to manage the wealth of First Nations for future generations. Amyn’s work has included: the Victor Diamond Project (Impact Benefits Agreement between Attawapiskat First Nation and De Beers Canada Inc. and Attawapiskat Trust), the Galore Creek Project (Participation Agreement between Tahltan Nation and NovaGold Canada Inc.), the Orca Sand & Gravel Project (Impact Benefits Agreement between Kwakiutl Band Council and Polaris Minerals Ltd. and Kwakiutl Trust), the Simpcw First Nation (Impact Benefit Agreement between Simpcw First Nation and Canadian Hydro Developers Inc.), the Pembina Nipisi & Mitsue Projects (Project Agreement between Driftpile First Nation and Pembina Pipelines), the Vista Coal Project (Impact Benefit Agreement between Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and Coalspur Mines (Operations) Ltd. Amyn is called the British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon Bars.
Harry Willmot has worked in the financial industry for close to forty years and over those years he has managed a number of dynamic initiatives for RBC Royal Bank. Harry is currently responsible for leading the Bank’s Ontario Aboriginal market strategy and is Sr. Manager of Aboriginal Market Development.
He is a founding Director of Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training, and Miziwe Biik Development Corporation Toronto; Harry is also founding Director of the National Aboriginal Literacy Foundation. Over the years he has, and continues to serve on numerous regional and national advisory councils. Past community council advisor to the Metro Toronto Police Aboriginal peace keeping unit and the Toronto police services board, and the Assembly of First Nations and Chief’s of Ontario on housing and infrastructure to name a few.
Susan Smitten is the executive director of R.A.V.E.N. (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs) a Victoria- based non-profit charitable organization that provides financial resources to assist Aboriginal Nations within Canada in lawfully forcing industrial development to be reconciled with their traditional ways of life, and in a manner that addresses global warming or other ecological sustainability challenges. Since 2009, Susan created and has managed the only NGO in Canada with a mission to raise legal defence funds to assist First Nations who enforce their rights and title to protect their traditional territories and the environment.
Susan is also an award-winning filmmaker and writer whose recent projects communicate the connection between environmental issues and First Nations’ stewardship of the land. For RAVEN, Susan directed the acclaimed Blue Gold: The Tsilhqot’in Fight for Teztan Biny, giving voice to the Tsilhqot’in peoples unanimous rejection of Taseko Mines Limited’s ‘Prosperity’ open pit gold-copper mining project. She co-directed Wild Horses, Unconquered People, about the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation’s legal fight to save their culture and land. A Carleton University journalism graduate, Susan spent 15 years as a broadcast journalist before embarking on a freelance career as a documentary and series director/writer and producer. Her film FASD: Finding Hope for Knowledge Network is now shown to BC-based parents considering adoption and has been distributed to several countries including Japan and Australia. Susan is also a published author of seven books of ghost lore for Lone Pine Publishing.
Jennifer Brennan has worked within and for Indigenous communities and organizations throughout Canada for over twenty years, advancing social justice through advocacy, strategic direction and negotiation among diverse sectors. Ms. Brennan has led the coordination of complex interjurisdictional negotiations on behalf of Indigenous nations on several key matters including education and land title recognition. She served as Chief of Staff at the Assembly of First Nations and prior to that as Director of Strategic Policy at the Assembly of First Nations for ten years.
Jennifer has supported First Nations through these efforts and through writings and presentations on the importance of community engagement, empowerment, and facilitation to foster long-term, sustainable solutions to complex problems. Ms. Brennan’s areas of expertise include governance, human, Indigenous and gender rights, traditional knowledge and environmental protection. Ms. Brennan also served as Senior Strategist and Advisor to First Nations during the Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable, the Kelowna Accord, the Residential Schools Survivors Settlement Agreement and has assisted regional and local Indigenous organizations in the design and execution of strategic planning, advocacy and communications advancing Indigenous land and title rights
Throughout all aspects of her work, she brings a strong sense of the importance of community participation, consensus building and an overriding commitment to the affirmation and recognition of Indigenous rights and community led direction. Jennifer became Executive Director of the Samuel Family Foundation in May 2015 and joins the longstanding leadership efforts of SFF to raise awareness of social isolation and to foster social connectedness for diverse communities in Canada and around the world. Jennifer is the proud mother to three sons who inspire her every day.
Andrew Bear Robe
Dr. Bear Robe has a significant level of experience in the area of First Nations governance and management. Dr. Robe served as the Executive and Tribal Manager of Siksika First Nation in southern Alberta. He served as Director, Policy and Research, Aboriginal Land and Legal Issues, Government of Alberta, a director level in policy development and research for the Alberta government in the department of International, Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Relations. He has written numerous policy studies and research papers in the areas of strategic and governance planning, socio-economic policy development for government and First Nations, First Nations sovereignty and self-government as well as Aboriginal and treaty rights. He holds a Master’s degree in Political Science and Canadian Studies from the University of Calgary and received his Ph.D. in 2010.
I have pursued my education and professional credentials with the singular objective of collaboratively improving the quality of life for Aboriginal peoples and seek a just settlement of Aboriginal issues whether that be of a constitutional nature, legal, self-determination, economic or social. For recreation, Andrew and his wife, Carolyn, are avid horse persons and belong to three competitive horse riding clubs in southern Alberta. I was once told by Blood Indian Elder, Rufus Good Striker, that a good Blackfoot should have a horse.
“When you paddle whitewater it is important to not focus on the rocks and other obstacles, but the fast-flowing, clear current between them. When you focus on opportunities, you are less likely to run aground. I think about the contribution of the Circle in the same way.”
Stephen has been involved with the Circle since it’s inception in 2007. He was drawn to this group, committed to addressing the most complex, divisive and neglected issues in Canada with a positive, collaborative approach. Stephen has been engaged in the social, arts, business and philanthropic sectors for over 20 years through foundations and charitable organizations across Canada and internationally including Outward Bound, Summit Training, Toronto Community Foundation, Social Capital Partners, and several other private foundations. He holds a BA in International Development, a Masters in Environmental Studies and an executive certificate with the Ivey School of Business. Stephen enjoys cross-country skiing, sailing and canoeing with his wife Cathy and sons Matthew and Samuel.
Andrea Nemtin is the CEO and founding president of Inspirit Foundation. She is a creative, committed and passionate leader in strategic philanthropy, social finance and social innovation. Andrea has led her team to launch a series of critically needed programs to address inclusion in Canada, including the foundation’s first roadmap towards a 100% impact investing portfolio. Andrea was one of the founders of the Philanthropic Communities Declaration of Action on Reconciliation, and an adult ally of the 4Rs Youth Movement. Prior to Inspirit, Andrea spent 15 years as the President and CEO at PTV Productions, creating socially impactful, award winning broadcast and interactive media. She began her career in changemaking running social marketing campaigns at Adbusters Media.
Andrea has served on many boards including at Hot Docs documentary festival and Abilities Arts Festival (Tangled Arts). Currently, she chairs Artscape Youngplace Condo, and is a board member of Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples, Centre for Social Innovation, and the newly formed Story, Money Impact.
Andrea grew up in Vancouver and lives in Toronto with her husband Ian and son James.
Todd began working with First Nations in the Northwest Territories more than 20 years ago and joined Ulnooweg Development Group as CEO in February 2001. With Todd’s leadership Ulnooweg has grown stronger and now provides developmental lending and business advisory services for First Nations and Aboriginal entrepreneurs across Atlantic Canada. He has created an excellent team of experienced professionals with a deep understanding of business and the communities served.
In his role as CEO at Ulnooweg he has worked to build connections between the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada with the philanthropic sector. This includes creation of the Ulnooweg Financial Education Centre (a new registered charity); addressing the complex opportunities regarding access to capital; and helping communities achieve qualified donee status.
Todd is a CMA and has a BA in Commerce. He had many years of experience in public sector accounting and Aboriginal community business development and lending prior to joining Ulnooweg.
Justin Wiebe is Michif (Métis) from Saskatoon in Treaty 6 and Métis Territory, and currently lives in Toronto in territories covered by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant. Justin is passionate about inclusive city-building that centers reconciliation, youth leadership, and building movements of solidarity across different communities. Justin currently works for the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) in the Youth Opportunities Fund (YOF) as a Capacity Building Specialist. He is also a Board Co-Chair at Canadian Roots Exchange a national youth-focused reconciliation-based organization. Justin has experience working as an educator and urban planner in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Ontario, and is currently a Civic Action DiverseCity Fellow.