Women’s Day 2021: Featuring 5 influential leaders within Vanderhoof and Saik’uz First Nation

Dr. Rebecca Janssen, Chief of Staff at St. John Hospital. (Submitted)Dr. Rebecca Janssen, Chief of Staff at St. John Hospital. (Submitted)
Theresa Philips, with her family. (L to R - Amy McNolty, Spencer Philips, David Philips, Theresa Philips, Alexa Philips, Taylor Philips)Theresa Philips, with her family. (L to R - Amy McNolty, Spencer Philips, David Philips, Theresa Philips, Alexa Philips, Taylor Philips)
Coun. Jackie Thomas. (Saik’uz First Nation/website)Coun. Jackie Thomas. (Saik’uz First Nation/website)
Lynne Stuart, director of the Omineca Safe Home Society. (Submiited)Lynne Stuart, director of the Omineca Safe Home Society. (Submiited)
Ankie Nellen, owner at Everything for Ewe. (Submitted)Ankie Nellen, owner at Everything for Ewe. (Submitted)

Not all heroes wear capes, some don surgical masks, business coats, dresses, skirts, and all other varieties of clothing.

International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, is a time to recognize the hardship and contribution of several women in the community. To celebrate this day, the Express is featuring five women to highlight the voices of influential businesswomen and leaders in Vanderhoof and Saik’uz First Nation. This is not an all-encompassing list as there are hundreds of other women making everyday change in the two communities.

We will be featuring five more women next week. Stay tuned.

1. Jackie Thomas

Coun. Jackie Thomas at Saik’uz First Nation, is known for representing the first nations community and culture to various levels of government. When asked the reason for choosing this profession, she said, “It kind of chose me. I did not choose it.”

Thomas believes, “When women get together, they can make change happen. When things are tough, it is the women who have to pick up the work and make it better.”

Currently, she is working on the Nechako River as she believes it has not only affected the residents of Saik’uz and Vanderhoof but also the rest of the region.

“The water levels and unnatural river that we currently have not only affected humans but also birds, animals and fishes,” she said.

Professionally, she feels challenged when people have beliefs based on incorrect facts.

“Sometimes, people make assumptions about first nation people that are not correct and they do not actually know us,” she said.

“We need to know each other better and have a relationship with different people and keep an open mind on how our world should be better,” she added.

Thomas is a mother of four and a grandmother of two.

READ MORE: International Women’s Day 2021: #choosetochallenge

2. Theresa Philips

Born and raised in Vanderhoof, Theresa Philips run a family-owned logging business along with her husband. She handles the payroll and personnel department at Pitka Logging.

“My sister and I have been lucky that we were raised by parents who taught us to be strong women,” she said.

She shares how her parents taught her to follow her ambitions.

“They always told me if you want to do, then do it. There is nothing stopping you because you are a woman. I try to pass that on to the girls that I coach,” she said.

While Philips loves raising her family in Vanderhoof, she would like to see more affordable housing.

She enjoys hockey, golf and camping. She also teaches hockey to girls and loves to volunteer in the community.

Pitka is a prime contractor for Canfor.

3. Ankie Nellen

From holding a managerial position at a convenience store to owning a business, Ankie Nellen slowly grew her business into the market.

“With the convenience store, I was able to take over Greyhound, which led to other opportunities to go into the business,” she said.

With the help of her husband, Nellen develops wool products from sheep they breed at home. As there are several businesses owned by women in the community she feels Vanderhoof is “forward”.

“I hope we can show that to the rest of British Columbia. It is amazing how many empowered women are in the community,” she said, adding she hoped more people start developing their own niche.

Nellen highlighted the importance of feedback from her customers.

She owns Everything for Ewe which came about after running the Greyhound Depot.

4. Rebecca Sue Janssen

Originally from Ontario, Janssen moved to Vanderhoof 10 years ago for work.

She works at the Omineca Medical Clinic as a general family practitioner and provides maternity and emergency room services at St. John Hospital. She also works in the mental health unit.

Janssen always idolised her father and the role he played in the community.

“My parents encouraged me towards science. Although they were open to what I wanted to do, my father always said medicine is a great profession because you have flexibility and autonomy,” Janssen said.

Janssen also points out the resource issues in healthcare, especially in the northern region, and balancing home, raising a family and trying to be professional.

Talking about women empowerment, Janssen said, “feminism has become a really negative word. It is all about having a choice and opportunity and not being forced to do anything because of your gender.”

“Empowering women starts with parents, by raising girls with the same opportunity and expectations you would have for a boy,” she said.

She highlights the importance of education and how various women end up raising their family in poverty for myriad reasons.

“If women have education, they have options. I know there is evidence that when women are educated, it improves the standard of living for the entire community. It is also about educating men and changing their expectations. I would not be able to do what I am doing without the support of my partner,” she added.

Janssen has three kids and loves outdoor activities, including hiking, cross country skiing and yoga. She hopes to go back to her long reading list as well.

5. Lynne Stuart

Stuart moved to Vanderhoof from Stewart in 2000 and started her career with transport and supervisory services at Nechako Valley Community Services, now known as Connexus Community Resources.

Currently, she is the director, and a counsellor at Omineca Safe Home Society and finds several challenges in the profession.

“The challenge is recruitment as the wages are not great and it is hard to keep people here. When people get a masters or a degree, they usually look for work down south where it is warmer,” she said.

She also added that the housing is scare and rent is expensive.

On empowering women, she said, “That is why I am here. I see between 500 and 700 women for counselling appointments. I, currently, have a substantial waitlist and it is because of empowering women. It is a strength-based program. It is not about what women are doing wrong. It is about how the system is failing on them.”

While she hopes to have more women in politics, she wants to see more businesses paying “living wage not just minimum wage.”

She loves gardening, drinking and making wine and fishing.

AlSO READ: Why skilled immigrant women continue to be shut out of B.C.’s booming tech sector

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