Getting to know CFAR – Sandra Sutter – Executive Director – by Luticia Miller

July 26th, 2020 | Sandra Sutter

Interview:  Sandra Sutter

June 18, 2020

I’ve had the pleasure, and honour, to spend time with Sandra Sutter, CFAR’s Executive Director: getting to know who she is, what drives her, and the power behind her motivational work for CFAR and Indigenous relations.  While her presence and reputation is spread undeniably wide, allow me to share with you what she has extended to me.

Let us start by knowing who is Sandra Sutter…

By her Anishinaabemowin name, she is Ogichidaakwe – or Peaceful Warrior Woman.  This name was gifted to her by an Elder, another woman of this name, who recognized in Sandra a kindred spirit.   To CFAR, who she is honoured to have served for the past 8 years, she is the Executive Director.  She is the Manager of Indigenous Partnerships for PTW Energy, and works with non-profit and community organizations to help to work towards economic and social equity and inclusion.  She has worked with the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension who currently deliver the Indigenous Community Industry Relations Certificate and Indigenous Engagement Citation programs initiated by CFAR.  Beyond such powerful industry and business operations, Sandra is an award-winning recording artist, whose music inspires and transpires, and she was last year awarded one of WXN’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.  So talk about Peaceful Warrior woman, what an apt name to be bestowed!

You dominate in music, you lead in your organization, you bring people together through CFAR, can you tell me how these different aspects of your personality contribute to your work?

“From the intersectionality of Arts & Economy.  In Indigenous culture, Art is an economic activity. It expresses culture, the relationship with the land, the laws of the land.  It explores new ways of connecting, and strengthening linkages.  The Indigenous holistic understanding that all relatives are intertwined and interdependent in a network lends to a knowledge that we are responsible to the future of all.  Through music and art, we share lessons in a way that is inherently understood, and felt within us.”

You pack so much into a day – what drives you and where do you get the energy?

“It’s really a compulsion, and perhaps an obsessive tendency!”  CFAR attracted her because Sandra “saw that no other organization existed that was community focused, and worked with all industries, and with government, to support connection & collaboration.”  She was fortunate to be able to help Dr. Pat Makokis to pick up what previous CFAR board members had started, and continue to build a platform to support the professional Indigenous liaison curriculum, in order to give liaisons a credential, and thus bolster the much-deserved credibility that the role requires.

So you are a force in your work, and a major success in your art – is there anything you do at a mediocre level??

“Well, I don’t cook, and I hire out my housework and the watering of my plants!” I can certainly see why, when your outputs are as impactful as Sandra’s, it serves us all well that she chooses to invest her time in these causes and not on cooking!

How have you found COVID-19 has impacted work and communities?

“It has been an opportunity to explore different concepts, safely distancing of course.  We have found ways to be with the spirit of the person day-to-day.   CFAR’s Board Members participated in a facilitated on-line exercise recently that saw – unsurprisingly – our Elders leading the way, participating in meetings via zoom.  We learned how to move forward – how to pray, how to smudge, remotely using technology.  We have also heard that communities are coming up with all kind of interesting solutions to support Elders and communities, and we share this information within our network.

Why is it important for you to bring these groups – of Industry and Indigenous communities – together?

“CFAR tools teach us how to talk, and to communicate, so we can understand that at the heart of it, we all want essentially the same things.  We want a future for our children, and our children’s children’s children.  CFAR provides opportunies for corporate North America to learn from our Elder’s, to learn from the wisdom they have accumulated and that they carry and share.”  And conversely, for our communities to learn from corporate leaders, what their years and experience have taught them, and how to navigate in the very different corporate environment.

Sandra explains further, “It’s all about empowering people to bring who they are, because the space in the middle between who you are, and who I am, that’s the connection. I learn more every time Reg and Rose Crow Shoe talk about the space in the middle, ethical space. We recently had a CFAR board meeting, where one of the members called and said she couldn’t come because she had no childcare for her infant.  ‘Bring your baby,’ we told her.  The woman was very surprised”  As a working mother, I can attest to that – how often are you told to show who you are outside of your professional world, and especially in such a tangible and undeniable way?  I would have been floored, myself!  But that is who Sandra is, and that is the type of organization she runs – one which welcomes all to “Bring who you are,”  encouraging a person to bring the whole of who they are – the mother, the sister, the employee, the manager – and each of those voices and perspectives.   Sandra values the presence of both Elders and of youth at all events, as she has been taught to do, benefiting from the teaching opportunity and leadership from both sources.  She encourages all to be themselves, and bring what you want to talk about to the table.

On why it is important to have Indigenous voices at the table…

“The voice of the Indigenous People is the voice of the first people of and on this land; they are the voices that will tell us how to be truly sustainable in this interconnected world.  By listening to the stories, by sensing and identifying disharmony – industry and commerce will be well served to hear that voice; it is the one that will save us all.”

Having met Sandra in our shared workplace of PTW Energy, I can attest that the name Ogichidaakwe is an excellent fit.  Exuding strength and resilience, but gifted in hand with a generous smile and calming demeanor, she is Peace, and she is a Warrior, drawing on both these traits to bring communities of Indigenous & Industry together to share at the table. Most important, what she highlights is recognition of the space in the middle; that space which is connection.

by Luticia Miller