‘Groundbreaker’: Chief Cook-Searson wins Indigenous women’s leadership award

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson named for this year's Indigenous Women in Leadership Award by Council for Aboriginal Business

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson before heading out to distribute hampers during COVID-19 lockdown in her community. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business on Monday named Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson as this year’s recipient of the Indigenous Women in Leadership Award.

Pointing to her ‘collective vision of community’ through the construction of a new wellness centre for northern Saskatchewan, the national Indigenous business group lauded Cook-Searson’s ‘strength, tenacity, and commitment’ as a leader. 

As the first woman elected to serve as chief, Cook-Searson is now in her sixth term. She is also president of the band-owned business branch Kitsaki Management Ltd.

“I am grateful to have had the privilege and honour serving the Lac La Ronge Indian Band for the past 16 years as chief and 8 years as a band councillor,” Cook-Searson said. 

“Any success I have had, including this award, is shared with all those who have inspired, mentored, and motivated me all through the years to help shape the person I am today. 

“My message to all the young leaders is to follow your heart and have faith that your teachings, supporters, and instincts will guide you.”

Lac La Ronge is the largest First Nation in Saskatchewan comprising the communities of La Ronge, Sucker River, Stanley Mission, Grandmother’s Bay, Morin Lake and Little Red River.

Kitsaki Management employs nearly 1,000 people and owns or manages more than a dozen companies including Athabasca Catering, Canada North Environmental Services, First Nations Insurance Services and Kitsaki Vegetation Services.

“Chief Tammy Cook-Searson’s strength, tenacity, and commitment to her community is an inspiration to us all,” Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business President and CEO Tabatha Bull said.

“Through relentless determination and hard work, she is bringing to life a vision of economic empowerment for Lac La Ronge that will be felt for generations to come.”

The Indigenous Women in Leadership Award is sponsored by LNG Canada. 

“Chief Cook-Searson is the embodiment of what the 2021 Indigenous Women in Leadership Award is meant to celebrate – she is passionate, driven and a true groundbreaker,” said Susannah Pierce, corporate affairs director at LNG Canada. 

“We are proud to sponsor the 2021 Indigenous Women in Leadership Award and recognize the life-changing work that Chief Tammy Cook-Searson has done for her community.”

Cook-Searson last summer broke ground for a wellness, treatment, and recovery centre in La Ronge that will blend therapeutic treatment with traditional Woodland Cree teachings. 

The treatment facility is part of a multimillion-dollar project to help northerners dealing with mental health and addiction issues. Construction is expected to be complete in October 2021. 

“This was a dream that has become a reality and it’s something that we have been working towards for years,” Cook-Searson told those in attendance at the groundbreaking. 

“We will have a beautiful facility here that will provide inpatient and outpatient care for youth and adults.

“We all look forward to the new opportunities that our wellness centre will provide, for all northerners … This community-driven major project is a result of working together and supporting each other.”

The new centre will be on the band’s Fairchild reserve near the existing Jeannie Bird Clinic south of La Ronge, and is open to anyone in need. 

The wellness centre project includes the main facility as well as wellness lodges providing post-treatment care and after-care for families in each of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band’s five other communities. 

Prior to her most recent accomplishments, Cook-Searson brought her community through the 2015 northern wildfire crisis.

She is credited for keeping the public informed throughout the emergency and for having assisted in evacuations, including by boat for those communities not accessible by land. 

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Michael Bramadat-Willcock covers Saskatchewan's north with a focus on natural resources, climate change, mental health, reconciliation and equitable access to health care, education and other services. His work primarily appears in the Northern Advocate. He can be contacted at mbwillcock@paherald.sk.ca. His position was made possible by funding through the Local Journalism Initiative. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L’Initiative de journalisme local est financé par le gouvernement du Canada