We are stronger when we walk together: my personal story for National Indigenous Peoples Day

By Michelle Sam

My name is Michelle Sam, co-manager of the Walmart Canada store in Duncan, B.C. I’m a mother, wife, daughter, sister, woman of colour and proudly Indigenous.

When the pandemic hit, I took on a leadership role to ensure customers and associates felt safe. It’s been very challenging but we’re getting through it as a team.

My core values have guided me throughout my career: Ya?akstalth (care for one another), Huupiitstalth (help one another).

These values guided me through that day late last month, and the days that followed the discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children at a former residential school near Kamloops, B.C

I received a lot of questions from my associates about the discovery. They were affected and some didn’t want to talk about it. Those who did kept asking the same question: Why wasn’t this a bigger issue?

Days after the discovery, our store associates wore orange to honour the lives lost. Some wore “every child matters” T-shirts. Others wore orange hats that I handed out. These were small gestures, but they helped raised awareness and showed solidarity to my Indigenous community.

That meant a lot to me. And I know it touched our Indigenous associates.

I was sad, emotional and overwhelmed at times. The discovery was deeply personal.

Pictured above: A beach in the Ahousaht First Nation, a small community located on Flores Island in B.C.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my community, especially my grandparents, and everything they were put through at residential schools.

The stories they shared were heartbreaking. It will take many, many years to heal these wounds.

My mom is from the Ahousaht First Nation and she’s the most Aboriginal person I know – a beautiful woman inside and out. I grew up off reserve but I’m very much in touch with my community. I speak and write in my native language. I’ve experienced the canoe journey, the Big House (where governance and traditional practice takes place) and powwows. I’ve put my heart and soul into my Indigenous identity.

I’ve been with Walmart Canada for almost 15 years, starting as a seasonal associate and working my way up. I’ve grown over the years thanks to the help and support of Julie Chahal, my market leader, and associates who took me under their wing.

Confidence was an issue when I first started, but Walmart Canada helped me get out of my shell.

Early in my career, a store manager told me he saw my potential. He encouraged me to apply for more senior roles and helped develop my skills. It wasn’t easy, but it helped me grow.

Since then, I’ve worked through six different roles, two store renovations and a pandemic. At one point, I had 220 associates working under me and ran the largest front end in Canada.

Pictured above: Michelle and her mother Iona. Michelle calls her mom the most Aboriginal person she knows.

I feel empowered in my role as a store leader, especially being a woman of colour. Young women and Indigenous associates look up to me and I feel compelled to help them, like others did for me.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, we honour and celebrate Indigenous culture and heritage. It’s a day that means so much to me as an Aboriginal person. It’s a reminder of where we are, how far we’ve come and how much more we need to do.

As my people say: Ya?akstalth, Huupiitstalth.

We need to do our part and push for a more equitable society for our current and future associates. We must speak up for equity, diversity and inclusion from coast to coast to coast.

The walk towards reconciliation requires us all. We are stronger when we walk together.

Will you walk with me?

Klecko, Klecko (thank you).

Michelle Sam is a Co-Manager at the Duncan, B.C. Walmart.