Jocelyn Formsma has lived and traveled across Canada, determined and passionate about Children and Indigenous Rights she has graduated law school and still considers art and creativity to be at the forefront of her drive to succeed. Jocelyn currently lives in Ottawa and has a strong and deep connection to her heritage in Ontario. She hopes to become a licensed lawyer and use her skills to better educate and empower and represent her Indigenous community.
Where are you from?
Asking where I am from is always a challenging question. My answer changes depending on who I’m talking to and why they are asking. The reason is that I moved a lot as a child.
Generally, I am from Cree territory in Northeastern Ontario, Canada. My community is Moose Cree First Nation in the Mushkegowuk territory near James Bay in Northern Ontario, Canada. However, I grew up in a few small towns and cities in Northeastern Ontario (Chapleau, Moosonee and Timmins) and lived in Ottawa for the last 10 years. Although I lived in the city for the last decade, I’m still a northern bush girl at heart.
What do you do?
I have been an Indigenous children’s rights and youth engagement advocate for the last 15 years. More recently, I graduated law school and now I am working toward becoming licensed as a lawyer in Ontario, Canada. Even as I build my legal career, I’ll always be an artist. I love storytelling. I’ve made short films, had a radio show, I love singing and I like to paint. I try to balance all my interests as much as I can.
What is one of the best decisions you have made?
Some time ago, I decided it was okay to do things alone.
There were many days that I did not go to a movie, attend a concert, go out to eat or book a trip because I couldn’t find anyone to come with me. Finally, I asked myself what was so wrong with going alone?
It can be scary at first, but after you do it a few times, you get used to it and become at peace being in your own company.
What is one of the worst decisions you have made?
I wish that I would have made the decision earlier in life to make learning the Cree language a priority. I regret that so many years have gone by wishing I knew Cree when I haven’t actively taken steps to become fluent.
What are some of the barriers to female leadership?
Some barriers are individual and some are systemic. Overcoming individual barriers takes a change of self and overcoming systemic barriers takes a change of systems. Both can be equally challenging to overcome and not everything is within our control.
What women have inspired you?
There are so many women that I have had the privilege of knowing and learning from over the years. However, there are two in particular that I would like to share with you.
My first mentor was Hannah Sutherland who recruited me for my first youth representative position when I was 17 years old. I will always remember the day she stood up for my right to be included in a discussion and told the other adults around the table “If we are not willing to have difficult conversations with our youth, how will they learn?” I’ve carried that message with me for all of these years and it’s formed my philosophy around the importance of youth engagement.
Cindy Blackstock is a dear friend and mentor of mine. She sets an example for me and the world as to what it means be an effective and ethical leader. In my early years, she pushed me to think about what was possible and has been a constant supporter and champion.
What advice would you give to empower the next generation of women?
Find someone who is willing to teach you and learn everything that you can from them. I avoided making some big mistakes just by listening, observing and learning from someone else’s experiences.
What would you say to men about equality?
Fortunately, many of the men in my life, both friends and family members, are kind, enlightened and treat women with respect. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to do. I think men have the responsibility to: hold their friends and colleagues accountable for disrespectful language and behaviour; role model respectful behaviour; research and do personal work on recognizing their privilege, and; take steps to reconcile it when it happens.
What exciting project do you have coming up?
I’m currently in the midst of the legal licensing process. My short-term goal is to complete all of the requirements and become licensed as a lawyer.
I’m the first one in my family to attend university and get a law degree. Attending the Call to the Bar ceremony will be an exciting moment for me and my family.
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International Women’s Month series
To celebrate International Women’s Month this March, we have turned our logo purple to show our support for effective action for advancing and recognising women.
This year’s theme is #PledgeForParity:
We want everyone – men and women – to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.
We are also recognising the achievements of some amazing women that have inspired us by sharing some of their valuable advice and how they are doing their part to empower women.