It was a fantastic start to a new job for Letitia Wells when she was hired on as a part-time contractor with Indian Oil and Gas Canada in September 2015.
At the time, Wells was returning to university to further her education, fleeing a relationship of domestic violence, and felt a job with the federal government was something that she could take pride in.
Wells also believed she could contribute to changes from within the federal government and help advance reconciliation.
Roughly five years later, Wells was suicidal, feeling defeated and on sick leave.
One night, Wells says she had to reach out to a co-worker who stayed on the phone with her all night, so she “wouldn’t be alone with her thoughts.”
“I have realized that my life is too important now, to allow anybody to take me down that way again,” says Wells on latest episode of Face to Face.
“I now realize that it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t something that I did. They tried to destroy me, they tried everything in their power. They did kill my spirit, they did emotionally kill my spirit, where I felt that my life was no longer worthy of moving forward,” she says.
“And I fought that process and I fought those thoughts. And that is what has given me the strength and what I have learned to recover from that is I will no longer have those thoughts again because they have given me the strength to overcome that.”
Wells and Yvette Zentner are the two lead plaintiffs in a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government, alleging widespread systemic racism in the federal Indigenous agencies and departments.
The proposed litigation would include all current and former employees who allegedly experienced harassment or discrimination while working at Indigenous Affairs, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Indigenous Services, or Indian Oil and Gas Canada.
Wells, who is Blackfoot, now feels the federal government is no place for an Indigenous person to work.
“I don’t think that true, authentic, Indigenous peoples will ever move forward within the federal government. I don’t think we have a chance in hell to ever reach to the top level of government agencies or institutions,” says Wells who first came forward to APTN News for a story by Brett Forester in April 2021.
A third-party review of Indian Oil and Gas Canada, obtained by APTN News, found ‘staggering’ racism at the Indigenous Services oil and gas agency.
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu says she was “horrified” by the report.
On an upcoming episode of Face to Face, Hajdu says she spoke with her deputy to “talk about how we could more rapidly make changes within our own department to create much better systems of safety for Indigenous employees.”
“I have people that I work with closely, that have worked within the department that have told me their own personal stories about how that systemic racism and that inter-personal racism affected them and traumatized them. This is extremely, unacceptable, and we cannot expect to thrive as an organization, as a government if people are in positions where they do not feel safe in the workplace,” says Hajdu who adds there is zero-tolerance for creating systems of racism within the federal public service.
Wells believes previous statements from federal ministers conducting a thorough review to address the matter is nothing but “lip service.”
“I don’t think that the government has hiring practices that allow authentic, Indigenous Peoples to get through their doors. Those positions are reserved for pretend Indians or Indians that claim to have some sort of identity within them but have no proof,” says Wells.
“It’s illegal to ask a person claiming Indigenous identity within the government for proof. So, there is a pattern being developed that a lot of non-Indigenous people are telling other non-Indigenous people to claim Metis status, it’s an easier foot in the door.”