The Courage of Transformational Leadership

May, 2020
Eagle Soaring
Norman Yakeleya - National Chief of the Dene Nation

Norman Yakeleya, 
National Chief of the Dene Nation 

Being A Leader is a unique transformational program that leaves participants with the capacity and tools to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Below, you'll hear the incredible transformation of Norman Yakeleya, resulting in his becoming the National Chief of the Dene Nation.

We invite you to listen for what could be possible for you from breaking through the hidden constraints on your leadership in business and in life.


Being a Leader is a transformational 6 Day program and in a moment you're going to hear Norman Yakelaya, one of our graduates, really a giant of a human being, share his breakthrough having examined his unexamined ideas and beliefs about himself and about others.

As Norman shares, you're going to hear the kind of Courage it takes for him to confront that he's been pretending to be something he is not for his entire life - really it's a lesson for all of us.

When you were doing Being a Leader what was it that you saw that was inauthentic transformed and shared at the microphone that day? Remind me of what that was.

Norman: Was that the time that I spoke about the Federal day school? Gordon Hall Residential school that I attended.
Vik: What did you break though? What did you see?

I saw humanity.

I saw humanity that allowed me to speak my authentic self as to my prejudice, my real hurts and pains.

I saw the anger, I saw the guilt that I pretend to be somebody who I wasn't, and I allowed the people in there to take the peace as I unfold my truth to the truest of my ability of being authentic with them.

And taking the risk of being on the court, and sharing that and covering back up just allowed things to be what they are.

I think that's what it did for me. That group gave me a solid AAA, saying you're right, you're on the track.

First time I've had a group like that that said you're right.

Because the very distinguished group that you had, and they were an admirable group you had, they had pretty good credentials, you know I am the only aboriginal person in that room with a bunch of people that I had a lot of issues with.

They helped me.

They gave me a gift to say "You're OK".

I always wanted to hear that from the white man.

You’re ok.

There's nothing wrong with you being Dene, being Indian.

Because all my life we were always told there was something wrong with us Dene as a human being.

So that's humanity in transformation.

Vik: Norman I am totally brought back to that moment. So moving.
Norman: Yeah, me too! I feel it in my throat!

Really remarkable.

And I tell you Norman, the gift you gave them that day when you pulled up your sleeve and you shared you are not a number anymore in this moment, and you were seen, you allowed yourself to be seen, and known, and acknowledged.

Holy smokes, man, no one got over that day.

You know, not just you, no one was the same after your courage and your generosity.

Norman makes it clear that in the end, it was he who had to choose to transform.


When I got through my stuff, and I came to a realization that all I want to find out who was nations.

And the only way I found out who was native was through Sun dances, attending your courses and talking to the people, talking to Kevin (Gangel) and talking to a whole bunch of people.

People that guided me to me. Its scary, I had the key.

You guys gave me a key, you guys gave me all good keys, but it was me that had to turn it.

And when I turned it, I opened a jail.

So I was in a jail without having the physical bars.


Right now, here we are in 2020 with this COVID stuff going on.

How did that breakthrough, which is still with you now, that kind of freedom to be yourself, how did that make a difference for you now?

Like what conversations have you had, that you never would have had if you didn't cause that breakthrough – if you didn’t turn the key for yourself?


Well, I would say that number one, it's damn scary!

Number two, there's excitement to it.

And number three, for me there's a question, like “I'm going to make it” and you start to question all the things people tell you: "you're going to be okay" so it's like a young baby eagle getting pushed out of the nest.

And you question do you love your parents?

If my parents loved me, they wouldn't push me out of the nest.

But the parents, they were taught by their elders what you're going through, so I felt I was being pushed out of the nest and I'm either going to fly or I'm going to hit that ground pretty damn hard.

And I don't know if I am going to come out alive or not. I've hit many bumps in the road, and it doesn't feel good - it hurts as a matter of fact.

I broke a couple of ribs as a matter of fact.

I ruined some of the stuff in my life.

This one here said "You're going to fly, let’s fly!

Vik: What conversations and with who specifically in the last month did you have a distinct conversation with based on your breakthrough that you wouldn't have had, or you wouldn't have had the same kind of conversation?

I can say that I know you're listening for people, but first of all my wife, my boy are most important to what's happening now.

Most important how we learn to live in the bush together, and we learn to work together as a family.

People call it self isolation, I call it family time.

You know the term is the interpretation we have. You know, and my mother in law, who is really knowledgeable in our way of life.

And listen to what the elders are saying.

It was a combination of Kevin giving me coaching, consideration of guidelines and calling me on my integrity, following up, not keeping up on me, even though I have so many good reasons not to make a commitment to a phone call, then trying to figure out – get this, trying to figure out an excuse why I didn't honour my word to him.

And that's when I felt I am being called at the highest level.


How did they help you listen to the elders because I know at first that when they said go to the land that didn't sound appealing.

How did who you've become, how were you able to push yourself through that?


Okay so when the Elders say go to land it's very appealing Vik, it’s very loving.

It's like listening to the music of Mozart.

You say, "oh yes!"

You know it is a challenge, going to the land if you haven't been brought up on it, haven't been raised by it. Haven't driven the dog teams, checked the snares, made the Wolverine deadfalls, or hunted Moose. It's cold and you gotta skin Moose on the land.

That reality is harsh, so you've got to really learn the laws of the land. And the laws of the land have kept my people alive for over ten thousand, forty thousand years.

The time when time began when we talk about dinosaurs in our stories. The time when we talk about the earth forming.

We have our own stories, and the white man have their own through the bible and Christianity, or whatever religion they follow.

We have ours, called Yamǫ́ria, and it made me feel good because we have always asked the elders, the knowledge keepers, what do we need to do?

As people we want to survive, they have always told us, go to the land.

That was very simple.

Now when we do this because of COVID, our answers to our prayers have been given to us.

The creator is telling us: "you prayed to go on the land, you always wanted to go on the land.

Here is your answer - I'm going to cause this COVID disease so that the ones who will listen if you wish you - not mandatory - if you wish to, you can go to the land and be with your family because the way that you've been living is destroying your life.

So, go back to the basics of helping each other.

What is the man's role?

As a protector of the family life.

What is the woman's role?

She gives nourishment to the family.

What are we to teach our young boys and girls about their special role?

What are we going to learn the guidance to ask the elders for advice about certain things?

Our prayers have been answered, we just haven't seen it yet.

The Dene people, we pray that we want to be who we are, the only way we can be who we are is to be the best, and we are the best on the land.

You know with beaver dams when you hunt for beaver, you go with your Elders, and you go with your hunters.

You go to the beaver dam that was holding up the water, you go to the middle of it, you walk in the middle of that little path about a foot and a half maybe two and then you walk and you kick the stick in the middle of the Beaver dam, you kick all the sticks away, and then you walk back real fast, and pretty soon a beaver head pops up and your dad or your uncle or the Elder takes the 22 when the beaver head pops up and looks at it looks at it then gets close to where the dam is broken, the beaver is going to fix it automatically, it's just instinct - it's in its blood.

And it gets up there and that's when the old man shoots the beaver.

And you've got food for your family, you've got fur for your hat and gloves, and you know you've got to run over real fast before the beaver sinks otherwise they won't come back up or you throw your dog into the water and he goes and picks up the beaver if you missed it, and then after a while another beaver comes up, so I think that's what I am talking about.

A beaver dam.

Vik: How is that related to transformation for you?

We were put in the dam situation by the government.

For so long, the white man broke our beaver dam and when we came up, they killed us.

Residential School, Alcohol, Drugs, you know they were waiting, just waiting.

They set the trap, and we Dene, we do it automatically, we do whatever we can do and the white men kill us.

They have ethical reasons why they do that.

They did not see us as people.

It's in the policy that we couldn't vote until 1960.

We weren't people in their eyes, but who said they were right?

Vik: How did the data that Out of the Box CIO gathered empower you in getting the kind of specific funding that you needed?

We verbalized to some of the parts of it to the government and they were taken back and they asked right away can get a copy.

That’s how quick it was.

Vik: What was the difference, what made the difference for them, what were they taken back by?

That the Dene Nation has said what it's going to do is we are going to determine our own destiny.

You are either going to help us or you're not, but we are going to determine it.

We're not waiting any more like good little Indian children in residential schools.

We're going to get up and we're going to say: "Here's what we are going to do as a nation: Our grandfathers did it for thousands of years and survived. We will do it now. Here is a snapshot picture of what's happening in our community, and it's not good, and we are going to change it."

And because of COVID we’ve really got to put our words to action as to how we're going to survive in the community with all the different fronts that we have to deal with.

Youth, adults, parents, grandparents, elders.


The data was a beginning, but what it really allowed you to do was to take a stand.

That data was part of your taking a stand for what you know is best.


Yep, and that data was put together by the best of two worlds so we walked in two worlds for Humanity.

This is our gift to humanity, we're going to do this to save the people, you know, and we're going to take the best of two because that's what our elders said.

Our elders said learn the white man's way because it's going to help you but also learn about your own way of life.

This is not either/either, its a combination of a new energy - transformation of a new world.

Vik: Thank you for the honour of reconnecting. You made my day just hearing you. Thank you, and I will be in touch.
Norman: Thank you, take care!

About the author 

Vik Maraj

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