Wider Horizons

FEATURING: Heidi Gravelle ʔa·kuqⱡi piȼak paⱡkiy Horn Spoon Woman
Distinguished Alumni 2024, Bachelor of Applied Arts – Correctional Studies 2005

From completing her degree at Lethbridge College while raising her family as a single parent to leading her community as Chief of the Tobacco Plains Indian Band (Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it), Heidi Gravelle has never let adversity stand in the way of personal growth and service to her community.

For this reason, and countless more, Gravelle has been named this year’s Distinguished Alumni. “I had to experience everything that I did, in order to be who I am today,” she says. Outspoken, compassionate and committed to the wellbeing of vulnerable children, Gravelle worked extensively with social agencies in Lethbridge, Saskatoon and British Columbia.

Despite suffering her own hardships, she was an unwavering supporter and empathetic listener to families and children affected by trauma and addiction.

While completing her Bachelor of Applied Arts – Correctional Studies degree, Gravelle worked in a specialized parenthood home mentoring four Indigenous children. This experience sparked her passion for working with youth, and after graduating from Lethbridge College, Gravelle continued on this path, becoming a voice for many who had been silenced.

Desiring a better life for herself and her three sons, Gravelle moved to Saskatoon and became executive director of the White Buffalo Youth Lodge, serving Indigenous and non- Indigenous youth in the city. In a few short years, Gravelle turned the underfunded and in-debt organization around, to where it was fully funded and fully staffed. While in this position, she also completed a certificate in professional directorship, a credential that would serve her well in the next stage of her career.

Feeling a pull to return home to her community in Tobacco Plains, Gravelle made the move in 2018 and became director of Health, Wellness and Community Services – a portfolio that involved identifying health, education and social priorities for on- and off-reserve members.

In 2019, she followed in the footsteps of her grandmother, Elizabeth Gravelle – the first female First Nations Chief to be elected in Canada – and became Chief herself. She was re-elected in 2023. Gravelle says her grandmother encouraged her to run for Chief, telling her, “It is so easy to move from your heart and your truth into what is expected of you.” Gravelle says she continues to apply this wisdom when carrying out her leadership responsibilities.

Scott Manjak, Chief Administrative Officer of the Tobacco Plains Indian Band, echoes that sentiment. He says Gravelle is leading the way for her community and taking unprecedented steps toward self-governance for the Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it First Nation, not because she has to, but because it’s the right thing to do.

“Through her ability to understand the trauma and lateral violence that exists in First Nations communities as a result of colonization, Nasuʔkin (Chief) Heidi leads by ensuring that the priority is improving the lives of community members,” says Manjak. “Nasuʔkin Heidi is not only leading the health and healing of her community, but she is also a strategic and driving force in the way her nation is advancing the rights and interests in B.C., Canada and industry.”

Understanding that reconciliation also means working with leaders from all levels of government, Gravelle is committed to finding a path of healing for all citizens who reside within the traditional territory of the Tobacco Plains Indian Band. “Great leaders lead by example,” says Manjak. “This shines in Nasuʔkin Heidi as she courageously brings forward initiatives that are transformational for her nation. Never one to shy away from a difficult conversation or direction forward … she engages in opportunities to support and build a culture of care and compassion.”

Wider Horizons
Story by Tina Karst | Photos by Nicole Leclair Photography
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