Those who defy racial and gender barriers to ascend to seats of power have a responsibility to help others follow, according to prominent director and broadcaster Rita Shelton Deverell.
“One person can make a huge difference if they are sitting in [that] chair,” she said last week, speaking at Concordia’s third Diversity and Canadian Media conference last week. As a founder of Vision TV and former director of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network, Deverell and fellow pioneering female broadcasters helped transform news and production rooms. As they rose in the media ranks, they acquired seats of influence.
“I honestly didn’t realize we were changing who owned the media,” she said. “What I [also] didn’t know in those days was how easy it was for the top to get toppled.”
If the next generation of females of influence fails to pull others into the boardrooms, all the gains she fought for could be lost, said Deverell.
“We’re living in a post-feminist era,” she said, adding that young women trying to advance in their careers tend to forget their common struggle.
“Be there for each other, without trying to replace each other,” she urged. “It is up to all of us if we wish to inherit the airwaves…to take all of these steps if we wish to build on it.
Her greatest charge to successful females was to “mentor the next generation.”
Concordia’s late Dean of Arts and Science, Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, was one such mentor who both inspired and assisted marginalized men and women to follow her path. The Concordia Communications department and the Centre for Research Action for Race Relations dedicated the convention to her memory.
“She opened the door for me,” said friend and fellow native-rights activist Barbara Malloch.
It seems that Malloch was not the only female who found inspiration in Valaskakis; her persistence and charm helped to win many important battles on indigenous issues. Valaskakis was one of the founders of the Native Friendship Centre in Montreal and of the Native Aboriginal Healing Foundation, as well as a key researcher for the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Native leader Georges Erasmus told the audience that the report came out of the need for natives to share their perspectives.
“We badly needed to write our own story,” he said. “Not only did they need the chance to talk, they wanted to know why – why were we indoctrinated?”
Valaskakis’s influence helped create new programs in academia and in government to support indigenous communications. “There was never a thing that Gail wanted that she couldn’t get. She would have the board members eating out of her hands,” Erasmus said to the crowd, who responded with an appreciative laugh.