Senator Brian Francis grew up on Lennox Island First Nation where he attended Indian Day School, but he left home at a young age knowing that he wanted more than the church-run schools offered.
Senator Francis was a trailblazer and pioneer from the start: he was the first Mi’kmaw journeyman carpenter on PEI and the first to receive inter-provincial red seal trade certificate. He switched gears and started to study social work at Dalhousie University. Though he didn’t complete the program because he focused his attention on raising his family, these foundational pieces of education have helped shape the gentle leader that he has become.
“It’s all about the family and community, and I knew that life would give me what I put into it. So, I worked hard and continuously found ways to improve myself.”
Senator Francis’ first job in the public service was in the mailroom as a clerk. “I think it was the lowest level job you could get in the federal government and that’s where I started,” he said, “but it was a stable job with a decent salary which allowed us to take care of ourselves and our family.”
“A strong family support network has been instrumental for me, and it is for everyone.” One of the ways that the Senator cares for himself and connects with his family is through physical activity. His son is a trainer, and part of how they bond is through working out together.
Listening to a humble Senator reflecting on the journey that led to his successes and accomplishments was endlessly inspiring. “I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started working in the government so I surrounded myself by role models in public service who would help me learn the ropes.”
Despite hardships and external factors that impact all of us in different ways, Senator Francis firmly holds that we all have a personal and collective responsibility to heal and to be healed. He reminded me that we all have personal power and responsibility to break cycles that no longer serve us. “We are responsible for our own lives and even if the path is difficult, we need to keep walking it.” Our conversation together clearly showed that Senator Francis is now a role model to many others, the way others were for him when he was younger.
Senator Francis worked through many different positions and levels in the government over 22 years and eventually ended up in Senior Management with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. From this experience and with the direction from his community, he became the Chief and Band Administrator of the Abegweit Mi’kmaq Nation, a position he held for several terms. “If you don’t step up to the plate when you’re called upon, you can’t complain if someone else does it instead.”
“I feel fortunate that my community trusted me to be in that role for several terms and I continue to bring our points of view and needs forward in my role as Senator”.
Like many Indigenous people, Senator Francis’ life and work are a testament to and a reflection of his connection to community. “As a Chief, I was able to bring back to my community the things that I learned outside of it while working in the government.”
In October 2018, he was appointed to the Senate, marking the first time a Mi’kmaw person from PEI held that role. In the time since then, Senator Francis supported the creation of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (fulfilling a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), observed as a national holiday for the first time on September 30, 2021.
“Indigenous people carry the heavy burden of the emotional and mental labour that is required to continually educate others; non-Indigenous people can step up in self-directed learning to help alleviate this burden on Indigenous people.”
I asked Senator Francis if his younger self working in the mail room could have imagined this time, where a national commission has happened and the country is observing a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: “No, I couldn’t have imagined it then but now here we are. Now we can continue imagining and visioning forward about what else we think isn’t possible yet but can become possible if we just keep working on it together.”