June is both Pride Month and National Indigenous History Month. At Paladin Security, we strongly believe in our CARE culture: being curious, accountable, respectful, and exceptional. These values tie in perfectly with what we are celebrating this month as we work to educate ourselves through the story and experience of one of our employees who is part of both communities.
Sebrina McKay is a Client Service Manager in Grande Prairie and identifies as gay and non-binary. She also is Haudenosaunee, most commonly referred to as the Six Nations or Iroquois. Here, Sebrina shares her unique experience being Indigenous and gay, reflects on what could change within both communities, and give her advice to others.
You are Indigenous but didn’t know much about your background until you were older. Why was that?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of connection with my culture. I actually know more about Cree culture than my own (Iroquois). I was a teenager before I found out that I was Indigenous. At that point, it wasn’t something my family spoke about. As I got older, I started asking more questions and discovered my grandmother was in the day schools. That’s part of the reason we don’t talk about it. My mother finally said we were Haudenosaunee and explained a bit about it. Even to this day, it’s not something my family has a whole lot of information about.
You are proudly gay. What is it like to be gay in the Indigenous community?
I think I was 14 when I started to figure out I was different and 16 when I came out of the closet. A lot of my white friends didn’t care, but I lost friends in the Indigenous community. The more I got involved in it the more I started to learn about it and ran into two huge obstacles: I present as white, and I’m a member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. There’s a lot of negative thoughts and beliefs in Indigenous communities because of the Catholic religion's influence. So, I was shunned because I looked white, and I was shunned because I was gay.
What kind of impact did that have on you?
Honestly, by the time it started to impact my life, the fact that I was dismissed was just expected in my world. It wasn’t until I began my own healing journey that I got a lot more involved in educating other people on the acceptance of it.
Can you explain how religion and indigenous communities are connected?
In my experience, a lot of them aren’t Catholic per se, but there’s still a lot of catholic influence in the beliefs, especially in my generation and the generations before me.
When I encounter younger indigenous people now, a lot of that stereotypical thinking and stigmatism isn’t there with them. Fortunately, the Indigenous culture is changing back to these people being embraced, and it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, or how you identify.
Do you think acceptance within Indigenous communities is on the right track?
I definitely believe it is for a lot of communities. One of the things that the Elders teach is that it takes seven generations to fix. When you look at my generation, how bad it was, we’re only two or three generations removed now, and things are already a lot better than they were when I was a kid.
What about improvements in general within Indigenous communities?
I see things improving as more of the cultural teachings are being remembered, re-taught and learned. The current younger generations are more accepting of others, more willing to accept differences in others. A lot of the biases that I have faced with the older generations are not as prevalent within the younger generations.
You are a Client Service Manager (CSM) for Paladin Security and have been with the company for a few years. Tell me a bit about Sebrina pre-Paladin.
Well, I have a very colourful past. I’m a recovering drug addict and when I decided it was time to grow up and become an adult, I went to school and got my diploma as a paralegal, then decided that’s not something I was interested in pursuing. So, I actually went and worked in the women’s shelter in Edmonton that I used to live in. I learned so much from the ladies I worked with because a lot of them I knew from when I was there. From there, I worked in an Indigenous youth treatment centre in BC as an addictions counsellor and came back to Grande Prairie and worked in a high-risk youth behavioural program group home. After that, I burnt out, so took some time off. Then when it was time to get back out there, I applied at Paladin and got a job as an Alberta Health Services (AHS) Core Guard.
What is it like being gay and working at Paladin?
Phenomenal. It’s hands down the best company I’ve ever worked with for supporting gay people. My first manager always made it very clear that it wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t something that I was used to at that stage of the game. As I’ve progressed through Paladin and worked at different sites and encountered people, from front-line guards to managers, it’s just been a non-issue.
You provide a lot of support to your Officers, whether it’s related to drug addiction, being gay or part of the Indigenous community. Do you feel there are enough resources out there?
Absolutely. All my guards know I have an open-door policy. I’ll make sure I’ve replied to everyone who reached out by the end of the day. That’s just the way I am. Also, the new hire package I put together, I make sure Paladin’s Employee and Family Assistance Plan provider information is there and stress just how confidential it is. We also have so many openly gay managers who work for Paladin, and I think the guards find that refreshing.
What about through your role as a CSM, are you doing anything to connect clients with the communities they operate in?
I’m currently working with a client to help Indigenous people feel more inclusive. It’s at the initial stages, but I did a presentation at one of the local reserves in the area and connected with a member of the client’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity team. From the conversations that we had that day it has grown into discussions with the client to develop a joint initiative between Paladin and the client to be more inclusive to Indigenous persons.
To me this is really important, as many people accessing services in the North are of Indigenous descent, and a lot of times, many of them have not had a good experience when dealing with people in uniforms. By ensuring that we are keeping those lines of communication open, we are also educating people about who we are and why we are there. More importantly, it ensures that not only those that are accessing our services but Paladin employees as well are reminded we are there to help everyone, not just to be the bad guys. Too many times in my life, I have encountered security guards who forget that the largest part of our role is to help.
What’s your advice to others?
Hands down, this is one that resonates for any topic, but other people’s opinion of you is none of your business. Also, just accept yourself for who you are. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says.