Working with Indigenous Communities to Save Lives

Operation Lifesaver (OL) has a new team member. At the beginning of April, Melissa Santoro Greyeyes-Brant started as our first Indigenous Outreach Coordinator.

Over the past decade, Melissa has garnered extensive experience in developing and delivering outreach strategies to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Last year, she helped lead Equal Voice’s campaign to bring 228 Indigenous young women from communities across Canada to Parliament Hill to learn how politics can be used as a legitimate means of creating change.

We spoke to Melissa about why she wanted to take on this new role and how she hopes to use her knowledge of Indigenous cultures, history and traditional protocols to help us to work with Indigenous communities across Canada to promote rail safety—and save lives.

Welcome to the OL team. First of all, why were you interested in this job?

It just seemed like a good fit. When I read the job posting, I realized it’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. I really enjoy connecting with people, connecting with communities. I suppose it’s not just an interest, but a passion of mine. And I’ve got a very large reach when it comes to my network. So, it was an exciting opportunity for me because it meant I’d be able to connect with people in Indigenous communities again and do something that can really bring about meaningful change.

Why do you think it’s important that organizations like OL make connections with Indigenous communities?

Canada’s history of marginalization and exclusion of Indigenous people has resulted in a really large gap when it comes to a lot of socioeconomic indicators, including things like education and health—we’re just not operating on a level playing field. So, it’s important that as Canadians, we engage all of our communities. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on having particular values and upholding them and really moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation, and that means we need to start having these conversations. I think it’s a way to move forward and create a better Canada for everybody.

Why do you see promoting rail safety as particularly important in Indigenous communities?

It’s important in every community, but Indigenous communities have historically been excluded from a lot of these sorts of initiatives, or if not excluded, just sort of assimilated into more of a mainstream approach that doesn’t quite honour the diversity or complex relationships that exist. We need to bring in marginalized people who have been excluded. Safety is for everybody, right?

What do you hope to achieve in this position?

My goal is really all about building relationships with community members and working together. I don’t think it’s ever appropriate, when working with and for Indigenous peoples, to take a top-down approach or assume we know the best approach. Indigenous peoples need to be actively involved, so I’m very much hoping to forge some really meaningful relationships across Canada and find ways we can work together to bring rail safety awareness into communities and help keep everybody safe.

Before the job, how aware of rail safety were you?

I’ve actually had my own personal experience. I was almost hit by a train when I was much younger, when I was 10 or 11. I decided to take a shortcut across a railroad track, and maybe 15 seconds had passed from the time I walked over the railway tracks to when the train went right behind me. I could feel the wind, I could feel it passing by me. My family was on the other side of the train and they thought maybe I had been hit. I was terrified. That was a lifetime ago, but it’s really that personal experience that has made me mindful of rail safety.