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Wendy Landry: Passion for the hard work of local government

by Sean Meyer, Municipal World
in Leadership
October, 2022

In recognition of International Women’s Day, Municipal World launched its 2022 awards celebrating Women of Influence in Local Government. This year’s first honouree is Wendy Landry, mayor of the Municipality of Shuniah, ON.

Wendy Landry is a passionate community champion and a dedicated volunteer. She is also the first First Nations woman in Ontario to serve as a mayor. Landry was first elected as mayor of the Municipality Shuniah in 2014. In 2022, she was acclaimed to a third term as mayor of the Northern Ontario municipality, which is on the shores of Lake Superior, east of Thunder Bay.

All these points would make her an excellent choice as a 2022 Women of Influence in Local Government. But even if one were to discount those accolades, Landry – a member of Red Rock Indian Band – would still exemplify the qualities of leadership and mentorship for which the award celebrates.

The Realty of Influence

Landry is quick to point out she has never thought of herself as a woman of influence. But the designation is one that means a great deal to her.

“It’s a big, big world and I feel like a small fish in a big fish tank. It’s an honour to know that people think of me as someone who’s an influence,” she said. “It’s not something that you strive for, but if it ends up turning out that way, then you know it’s affirmation that the work that I’m doing, and the voice that I have, means something. It tells me that I must be doing a good job.”

When Landry reflects back, she recalls the sense of responsibility she felt after being told she was the first First Nations woman to be elected as a mayor in Ontario. As someone who tries to “keep one foot in both worlds at all times,” it became a responsibly she never anticipated.

Landry is dedicated to helping bring those two worlds together. It hasn’t been easy. But also, she feels the responsibility of educating First Nations and local community leaders on municipal politics and what can be achieved within local government. She has also spent a lot of time educating municipalities on the true history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. After all, that’s something that hasn’t been told either.

Her efforts – not to mention those of many others – have resulted in there being more Indigenous people working in municipalities than ever in Ontario.

In April 2017, Landry was elected to represent 37 municipalities as the president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. She is also on the Association of the Municipalities of Ontario’s executive committee. These positions have helped her in bringing cultural knowledge to other communities.

“Our municipalities do exist on traditional territory and I think we’re slowly getting there. But it has been an opportunity for me to educate a lot of people,” Landry said. “A lot has changed and people are interested. The uncovered graves was a kind of a gift from our children that didn’t come back from Residential Schools to all of us that are here trying to educate people and trying to get some change made. That was a blessing in disguise in pushing forward the interest of Canadians wanting to know the actual history.”

Championing Women in Politics

Landry has accomplished a lot throughout her career, overcoming many obstacles. Leading the way might be what she has had to overcome as a woman in the political sphere. Landry has seen change when it comes to perceptions of gender. But at the same time, it often seems like little progress is being made at all.

This is especially true with social media. Women are “criticized all the time,” Landry said. It’s a reality she is constantly conscious of.

“You criticize yourself already. We do as humans. We do as women. And then you put yourself out there in the public and it’s almost like you’re a free for all for the social media, keyboard warriors that want to critique what you’re wearing and what you look like, etc., etc.,” Landry said. “But as a woman, I have a very strong personality. I’m not easily intimidated. I follow my heart and I speak respectfully when I feel something.”

A Seat at the Table

Given her success in local government, it is no surprise Landry has been approached for advice. She is quite clear in her belief that politics needs young people. In particular, it needs more young women at the table.

But for women today, especially during a municipal election season, the greatest need is support. Woman need to support each other, Landry said. Because there are the “keyboard warriors” who will go on the social media platforms and criticize every aspect of a woman’s life, there needs to be a safe place for woman to get together and share experiences or vent every once in a while.

“We are all busy, but if we support each other, we can get there. And if you have a supportive family, a supportive partner, then that’s half the battle, too. I just tell people that it’s important for us as women to influence change in government decisions, in government policies, in legislation, in by-laws, in community decisions. I think that women have a very special lens that they can bring to the table.”

Local Government Champion

That table is one that Landry herself hasn’t always felt welcome at. She also wasn’t always a fan of local government – although she certainly became one over time.

The driver for Landry to run for local government was working with three other moms to open a youth centre in her community. They went to the mayor and council at the time to propose a community complex where young people could go to hang out in the evenings and take part in various programs. The idea was not received well.

In fact, Landry and her fellow moms received a great deal of push back over wanting to open this youth centre. But then they went out and secured some $40,000 in funding. Still, they needed municipal cooperation – and got it. That was 2007 and the youth centre is still going strong to this day. That was when she decided that, to be part of the decision-making process, she had to run for council.

“The groundwork is done by the local municipal councils. That’s where the heart and soul is. I don’t take anything away from my provincial or federal colleagues by any means. But it’s a different kind of politics for sure,” she said. “I really believe the hard work is done at the ground level. And that’s where you have to live. You have to breathe it every day. I think it’s fulfilling. When I drive by the new playground, I get to go, ‘Geez, that’s awesome.’ I don’t say, ‘I did that.’ That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that’s really awesome. That’s a feel-good drive by.”  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Sean’s other article: Municipal World honours women of influence

Sean Meyer is Senior Content Editor for Municipal World.

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