(ANNews) – Dr. Tyler White, a member of the Siksika First Nation in Alberta, is an inspirational, visionary leader and advocate for his Nation. Tyler is also known as NaaatoyiiPiitawotaan, his Blackfoot name meaning Holy Eagle Shield which was gifted to him by Blackfoot Elder Tom Crane Bear. Tyler has passionately served as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Siksika Health Services, a second generation Senior Manager of his Tribe, for the past twenty-three years and does a lot of work to inspire youth. He is also President of the First Nations Health Consortium of Alberta, and he sits on numerous boards and committees.
Tyler was raised on the Siksika First Nation by his amazing mother and father, Melvin and Freda White who had a strong influence on his life. His dad was the Finance Division Manager for the tribe back in the 70s and 80s and his mother was a teacher and principal in the local school for 35 years. His parents were also proud foster parents for many of those years. Tyler said that his late parents impacted him tremendously and he was very fortunate to have them and other positive role models in his life, such as his grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles. Tyler comes from a very large family and credits them for correcting him when he was out of line and giving him direction and guidance. This helped him to build a foundation of respect and values, and a bit of a blueprint for how to live his own life.
Tyler is married to Krista White and together they have two children, Alexis (passed) and Drew White. Tyler’s wife Krista is also one of his biggest supporters. Prior to becoming the CEO for the Nation, Tyler worked as an analyst, negotiator and manager for the Siksika Indian Self-Government Process. He was encouraged to apply for the CEO of the Siksika Health Services by his wife and family. The first time he applied for the position, Tyler was not successful. The new CEO did not last long in the role, and it was advertised again. Tyler reapplied but was not successful the second time either. His wife told him to be patient as it will probably be advertised again. At the time, Tyler did not want to pursue it a third time. However, when it reopened again, he applied, and his persistence paid off as he got the job.
Tyler often thinks about how he ended up working in the health field as his background was in political science. He moved into the health field at the encouragement of his wife and family who saw that he had potential as a leader. They knew that he would have a vision, develop a process and be good at building and leading teams. His family believed in him and that gave him the confidence to pursue the job. Health is so complex and is one of the most demanding areas within First Nations across Canada. Tyler felt that it was up to him to embrace the opportunity and stated that “it’s really up to you what you do with that opportunity, you can squander it, you can be status quo, or you can push hard.” Tyler’s mother always told him that you are never promised another day, so he really maximizes his days by working hard.
Tyler recalls his first week of work which was an orientation for him. Two of his biggest influences in his new job were Elders. He was surprised that they were the ones giving him an orientation and not his manager or any other professionals or politicians. He remembers going in to the first meeting as a young whipper snapper, wet behind the ears, and a know-it-all just out of University. He felt like he was going to dazzle the Elders and started to talk lots. He said that right away they interrupted him and told him to stop and just listen – just listen! Tyler said that to this day, that’s probably the best advice that he has received, and he has used it in many different circumstances.
Tyler was also guided by Chief Leo Pretty Young Man who was a Chief on his Nation for almost 30 years, which is pretty rare to find nowadays. After he retired, the Chief would go into Tyler’s office regularly and share all his life experiences with him. Tyler would listen and not ask him why he was spending time with him. The Chief would stay for a couple of hours every week talking to Tyler for over a nine-month period before he passed away. Afterwards, Tyler realized how profound it was to hear all his stories and teachings. They culminated in shaping Tyler’s career. Tyler believes he was able to listen and really build on the great work that people before him, like the Chief, were able to do.
As CEO, Tyler was the first Indigenous person to sit on the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and the Alberta Recreation Parks Association. One of Tyler’s hallmarks is building strong relationships. Tyler works with sports and professional teams to educate them on Indigenous people and create partnerships. He speaks at all kinds of events and functions to people of all levels from government and industry. He assisted the Nation to form a partnership with Nike, 15 years ago, that offers a variety of activities and events for the community, including sports, fitness, and cultural activities. The Nation uses sports as a platform to address health and mental wellness challenges.
Tyler says his personal life is very different than his professional life. At home, he is ultra conservative and enjoys just spending time with family. At work, he is very social and likes to take risks. He gets the biggest motivation from taking on issues and challenges. Tyler says when he walks into the health centre, it’s like a switch goes on. He thinks very proactively, takes calculated risks, creates teams and builds partnerships to address issues. He recognizes the skills, experiences and potential of others. Tyler says that “people at times dwell too much on the negatives and don’t really look at all the positives. I really come from a strength based position and like to inspire others.”
Tyler said he always tells people: “I have had more failures than I have had successes, more heartache than I have had happy days. But I think those are all the things that shape you. I think they give you the experience, the confidence and at times where moments of doubt are darkness, those are the things that get you through those periods.” Tyler feels fortunate to be in his position of influence where he can make an impact. His advice to anyone who wants to take a leadership role in their Nation is to listen, be respectful, be grateful, don’t be afraid to move forward or make those hard decisions, build strong relationships and teams and create an environment where everyone has opportunities to be empowered.
On September 22, 2021, Dr. Tyler White was granted an honorary Doctorate of Law Degree from Old Sun Community College to recognize his exemplary service to the community. He is also the recipient of many awards including the Health Management Award of Excellence.