Q: Good Day Maureen, it's nice to catch up with you. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your history?
A: Well, I’m a wife to Don Brown and mother to Josh, Cody and Jenna. I’m also a grandmother to Taysean and Azzy. I’m a middle child (yes all those theories of middle children are true!) of a large family. My parents John and Jessie Whitehead raised 13 children, and lost a daughter who passed away at a very young age. I grew up on Riverside at OCN, there were at one point, seven teenage girls in one house! It was pretty amazing! I graduated high school from MBCI in the late 70’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t go to my graduation, instead I hopped on a plane and went to work at a resort in Alberta. I come from the Whitehead family, we are probably the largest family in OCN. Some of our children had more children than we did, therefore, the number in our family passes 110, just from my mom and dad. My father was a WW2 Veteran and my mother was a stay at home mom until all the kids were grown up and then worked at McGillivary Care Home. Our home was a fun place to grow up in: a lot of discussions, my father kept us informed with world news by way of newspaper and news on television. I think our biggest fights were who would get to read the newspaper after our dad - we would lineup. It was a nightly routine we all looked forward to. I grew up in a home that was loud but once the lights were dimmed it became such a peaceful and calming place. Our home was always busy with visitors, along with weary travelers sleeping over and always someone extra at the dinner table. My mother was very traditional in her ways, she was very Cree, she only spoke Cree (very little English) therefore I remember a time in my life that I didn’t know how to speak English. I moved from The Pas in 1983, during my time away I got married in BC, we raised our own little family. It was quite an adjustment moving from British Columbia to The Pas in 2000. In the first 5 years we threatened each other that we would move back to BC. The Pas is home and we’ve settled in. It was a big adjustment for our children moving to such a remote place, not to mention the cold, especially since Don is from Vancouver.
Q: You're very involved in our communities with many different areas, can you tell us a little bit about some of the initiatives you've been involved with?
A: Okay, well I’ve always had a great sense of duty, as do my siblings and the rest of the family. I believe we get that from our father but also my mother as she was always hospitable and giving. My sense of involvement probably started in my teenage years, I was a self-appointed youth leader, dropping in regularly to the then Chief, Chief Charles G. Constant to discuss many issues. It continued when I moved to BC so while in Castlegar, BC, (birthplace of all our children), where I was part of a team starting up a soup kitchen. It’s still going strong which is good to see. I signed up one fall for Toastmasters only to find out there was only me and another person and he was trying to get one started. With that we began the process of building a club, Sentinel Speakers, of which I am a Charter Member. It’s satisfying to know the ground work to establish something pays off so that others may benefit from such a good program. I always likened this experience to showing up to watch a swim meet and getting there only to find out you’re one of the competitors. All in all it was a great experience once it was established. The skills I acquired there opened doors to public speaking engagements on First Nation issues, one of which was the local College University and Red Cross, eventually getting involved in Restorative Justice Circles. This was very rewarding. During the time I lived in Castlegar there wasn’t much of a FN presence in the community, a few us got together to make a change in this area. Our first big event was having a Gala Dinner in Nelson BC, this event sold out, Elijah Harper was our keynote speaker. It was a successful event and a catalyst in bringing a FN presence into the area. This opened doors to sit at the table with other Aboriginal organizations in the Kootenay and Okanagan region, successfully making changes to Child and Family and Educational services in the region. It was an exciting time.
We did all this through volunteering our time and energy. My husband Don has always been a big support and without his help I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all this without his unwavering moral (and financial) support. I was then approached by a School Board member to begin the process in establishing Aboriginal support in the School district, which we did and I now see an incredible growth in that area. I’d like to touch base with this Board member just to discuss our humble beginnings. I always felt it was important to be involved in the community and if time and energy permitted I was there, if not for anything else but to support others who had a vision.
Moving home in 2000 was no different in my involvement. I served as President of OCN Blizzard for 3 terms, I was there when we made the Royal Bank Cup! I then ran for Council and served two terms, during that time OCN was going through a bit of transition, from OCN Child and Family becoming independent from Cree Nation Child and Family and getting their own mandate. In addition I worked alongside the Cree Immersion program, the Land Based program taking shape in a more organized way. There is still so much work to do but am so proud of our collective efforts to move our community forward.
In the 2005 I was appointed by then Cabinet Minister Oscar Lathlin to the Council of Post Secondary Education, a position I held for over 5 years. This Council (COPSE) served as intermediary between post-secondary institutions and the Province of Manitoba, we reviewed and approved programs in the universities and colleges. Copse’s mandate also included providing advice and policy direction to the province. I was grateful to be at the table to approve the expansion of UCN in the north, which included the Library we now see at The Pas campus.
While doing this I was also a member of Northern Connections, a FN organization consisting of Joel and Melanie Molin, myself and Don, and others worldwide. We shared our faith through culture, we had become weary of the fact that the Bible was being shared in a predominantly Eurocentric theology mindset. We basically were saying, ‘just be who you were created to be, and that’s acceptable.’ It was a message which was well received in the different countries our team visited. Some of the countries were: Israel, El Salvador, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Rwanda, Kenya, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, just to name a few. We predominantly worked in Rwanda, getting the schools on OCN involved by contributing 5.00 off each cheque to go toward establishing “Hope for Tomorrow Schools.” in Rwanda. Joe A. Ross won an award from the Human Rights in their involvement in this. Our team hasn’t traveled in a while and find we are enjoying our time home.
Interwoven through all this I became a speaker for Pro Life and this took me to the UN in New York and participated in a Population Control conference in Berlin. I was one of 400 in the world who were chosen to attend. I was part of a group of committed people who are the voice for the voiceless, the unborn. On my first trip with this group, we visited Auschwitz and participated in meetings held in Berlin, I did not realize I would return so quickly to attend the Population Control conference the following year.
I’d like to pay homage to my parents John and Jessie Whitehead at this time because it is they who have influenced me in such a deep and profound way. They taught me to understand it is our duty as human beings to make the world a better place by helping, by contributing, by encouraging and just by living a life that honors the life we have been given.
Q: Recently, your family has shown entrepreneurial spirit by running a local restaurant. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A: Well that’s right out of left field. We never in a thousand years envisioned this happening. Discussing and planning is a whole lot different than actually doing it. I am the type of person who goes with the flow and am always willing to learn. I’m a Life Skills Coach and always tell my students to be willing to move out of your comfort zone, it’s where the magic happens. This is totally out of my comfort zone. Somebody asked me, “Have you ever run a restaurant?” I replied, “No, but I’ve eaten in a lot of restaurants! And I know what I like!” I tell people, “some people go to Tibet, Maureen Brown goes to Mr. Ribs! (Now John and Jessie’s!)” It’s one of those things that you know you have to do but you don’t have all the answers right now, it’s really hard to be in that place I’ve been there so many times before but in the end it comes together and you realize it had to be that way! Interestingly enough, I started out in the hospitality sector. I worked in a 5 star resort and my duty was to look after the area of salads! My husband is now a partner and that makes it so much better. I am fully aware people can go eat somewhere else and therefore I am grateful they decide to join us. I’ve also come to realize a building takes on its own personality. I know that may sound weird to people, but I would say it’s still finding itself. I’ve come to appreciate all the business owners in the town, hard-working individuals I tell you. Mr. Ribs will have a name change on Thursday, we will be opening as “John and Jessie’s Steak and Ribs.” It will no longer be Mr. Ribs, the franchise we opened with last October. We named it in memory of my parents, if I can have just a tiny bit of their hospitality I would be so grateful. Although we made the name change to our menus in June of 2016, we are finally making it official with a proper transition.
Q: Of what importance do you feel is the supporting of our local businesses?
A: Supporting our local businesses is paramount if we are to have a thriving community the responsibility lies with us all, the consumers and the businesses. We need to get to the place where supporting each other is more important than saving money. How do we get there? I know I’m fully not there yet otherwise my business wouldn’t be relying on goods being delivered to our restaurant from down south. But little by little we can make progress toward that goal in an ever changing landscape of consumerism. I’ll give you an example. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I took a trip to Winnipeg, I had run out of Vitamin C two weeks prior to this trip. On top of that I missed a local sale because I was away. So it comes time to leave for Winnipeg and I really want to get my Vitamin C but we left very early that day, by this time I was so irritated that I didn’t have my Vitamins. I spent 2 full days in Winnipeg, and on the way there I already knew I would have to wait to get my vitamins until I got back. Why? Because I wanted to support local business, I think we need to make the transition of recognizing what it is that we value. Saving a few dollars or supporting our local economy. Don’t get me wrong I love sales and city shopping as much as the next person. Shopping is at the tip of our fingers, how do we move forward in this area? That’s a good question and would be a start of good dialogue.
Q: The economics of our communities have been spoken of a lot lately. What steps do we as community members need to take to ensure our communities survive, and thrive?
I think having our own currency would help in keeping the dollars in the community. It was an idea my son had, we just need to be willing to be innovative. I liked the idea when he explained it to me.
Q: Thank you so much for having the time to chat. Did you have any final words for our readers?
A: Yes, two things. Never underestimate your efforts in contributing to a thriving community, it can be as simple as giving a smile, helping someone in need, encouraging someone to pursue their passion/dream, be the person you would want on your team. The other thing, please check us out at John and Jessie’s Steak and Ribs, formerly Mr. Ribs.
You can connect with John & Jessie's Steak House on facebook.