As part of our union’s commitment to learn from the experiences and celebrate the successes of Indigenous, Black and racialized CUPE members, CUPE is profiling members of the National Indigenous Council and National Racial Justice Committee. Our series kicks off with National Indigenous Council co-chair Brandice Blanchard.

Brandice Blanchard’s face lights up when she talks about the first year her local marked June 21, National Indigenous People’s Day. CUPE 4935, which represents long-term care workers, was the first local in Newfoundland and Labrador to hold an event more than seven years ago.

“I felt so excited and accomplished,” said Blanchard. Joining CUPE’s National Indigenous Council in 2016 inspired her to organize the event at her workplace, the Bay St. George Long Term Care Center in Stephenville Crossing.

Elders welcomed everyone to a day that featured drummers and food. For Blanchard, it was a chance to celebrate and share Indigenous culture not just with other CUPE members, but with residents and their families.

Blanchard has worked as a personal care attendant for 16 years and cherishes her role. “I love helping people and being their support, some people have no one,” she says. “Some of the residents don’t have any family, so they just depend on us.”

A Mi’kmaw woman, Blanchard is a member of the Indian Head First Nation and the recording secretary for her band. She brings her voice and experience to her union in many ways, including as the co-chair of CUPE’s National Indigenous Council, and vice-president of her local. She’s also vice-chair of the CUPE Atlantic Maritimes Indigenous Council, CAMIC, and was recently elected as a diversity vice-president for CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador.

Connecting community and union issues

Blanchard describes her start in CUPE as “rough,” as her seniority rights dramatically changed when the workers switched from another union. “But I stuck it out and started going to the CUPE meetings,” she laughs.

After a few meetings, Blanchard became the local’s recording secretary – something she wasn’t expecting to do. “They nominated me, and I thought, ‘I’ll try it for two years’ – and it turned into 10.”

Blanchard’s involvement grew from there and she sees CUPE as a place to build connections between her life in her community, workplace and union. “I get inspired by the issues with our band that I bring to CUPE,” she says.

As one recent example, Blanchard and members of her community are concerned about a proposed salmon hatchery expansion that could threaten the local water supply. She brought a resolution to her division convention committing the division to support a full environmental assessment of projects like the hatcheries.

The convention decision got noticed – and was appreciated – in her community. “I feel like being involved with both [CUPE and Indian Head First Nation] is really beneficial for our people,” says Blanchard.

Building awareness and solidarity

Awareness campaigns like Water is life are critical because not everyone in her region is thinking about water, says Blanchard. “They’re just thinking about the economy. How can we worry about the economy if we’re not going to have water to drink? What’s the good of a good economy if you don’t have water? You need water to live, water is life.”

Understanding and awareness build solidarity, and Blanchard says CUPE’s Anti-Racism Strategy is a significant commitment. “It means a lot. CUPE is going to help fight against racism towards Indigenous people.” Blanchard is helping put the strategy into action by supporting the development of an Indigenous cultural safety workshop for all CUPE members.

CUPE’s Human Rights and Union Education branches are collaborating on the full-day workshop, which will raise awareness about racism impacting Indigenous members and the unique challenges Indigenous workers face in Canada. The workshop will have concrete suggestions for how union members can make workplaces safer with the goal of helping build a safer union and safer workplaces for all Indigenous CUPE members.

Blanchard is also excited about CAMIC, which was formed in 2022 and connects Indigenous CUPE members from the four East Coast provinces. “We have members combined [from] all the different provinces,” she says. “I think that’s going to make us stronger.”

Creating space and getting involved

When Blanchard joined the National Indigenous Council, she encountered questions about her involvement from members of her local who did not understand her role. She says sharing about the council’s work and celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day have helped build solidarity.

Joining the National Indigenous Council has been a powerful experience for Blanchard. “My community is just a small community and it’s mostly Indigenous people, so I don’t experience racism like a lot of our members in bigger cities,” says Blanchard.

“When I first came [to the Indigenous council], I felt like I was in the wrong place … I felt like I didn’t have anything to contribute because I’ve never really had a lot of issues, but I kept coming and I realized that there are some issues … my eyes weren’t open to them.”

For Blanchard, the council is an example of how union work isn’t just about grievances and collective agreements. It’s about changing the union’s culture and structures. Creating a space for Indigenous workers to connect and empower each other is one way to do that. She says gathering with other National Indigenous Council members is a profound experience. “I’m emotional when I’m with the council…we have a connection.”

When asked what advice she’d give to an Indigenous, Black or racialized member who’s thinking of getting involved in CUPE, Blanchard draws from her own experience.

“I would advise them to step out of their comfort zone and give it a try,” she says. “You can start in small steps. You don’t have to go big. You can start by being a shop steward and work your way into it. I would just encourage them.”

Learn more about CUPE’s Anti-Racism Strategy including Goal 4, which focuses on highlighting the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous and racialized members and celebrating their successes, at And check out these tips for putting the strategy into action in your local.