2020 Resources – CBC’s 8th Fire

As a CBC Broadcaster, Wab Kinew hosted a series of programs entitled 8th Fire – Aboriginal People, Canada and the Way Forward. The title 8th Fire is a reference to the Anishinaabe prophecy “that suggests now is the time to fix the relationship between Indigenous people and others. Embracing a way of life built on spirituality, respect for one another, and respect for the Earth will create a fire that can burn forever, which is the way for us to build a sustainable society that can last long into the future.” (Kinew, 2015, P. 108).

I recommend all of the four episodes as well as the Aboriginal 101 series however, I suggest that you begin with the brief interview between Wab and George Stroumboulopoulos about the reason for the 8th Fire series. The opening visual images are very powerful and Wab talks about the opportunity through ‘open minds and open hearts’ (a 2020 call!). Then move on to the opening episode entitled Indigenous in the City. With over half the Indigenous population in Canada now living in the cities, this is a compelling invitation to ‘meet your neighbours’ – and in so doing become more aware and engaged. You will see some familiar BC faces: Dr. Evan Adams (now leading the First Nations Health Authority), Lynda Gray (former Urban Native Youth Association ED and author of First Nations 101), Leslie Varley (director of the Provincial Health Services Authority Aboriginal Health Program) as well as people from across the country that share stories, challenge myths and assumptions, and invite curiosity about being an Indigenous person in Canadian cities.

2020 Reflections – Living into reconciliation

Last week I attended the Federation’s Spring General Meeting and Social Policy Forum. Leadership 2020’s core faculty member, Chris Corrigan, led the 120 participants in Open Space (see sidebar on Open Space) and a beautiful array of topics were proposed by the participants for deep discussion. You can find the raw proceedings here. I called a conversation on the question of “How do we live into reconciliation fully and in our day-to day practice” and an amazing group of people leaned into the conversation. Gratitudes to the participants for being open to the exploration, for sharing examples of living into reconciliation, and for the willingness to continue the discovery and action-taking over the coming months.

I called a conversation on the question of “How do we live into reconciliation fully and in our day-to day practice” and an amazing group of people leaned into the conversation. Gratitudes to the participants for being open to the exploration, for sharing examples of living into reconciliation, and for the willingness to continue the discovery and action-taking over the coming months.

Here are a few take-aways from the conversation:

  • Reconciliation is not a program or a formula – it is a way of being that influences our personal actions that in turn inform and influence organizational and societal actions. Reconciliation is a personal responsibility.
  • “We don’t think enough ourselves about the importance of our work and the difference our actions can make.” In support of reconciliation we have to attend to the finer details of our practice and know that we have to challenge inaction and indifference – our own and others – in order to live into the possibilities.
  • It is important to know about our own culture (as non-Indigenous peoples)  – whatever that might be – in order to have empathy with what it would be like to have this culture taken from us, and what it would feel like to be unable to connect with culture.
  • “As Indigenous advocates, we have had to take a strong stance, and have had to be fierce, which has scared some people [but was necessary]…Before the TRC there was the shear weight of holding space for our history [despite the indifference]; post TRC the space is everywhere and we can have the conversations we need to have now.”
  • We have to shift the narrative from separation to connection and overcome our histories of boundaries and distance.
  • “We don’t know what to do or how to reconcile, but we can figure this out together” – we need to host conversations for discovery. “Ask, where is my role to collaborate and build relationships?”

Ideas that were shared included:

  • Forming a ‘reconciliation committee’ within the organization to consider how to live into reconciliation.
  • Creating space and time in our teams and agencies to ask: What are we doing in our organization that is causing a problem or getting in the way of reconciliation (this could be policies, practices, etc that explicitly or implicitly create barriers and challenges)? What are we going to do about it? It is important that we bring curiosity to everything we do to see with fresh eyes what the experience of people accessing our services is.

At the end of the Social Policy Forum, ten people stepped forward with ideas they wanted to turn into action – plans and next steps that they would each be willing to champion. Those ten projects are listed here. Find one that could benefit from your energy and get involved!

The Reason You Walk, Wab Kinew (2015)

Wabanakwut Kinew is an Anishinaabe pipe carrier and member of the Mediwin, hip hop musician, CBC broadcaster, author, TRC honorary witness, and University of Winnipeg’s associate vice president of Indigenous Relations. Raised on the Onigaming First Nation in Ontario and in Winnipeg, he is the son of respected traditional chief and elder Tobasonakwut Kinew (also known as Peter Kelly) and Kathy Avery Kinew.

The Reason You Walk is a memoir of father-son reconciliation in the final year of Tobasonakwut’s life after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Wab’s father was removed from his family at the age of 5 and was ‘raised’ in a residential school. The legacy of this experience coloured his entire life including his resilient drive for education (he obtained a PhD), activism and leadership, as well as the challenges he faced as a father and partner.

In the telling of the year of discovery, learning and reconciliation, Wab shares rich descriptions of both his father’s and his own experiences growing up and provides the reader with a very personal account of the legacy of residential schools as well as the power of the human spirit, reconciliation and forgiveness. His descriptions of ceremony and community, such as the Sundance Circle, are both vivid and illuminating (here is an excerpt on the Sundance Circle).

Here are a few of my favourite excerpts with some passages italicized for emphasis. Indigenous ways of knowing and the power of imagery and story shines through:

“Many people ask what the pipe is for, and some ask what we smoke in it. We fill it with tobacco, only tobacco. The pipe is a model of reconciliation. The bowl is feminine. It is of the earth, and it receives the stem. The stem is masculine. It is placed into the bowl, but also grows from the earth. Each has an integrity on its own. When we place the bowl and stem together, the two elements form a new unified entity, which is stronger than each on its own. This is how we might think of reconciliation – two disparate elements coming together to create something more powerful” (pp. 129-130).

“There are four layers of meaning to these words [the reason you walk]. They are from the perspective of the Creator, as though God himself were singing to you. The first meaning of ‘I am the reason you walk’ is ‘I have created you and therefore you walk.’ The second meaning is ‘I am your motivation.’ The third meaning is ‘I am the spark inside you called love, which animates you and allows you to live by the Anishanaabe values of kiizhewaatiziwin’ [the power of love, kindness, sharing and respect]. The fourth and final meaning is ‘I am the destination at the end of your life that you are walking toward’” (p. 132).

Reconciliation is not something realized on a grand level, something that happens when a prime minister and a national chief shake hands. It takes place at a much more individual level. Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected. Reconciliation happens when the archbishop and the sundancer become brothers” (p. 211 – in speaking about the adoption ceremony that Wab’s father arranged with archbishop James Weisgerber).

“The underling message of my father’s life, and especially his final year, is one that wise women and men have known for millennia: when we are wronged it is better to respond with love, courage and grace than with anger, bitterness and rage. We are made whole by living up to the best part of human nature – the part willing to forgive the aggressor, the part that never loses sight of the humanity of those on the other side of the relationship, and the part that embraces the person with whom we have every right to be angry and accepts him as a brother or sister” (p. 265)

“This is not to say we should always forgive immediately, or ignore demands for justice. The anger of previous generations of Indigenous people won some of the most basic freedoms my generation now takes as a given…Challenges remain…As a result of colonization, many Indigenous peoples have been prevented from contributing fully to our globalized society. Consequently, the Indigenous cultures practiced by those peoples have not been able to share their strength, wisdom, and beauty with the rest of the world [yet] many solutions to the [complex] challenges of our time can be found in Indigenous culture” (pp. 265-266).


In Praise of the Incomplete Leader

In Praise of the Incomplete Leader
By Deborah Ancona, Thomas Malone, Wanda Orlikowski & Peter Senge
Harvard Business Review, February 2007. Can be downloaded at HBR.

The authors of this exceptional article (all teachers and researchers at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Leadership) have decades of experience working in diverse organizational contexts and declare, “It’s time to end the myth of the complete leader: the person at the top who’s got it all figured out.” They go on to say, “Most leaders experience a profound dichotomy every day, and it’s a heavy burden.”

They are referring to that awareness we carry that we actually don’t know what to do or what is right – that is in tension with the belief that we should know what to do. In these times of increasing complexity many of us continue to hang on to the myth that we must figure things out and know what to do – but this is neither possible nor sustainable. They note that, “incomplete leaders differ from incompetent leaders in that they understand what they are good at and what they’re not and have good judgment about how they can work with others to build on their strengths and offset their limitations.”

What I appreciate about this article is that it doesn’t just urge us to let go of the myth (how easy is that anyway!) but provides us with a framework that we can apply as an antidote to the myth. Their model of ‘distributed leadership’ integrates their research with many contemporary thinkers in the field and reveals four capabilities that effective leaders are attuned to. Leaders do not need to personally embody all four (this is extremely rare) but do benefit from nurturing the capabilities within their team and network:

  • Sensemaking = Entails ‘mapping out’ and making sense of the contexts and complexities within which we are operating, including sensing from different perspectives or vantage points and uncovering patterns.
  • Relating = Here the authors borrow ideas from Chris Argyris and Don Schon (who encouraged reflective practice work and learning through doing that many of you will know about). They suggest that it is vital to establish strong relating capacities within an organization or team, through inquiring, advocating and connecting. Inquiring is about suspending judgment and listening openly to genuinely understand the perspective of the other. Advocating entails being able to convey one’s own perspective clearly. While relating is about holding the 2 in balance – being able to listen to deeply understand as well as convey one’s own values, vision, etc.
  • Visioning = While the above two capabilities set the conditions for understanding what is called for and how to motivate and connect, visioning and inventing are more creative and action oriented. They “produce the focus and energy needed to make change happen.” Visioning is about “creating compelling images of the future…and produces a map of what could be.” It is not a static vision but one that unfolds in a “dynamic and collaborative” way with others in the team or organization.
  • Inventing = This is about finding new ways of doing things together to achieve the desired vision or state. They note that creating doesn’t have to be about large scale change: it can be about how tasks are distributed, or how meetings are conducted, or how information is shared. You might ask, ‘What are the creative ways in which the work can get done that is in service of our shared vision?’

“These capabilities span the intellectual and personal, the rational and intuitive, and the conceptual and creative capacities required in today’s environment.” In the article, the authors offer 4-5 concrete ideas for bringing to life each capability, as well as a framework to enable you to assess where you are with each. This could be used by a team to check in on the collective capacity of the group to support each other in working with the complexity and burdens of the work.


Carol Dweck has had an extraordinary career at Columbia, Harvard and now Stanford universities, and she has spent decades researching and exploring how we learn, develop and grow. She is fascinated by the perseverance of infants as they learn to talk and walk, despite the challenges and setbacks. She is also curious about why people stop challenging themselves and arrest their learning potential. She notes that contemporary brain research confirms that we each have much more capacity for lifelong learning and development than previously thought, and yet many people don’t continue to grow. What makes the difference?

Carol’s decades of work has been beautifully summarized in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006). Her research has shown that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life” (p.6). She describes two kinds of mindsets – fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that their qualities and attributes, such as intelligence and talents, are “carved in stone” and there is not much you can do about it other than you had better keep proving that you have these enough of these traits to not feel deficient. In a fixed mindset state people avoid challenges, given up or get defensive when faced with an obstacle, reject critique and feedback (too threatening) and may resent the success of others. Their reactions are not because they are ‘bad’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘resistant’ or ‘passive aggressive’ but because there is so much at stake in their sense of identity! Carol notes her own school experience where IQ scores were everything. Her 6th grade teacher organized the class by IQ scores and used this to determine who could be trusted with a task and who couldn’t. The message was you are either smart (and you better keep proving it), or you are stupid (and that is the end).

By contrast, a growth mindset “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial aptitudes, interests or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience” (p.7). She is not proposing that we all just have to apply ourselves and we can be and do anything we want. Rather, she is suggesting that “a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training” (p.7). Growth mindset individuals embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, value effort towards mastery, learn from critique and are inspired by and learn from others. Seems to me that Cindy Blackstock and Melanie Mark are growth mindset people.

One of my favourite excerpts from the book is this:

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Dweck goes on to describe how we go from being that persistent, growth-oriented infant to having a fixed or growth mindset as we develop. She illustrates how this influences the running commentaries in our minds and how we judge our experiences and situations (remember the discoveries some of you will have made in The Work exercises and in the mindfulness practice). And in so doing, she challenges conventions and beliefs in parenting, education, hiring practices, coaching, supervision and leadership, and offers ideas and insights about how to cultivate a growth mindset, such that a “passion for learning” is encouraged. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pay attention to your own inner dialogues and whether they reflect judgments such as “I can’t do this” vs “I am not there yet”. Explore different messages you can give yourself that could inspire a growth orientation, e.g. “I am struggling, but I can figure this out in time. I have figured things out before” or “my job is to learn from critique – I am not flawed – just on the path to learn more.”
  • Exercise the brain through learning new things. This sounds simple, but the brain is more like a muscle and it develops and grows new connections and capacity through challenge and novelty.
  • Whether as a parent, coach or a supervisor, shift from recognition of intelligence, talent and achievement to recognition of effort, persistence, problem solving, collaboration, etc – whatever was applied by the person to achieve results. This is ‘process’ praise rather than ‘results’ praise.
  • If you have faced a setback such as not getting your dream job, notice your reaction (e.g. blaming such as “they are threatened by me” or self-judgment such as “I knew I wasn’t cut out for this” or shocked such as “I thought that I was the wonder-child around here” or resilient “well that is disappointing but I will try again”). Take a step back to think about your goal and what you can do to stay on track towards achieving it – e.g., “Who can I talk to to get feedback? How might I incorporate the feedback. What might I need to learn before the next try. What additional information do I need?”
  • As a leader, consider the questions, “What are the opportunities for learning and growth within my team today – for myself, for my team colleagues?” “How can I enact a plan for learning and growth?” For example, can you change the format of your team meetings so you discuss case or program challenges and help each other through them, or offer a short TED talk? Can you approach supervision differently?
  • Be mindful of fixed and growth mindset talk and behaviours and respectfully offer growth alternatives and challenges (to our family members, people we serve, colleagues, etc).

And a final example of why this matters now as we consider equality: Carol talks about how kids living in poverty, on reserves, or in vulnerable neighbourhoods are often assumed by educators and others that they will not perform well. However, her team’s mindset interventions have resulted in dramatic shifts. Schools creating a growth mindset culture have gone from the bottom of their district to the top in spans of 12-18 months. Children went from being discouraged by effort and difficulty to being encouraged when faced with situations requiring effort as they understood that their “neurons were firing and they were getting smarter” – effort makes a difference.

A brief 10-minute introduction to Carol’s work (and some of her results within the education system) is in this TED talk: Carol Dweck – The power of believing that you can improveYou can also check out her informative website.

2020 Reflections: Another step forward

I know many of you have already been inspired and encouraged by last week’s decision from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal concluded that the Federal Government has been discriminating against First Nations children living on reserve by failing to provide the same level of child welfare support as is provided to other children. This is a meaningful story on many different levels for Leadership 2020.

The decision itself is profound: It states that the Federal Government’s management of First Nations child and family services and its funding model has “resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves.” It follows that the government must “cease the discriminatory practice and take measures to redress and prevent it” suggesting service redesign, increased funding, and support for FN’s to deliver their own culturally appropriate child welfare services.

Interestingly, the decision also states the “the fate and future of many First Nations children is still being determined by the government” – comparing the situation to that of the residential schools. If you have not already reviewed the short news clip of Cindy Blackstock, ED of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) of Canada, I encourage you to do so for both content and delivery – Cindy is compelling

And this clip leads me to another reflection on the case – that of vision, persistence, engagement and leadership. After 10 years of trying to get the government to understand and address the inequities, the FNCFCS launched their case in 2007, and the effort that it has taken to prepare the evidence and make the case has been huge. Cindy herself was being ‘watched’ by the Federal Government – presumably for daring to speak out about injustice! This is a long time to wait and wonder if the investment of resources, energy and heart will be worth it, and if fairness and justice will prevail. Yet, Cindy says, “It is our job as adults to stand up for kids” and the FNCFCS and allies continued to pursue this because it was an opportunity to “reset the conscience of the country” by laying out the facts of the situation. I am so moved by that concept; it particularly resonates at this time, so close on the heels of the TRC reports.

We talk a lot in 2020 about the importance of leaders having a vision that they can communicate clearly to others, and ‘walking their talk’ with congruent actions. The best visions are aspirational but also personal – people see how it connects to a value or purpose that has meaning for them. Cindy’s words – and perseverance – are expressions of her vision and of her commitment to ‘walk the talk’ even when it is a very, very uncertain and long journey.

The other learning for me in this case is the power of engagement. FNCFCS created the “I am a Witness” campaign that invited people to follow the case before the Tribunal in the media or by attending the 70+ days of hearings: “As a caring Canadian, we invite you to follow this historic case and then decide for yourself whether or not you feel the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly today.” It is an invitation to pay attention and to make a decision for oneself. It is not telling people what to think but to be engaged as a caring Canadian. They transparently offer information, resources, ideas, and videos in order for people to thoughtfully consider the issues. For me, this is an example of congruence in beliefs and actions – of inviting, not telling and oppressing; of being transparent, not secret; of trusting in the caring nature of others and the potential for Indigenous and non-indigenous people to act in solidarity for children. The Campaign is also brilliant in that it is not about Cindy as the hero-leader out front (although in my view she is heroic), but about thousands of caring people in circle. This is leadership in action – vision, persistence, invitation, engagement, inclusion, and above all – passion. Check out the FNCFS website for more information and their suggested actions.

Melanie Mark’s story is also a powerful one about resilience and perseverance. She grew up in very difficult circumstances, experienced trauma and disruption throughout her young life, lost her siblings into foster care, and then fought to reunite the family. She also went to school, pursued higher education, volunteered within her community, advocated for children and youth and eventually joined the Representative for Children and Youth’s office. She was elected this week to sit as the MLA for Mt Pleasant. I can’t describe the joyful feeling I had watching her be drummed into the Heritage Hall after her victory. (She has also agreed to come on as a 2020 speaker in the future).

So what inspires people like Cindy, Melanie and many of the people we work with to keep working through the challenges and growing? Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets sheds some light on this.

“Think about your hero. Do you think of this person as someone with extraordinary abilities who achieved with little effort? Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment—and admire them more.”