Tag Archive for: indigenous

2020 Resources – Thinking about wellness

In Leadership 2020, we offer a simple framework for assessing our wellness practices, adapted from the First Nation’s Healthy Authority’s perspective on wellness and wholism. A visual of this is offered below.


You can use whatever labels make sense to you but the key point is to attend to the different dimensions of wellness. Each of us might have different wellness practices within the dimensions, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach nor is there a definitive ‘how to manual’ for wellness practice (despite what the self-help gurus might claim), but it is helpful to build awareness about what we have going on – or not – in each dimension. Where am I lean? What have I got in place that is working for me? What have I not been paying attention to? What do I want to introduce or re-introduce back into my life?

As we are in the generative Spring season – a time of new beginnings – it may be time to consider the questions above for yourself and then make some commitments – what will you keep doing, start doing and stop doing in order to enhance your wellness and well being over the next 6 months? 

These don’t need to be big and bold – sometimes it is the small stuff that can make a big difference, e.g. drink more water, stretch for 3 minutes every hour (set your phone to remind you to get up, stretch and get a glass of water), write a gratitude or ‘what went right’ statement at the end of each work day as your last act before you head home, listen to a talking book on something inspirational on your commute rather than listening to the news. 

One of the things to be aware of is that our brains have a harder time allowing us to stop doing something than to start doing something. Old habits die hard because the neural pathways associated with behaviours become deeply rooted. To introduce new wellness practices may be a better place to start – the novelty captures us and over time we can establish new neural pathways that may challenge the old patterns and pathways.

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.

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).


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.”

The Mission of Intergroup Relations

Contributed by Tessa Charlesworth (tet2113@columbia.edu)

In our sector, group divisions – between government and community agencies, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and organizations, as well as between “modern” and “traditional” experiences – have been, and continue to be, sources of misunderstandings and prejudice. Such attitudes ultimately result in compromised services for children, youth, and families in BC. As such, one of the missions of Leadership 2020 is to help bridge these pervasive divides.

The approach employed by L2020 is grounded in both current and historical research on intergroup relations, stretching back to Gordon Allport’s “On the Nature of Prejudice” (1954). In this pivotal publication, Allport delineated the conditions that give rise to intergroup prejudice and conflict, as well as the conditions that give rise to the reconciliation of conflict and reduction of prejudice through positive contact. He suggested that, in order for two groups to rebuild their relationships, they must experience contact (i.e. proximity and interaction), that is supported by (1) a common goal; (2) cooperative interdependence to achieve that goal; and (3) support from authority.

Contemporary research has largely confirmed the benefit of these conditions in reducing prejudice and promoting reconciliation (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Indeed, research has shown that positive contact with these satisfied conditions reduces prejudice by (1) increasing awareness and knowledge of the “other”; (2) increasing empathy towards the “other”; and (3) decreasing anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the “other”.

In considering such research, it becomes clear that L2020 offers a unique platform for group reconciliation. At the most basic level, the program provides an opportunity for dialogue and contact (via both online platforms and in-person at residencies) between groups that may be otherwise disconnected. To ensure positive contact, the L2020 program also fulfills Allport’s three aforementioned conditions.

First, the program sets a common goal to all participants – to revolutionize and repair the sector so as to provide the best services possible. Additionally, each participant is encouraged to set a personal leadership development goal. Although private, these individual goals become a “common” pursuit as each participant is aware of the other participants’ similar struggles and challenges. Second, the program stresses the need for cooperative interdependence in order to achieve both the common goal, and each individual goal. As one example, the webinar check-ins serve as a source of communal support and interdependence for each participant to share their successes and failures and receive guidance from other members. Furthermore, the unique design of the residencies – with multiple group problem-solving and brain-storming activities – models the cooperative interdependence required for the communal goal of sector change. Third, the program provides substantial institutional and authority support, not only from the design team and facilitators, but also from the government and agencies that encourage their team members to participate.

In this way, the program design aligns with the pursuit of positive intergroup contact and reconciliation. However, the program is also unique in stressing the mechanisms (knowledge, empathy, and anxiety-reduction) that help in reconciliation. Specifically, L2020 targets intergroup knowledge growth by having participants share their experiences and knowledge through stories, as well as by promoting deep conversations and clarifying questions between groups. In a similar way, L2020 increases intergroup empathy by targeting the “humanization” of the other through such stories and personal sharing (again, the webinar check-ins provide a unique resource for empathic responding). Through the propagation of such knowledge and empathy, the program also targets the reduction of uncertainty and anxiety by making the other group more familiar through consistent, positive interactions.

This brief exposé on the intergroup goals of Leadership 2020 has shown how the program is firmly grounded in historical and contemporary research, as well as in application and experience. More importantly, however, it has shown that the program has immense potential in resolving the pervasive intergroup prejudices that hamper our sector and compromise our practice.

For further reading:

Allport, Gordon (1954) On the Nature of Prejudice.

Pettigrew, T. & Tropp, L. (2006) A Meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 90(5): 751-83.

Pittinsky, T. & Simon, S. (2007) Intergroup leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(6): 586-605.

Reflective questions: How might this information apply to your work with ‘groups’ that are struggling to work together, e.g. between teams, agencies, disciplines, etc? How might the notion that intergroup relations will be enhanced through having constructive contact (time together), shared goals, tasks requiring cooperation, and ‘top cover’ support and encouragement? What are some small probes/actions that you could take towards improving relations and practice between these groups, e.g. between your team and another team?

Note: If you are curious about the field of intergroup relations and prejudice, Tessa welcomes comments and questions and is happy to share research and references. You may reach her via email at tet2113@columbia.edu.

Unsettling the Settler Within

Inspired by the TRC report and my desire to live and act in ways that support reconciliation, I re-read Unsettling the Settler Within – Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling and Reconciliation in Canada (2010) by Paulette Regan. The author was an Indian Residential School (IRS) claims resolution manager for the federal government, then the Director of Research for the TRC.  She completed her PhD in the Indigenous Governance Program at University of Victoria and this book is based on her dissertation.
As a non-Indigenous woman, Paulette asks, “How can we, as non-Indigenous people, unsettle ourselves to name and then transform the settler – the colonizer who lurks within – not just in words but by our actions, as we confront the history of colonization, violence, racism and injustice that remains part of the IRS legacy today?” (p.11). She suggests that, “In the seismic wake of destruction left by the public policy experiment that was the Indian residential schools, Indigenous communities struggle with poverty, poor health and education outcomes, economic disadvantage, domestic violence, abuse, addiction and high rates of youth suicide. It is easy from the apparent safety of our relatively comfortable lives, to judge the apparent inability of Native people to rise above such conditions, thus pathologizing the victims of our well-intended actions. It is equally easy to think that we know what is best for them – hence our persistence in trying to solve the Indian problem. This singular focus on the Other blinds us from seeing how settler history, myth, and identity have shaped and continue to shape our attitudes in highly problematic ways. It prevents us from acknowledging our own need to decolonize.” (italics added, p. 10-11).
This book is one settler’s “call to action” that requires us to start with self and “risk interacting differently with Indigenous people – with vulnerability, humility, and a willingness to stay in the decolonizing struggle of our own discomfort” (p. 13). What I appreciate about this informative and provocative book is that Paulette weaves together a critical and scholarly analysis of colonization, reconciliation and decolonization, with historical information and human stories that enable us to see and understand an alternative story about Canadian history. The stories offered in this book and in the TRC report could be some of our most powerful teachings – they are an invitation to confront and shift our own attitudes and actions.
Paulette also shares her own journey towards de-colonization. In sharing her journey, I could more easily (an uncomfortably) see the settler and colonizer within me. As she says, “I find myself recounting all the reasons that I am not a colonizer: I am working for social justice and change from within my own dominant-culture institutions; I am enlightened and empathetic; my intentions are good; I am committed to finding just solutions to these claims; I have Indigenous colleagues and friends; I grew up in a single-parent, low-income family in an ethnically diverse East Vancouver neighbourhood; I am not one of those white upper- or middle-class people raised in insular privilege! But I also know that…no one came to my home as a matter of government policy or religious imperative to remove me from my mother’s care. My fair skin and colouring protected me from racism…So I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of being a Euro-Canadian woman trying to figure out what it means to bear this unwanted identity of colonizer, oppressor, and perpetrator while attempting to do my work in a way that is congruent with my own principles, beliefs, and sense of integrity.” (p. 171-172). Wow – that one hit home for me!
She also offers a view of reconciliation as an “intercultural encounter” that integrates traditional story-telling and ceremony within a contemporary context. In this way I am reminded of the work that Wedlidi Speck is doing with Leadership 2020 participants on  “cultural agility”. 
One of the immediate takeaways for me was her description of settlers as “ethical witnesses” where the stories of human rights violations and trauma “invite an ethical response”. This is grounded in bearing witness, and deeply and respectfully listening to the stories such that this “giving and receiving of painful stories can restore human dignity” (p. 173). She goes on to say, “As Indigenous peoples restore their own sense of human dignity as self-determining groups, settlers must recognize and respect that inherent dignity…” (p. 177). Lots to work with and think about as I continue the journey.
For a briefer call to action, I encourage you to read Chris Corrigan’s blog post entitled Reconciliation – A practical guide for non-indigenous people

2020 Reflections – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report was released in the week just before the start of the Indigenous focus cohort 3 in June and I was both profoundly moved and disturbed by the findings. I was also anxious. The TRC report was a call to action, but how could we respond, and what did we need to be mindful of and do within Leadership 2020 – and with the upcoming Indigenous focus cohort – to honour the TRC’s work and most importantly, the testimony of the thousands of survivors who told their stories? What does reconciliation look like and what could I/we do to live into this spirit? These are questions I invite our Leadership 2020 community to explore and discuss.
The opening paragraphs of the report reflected my anxiety and questions: “Now that we know about residential schools and their legacy, what do we do about it?

“Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours.Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered” (italics added, p. vi).

The TRC calls for us to become more aware, as a start, “Too many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts. This lack of historical knowledge has serious consequences for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and for Canada as a whole. In government circles, it makes for poor public policy decisions. In the public realm, it reinforces racist attitudes and fuels civic distrust between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. Too many Canadians do not know the history of Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to Canada, or understand that by virtue of the historical and modern Treaties negotiated by our government, we are all Treaty people. History plays an important role in reconciliation; to build for the future, Canadians must look to, and learn from, the past” (Italics added, p. 8). 

The TRC report is a heart- and gut-wrenching read – but I believe that it should be required reading for any of us working in this sector. The truth-telling of the 100-year story of the IRS and the resulting cultural genocide, as well as the ‘sixties scoop’, helps us become more historically and culturally aware. It positions us to better understand the diverse contemporary experiences of Indigenous people and communities. It is also a humbling and significant call to action. The recommended actions in the section on Child Welfare (pp. 137-144) are of particular importance, although the child welfare interests cannot be separated from health, education, justice, and culture.

The TRC also suggests that “reconciliation as an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. A critical part of this process involves repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change” (p. 16).

So now what? Certainly the different levels of government have work to do, but so do we as individuals and as leaders in this field. As we prepared to welcome the Indigenous focus cohort to Bowen Island in June, the hosting team spent a number of hours talking about the TRC report, what it meant to us, what was being called for now and how we would ‘show up’ for the participants and for each other. Through this dialogue and intention, I gained a different level of presence and mindfulness and am grateful to Wedlidi, Caitlin, Chris and Annemarie for the dialogue. I have a long way to go on my journey from cultural awareness, to understanding, to competency, to humility, and to cultural agility and wise action, but it is clear that it cannot be a solitary journey.

In the Fall we would like to host some online dialogue circles on reconciliation and invite your ideas. What questions are you carrying? What do you need to learn, discuss, or practice in order to live into the spirit of reconciliation?