Tag Archive for: reconciliation

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).


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.”

2020 Reflections – Thinking about the other

We believe that Leadership 2020 is much more than a leadership training program. Sure, it builds the leadership capacity of individual participants just as other programs do. But more fundamentally, the program builds collective capacity to work differently with complexity and in the ‘spaces between’. 2020 aims to build stronger, more resilient, and effective teams, organizations, networks and systems. We do this, in part, by breaking through some of the limiting judgments and beliefs that we hold about ourselves and each other (e.g., MCFD vs. agencies; Indigenous vs. non-Indigenous).

We believe it will make a big difference if we can embrace the real complexity of our work, engage with our diverse communities, and enact new ways of practicing and continuously learning together. So how can we get better at working in this way? For one, we have to unpack how we see ‘the other’.

In several communiqués released in December, I talked about the implicit judgments, biases, and prejudices that can cloud our view of ‘the other’ and limit our ability to be open and curious, understand, embrace and engage.

Stick with me while I share a little story. I am currently in Oxford UK for two weeks of intensive learning for the Global MBA Program that I have been in for the past year. This is primarily an online program so my interactions with others have been through Skype, Whats App, and course discussion boards. I am now spending 12 hours a day with 17 other students from 15 different nations and I have come up-close and personal with my judgments and biases! I hate it when this happens!

For example, through the online posts and occasional team projects, I had unconsciously created whole stories about people based on age, ethnicity, experience, occupation, country of origin, etc. And sometimes these stories weren’t very flattering. But now that I have met some of the other learners, I see that their stories are not at all like the stories I wrote for them. That ‘accountant-type’ is an incredibly generous human being, who is so passionate about his calling that he tutors young people in his African nation who want to learn about numbers. And the strong, multi-credentialed woman from Asia is trying to figure out how to be the best parent she can be to her 3 year old while navigating cultural, organizational, and ethical challenges that make it really difficult.

So what does all this have to do with 2020? I offer it as an invitation to consider how you might create stories about others without really knowing them, and in so doing, make it more difficult to work together. I also offer it as an example of how important it is to work on our self-awareness and cultural agility as an ongoing leadership practice.

We are human and humans have historically benefited from creating in-groups and out-groups. However, in this time of reconciliation we have to ask ourselves, how beneficial is it to perpetuate us and them or ‘other’ thinking when we need so many perspectives to address complex issues?

For the Weekly Read, I offer a guest article from Tess Charlesworth on how we can catch our implicit biases and work through them to become more open, inclusive and culturally agile. She shares some new research on ‘cultural metacognition’ and then suggests concrete things you can do to reduce bias and judgments. 

Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.


One Native Life by Richard Wagamese

Gina Robertson from Victoria Native Friendship Centre and Indigenous Focus Cohort 1 introduced me to the work of Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. Gina shared that she had gifted dozens copies of his first novel, Keeper ‘N Me (1994), to Aboriginal men who were incarcerated and trying to make sense of their experience. The book had a transformative effect on many of them. Since then, I have become a devoted Wagamese reader, and have been changed through the discovery of his work. As an author and journalist, he has created an impressive body of work including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and memoir. He is also a person that has been deeply affected by the legacy of residential schools – his survivor parents struggled to parent; he and his siblings were removed, separated and placed in many different foster homes; he was adopted into a white home that was unable to provide the support and care that he needed; and his life was very precarious for many years. However his love of language and great talent as a writer and storyteller sustained him as he rediscovered his Ojibway nature.  

His book, Indian Horse (2012), was the People’s Choice winner in CBC’s Canada Reads 2013. It is a story that sheds light on the “alienating effects of cultural displacement.” I think that it should be required reading for anyone training to work in our field. “Saul Indian Horse is a hockey phenomenon. But he is also victim to the legacy of Canada’s residential schools. This story is about Saul’s reclamation of himself after years of hard drinking and the need for all of us to hear all of our own story if we are to heal. At times, harrowing, brutal and sad but infused with the glory of a game, the light of redemption and forgiveness”

As wonderful as these books are, the one that I am drawn to these days – as I try and understand how to ‘live into reconciliation’ – is his collection of essays, One Native Life (2008). He tells stories about the things he has experienced and learned during his life. I can’t begin to do justice to the breadth of his essays and urge you to read them yourself, however, here are a few excerpts that I think are pertinent to the work of building/rebuilding respect, trust, safety and reconciliation through learning more about ‘the other’ and their stories, experiences and perspectives (italics mine):

On language, cultural connection and permanency:

“I was twenty-four when the first Ojibway word rolled off my tongue. It felt round and rolling, not like the spiky sound of English with all its hard-edged consonants. When I spoke that word aloud, I felt as if I had truly spoken for the first time in my life.

“That first word opened the door to my culture. When I spoke it I stepped over the threshold into a new way of understanding myself and my place in the world. Until then I had been like a guest in my own life, standing around waiting for someone to explain things to me. That one word made me an inhabitant.

“It was peendigaen. Come in. Peendigaen, spoken with and outstretched hand and a rolling of the wrist. A beckoning. Come in. Welcome. This is where you belong….The feeling of Ojibway in my throat was permanence. I stood on unknown territory whose sweep was compelling. Peendigaen. Come in. With that one word, I walked fully into the world of my people” (pp. 137-138).

On working towards justice through communication and understanding:

In reflecting on his first reading of Saul Alinsky’s seminal book, Rules for Radicals, Wagamese says, “His book contained less than what its title suggested, and at first I was disappointed. Then I read it over again and I started to understand that radicalism isn’t necessarily the mechanics of anger. Instead it is the need of the people to invoke justice in a system through a certain generosity of spirit. It is, as Alinsky suggested, a process of communication (p. 220).

On the value of being present for each other and through our differences:

“It is not necessary to bridge gaps between communities. Bridges rust and collapse. If, as a people, we work earnestly to fill those gaps with information, filling it in layer by layer with our truth, the gaps eventually cease to exist” (p. 221).

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Part Two)

Last week I shared Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s premise that we all carry hidden biases (blindspots and mindbugs) resulting “from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality”. I suggested that – as self-aware leaders – it is important that we uncover and understand our biases. In this week’s issue we will look more closely at what the authors suggest we can do about our blindspots.

The authors suggest that, “effective methods for removing mindbugs that contribute to hidden biases have yet to be convincingly established” (p. 149). Nonetheless, we can ‘outsmart them’ even if eradication is challenging. Awareness alone does not change our thinking or behaviour – we have to get engaged and we have to stretch our thinking through counter-stereotyping experiences and images. For example, to counter the dominant negative images and stories that affect us every day, we can choose to search out and display contrasting images, e.g. a construction worker in hard hat breastfeeding her baby, to counter stereotypes related to gender and jobs; or highly esteemed and inspiring Indigenous leaders – elders, youth, women – to counter the images in the media and stored in our mind of Indigenous people as being victims; seniors joyfully engaged in physical activities or learning new things to challenge our ideas about aging and infirmity.

We also have to seek out contact and begin to get beyond the ideas we carry about ‘the other’ to building empathy for ‘the other’ through personal contact, as Tessa suggested in her feature article last week. The suggested TED talk by Verna Myers speaks to the idea of walking towards our biases without shame or guilt.

In Leadership 2020 we aim to build cultural agility – this means moving along a learning path from awareness to understanding (empathy) to agility and humility. I will come back to this in a future communiqué. This topic is particularly alive for me as I review the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released this week. This is an amazing time in our history. How will we show up to live into the promise of reconciliation? I believe that we can be more skillfull if we are open to being more self aware of the judgments that hold us back.

Reflective practice questions:

How will you ‘walk towards’ the judgments and biases that you are uncovering in 2016?
In what practical and concrete ways can you build relationships with members of groups that are less familiar to you?

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

This week’s suggested read is one of my favourite books of the past year. Blindspot – Hidden Biases of Good People (2013) was written by Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University and Anthony Greenwald of University of Washington to share their extensive research and learnings about “the hidden biases we all carry from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality” – and what we can do about them. I am going to review this book in two communiqués. This week, I will describe the premise of the book and the importance of understanding biases, and encourage you to take an online (free) Implicit Association Test to prepare for next week’s issue. Next week, I will look more closely at what the authors suggest we can do about our blindspots.

The authors developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which helps reveal stereotypes or ‘blindspots’ in our ways of thinking about and perceiving ‘the other’. Having completed a number of them myself I can attest to the positively disruptive experience – as I became more aware of my own biases (and there were some that shocked me) I felt better equipped to begin to realign my thinking and behaviour with my intentions (e.g., to be an open-minded and empathic person, to be more culturally agile).

As the authors describe, we are social beings that, by evolutionary necessity, have formed social groups, and have developed an array of ways of defining our groups and characterizing other groups. We are also ‘meaning makers’ – as information comes in, we sift and sort this information into categories in order to make sense of it. These categories include value assessments such as good/bad; trustworthy/not trustworthy; smart/stupid, etc. In fact, we bring this need to belong in a social group and the need to make meaning together by trying to figure out what the members of our social group think about things and how they attribute meaning. Indeed, “other minds matter to us enough that regions of neural real estate are uniquely engaged for the purpose of making social meaning” (p. 13). What this means is that we are heavily influenced by what we think others in our social group/cultural environments think.

Biases are comprised of “bits of knowledge about social groups…[that are] stored in our brains because we encounter them so frequently in our cultural environments…[They] can influence our behaviour towards members of particular social groups, but we remain oblivious to their influence” (italics added, p. xiii). In other words, we think we know something about ourselves or others as truth/fact (e.g. “I am not racist”, “I embrace people who are different than me”), and yet our minds can (and do) operate at an unconscious level and we behave according to these hidden biases.

Banaji and Greenwald describe these as ‘social mindbugs’ that act unconsciously to influence our views and behaviour towards others. At their very worst, these mindbugs contribute to actions such as the murder of innocent people based on a perceived (internal) – but not actual – threat. But in the day-to-day, they operate in the construction of beliefs and judgments we make about others – the people we serve, the people we live with, and the people in our communities. “Understanding how mindbugs erode the coastline of rational thought, and ultimately the very possibility of a just society, requires understanding the mindbugs that are at the root of disparity between our inner minds and outward actions” (p. 20).

The authors speak about two minds – our reflective mind and our automatic mind. The reflective is our conscious mind and the one which drives what we say to the world (and ourselves), e.g. “I value and respect Aboriginal peoples”. The automatic mind however is “a stranger to us. We implicitly know something or feel a certain way, and often these thoughts and feelings are reflected in our actions too – the difference being that we can’t always explain these actions, and they are at times completely at odds with our conscious intentions…Our automatic preferences steer us towards less conscious decisions, but they are hard to explain because they remain impervious to the probes of conscious motivation” (p. 55).

However, we don’t need to be held captive by the automatic mind. If we can shed some light on the unconscious, implicit preferences and biases we hold, we can create a cognitive dissonance between our two minds and through this dislodge some of them. This is where the IAT comes into play.    

Practice opportunity: Go to https://implicit.harvard.edu and you can sign in as a guest or register and then will be given the opportunity to take a number of different tests. You’ll have a choice of seven tests as a Canadian (included are Weight, Age, Gender, Sexuality, Nation and Race IATs), but not before reading a disclaimer: “If you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, please do not proceed further.” This is an invitation into self awareness!

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