This is the third and final post in the series I’m writing about the Pulling Together Guide for Leaders and Administrators, and the series of workshops held in the Fall of 2020 related to it, facilitated by Marlene Erickson and Jewell Gillies. See the first post and the second post in the series. This post focuses on the section of the guide called “Sammon” (Salmon), which is about bringing home what you have gathered on the Indigenization journey into your own institution, and also the last section, focused on the future.
In the workshop focused on the Sammon section of the Guide we were encouraged to reflect on what we can bring back to our own work from what we have learned and discussed in these sessions. Here the theme of courage came up again (as it did in the first session): having the courage to take risks, make mistakes, ask questions, build relationships, move forward with the work. One thing that stood out to me from this workshop was a suggestion that when we are working on various projects and initiatives, we continually ask ourselves and others involved: does this meet the needs of all learners, including Indigenous learners? Does it support the relationships we have or wish to have with Indigenous communities? If the answer is no, have the courage to dig deeper and work on it until the answer is yes.
A related theme was patience: having patience with ourselves, as we take risks and make mistakes. Recognize the mistakes and learn from them, and move on and keep going. Having patience with ourselves as we learn, and how long that may take. Also having patience with others as we are all on different points of the journey, and working to support each other in these various points as best we can.
Experience, Reciprocity, Generosity
Three things emphasized in the Sammon section of the Guide, and discussed in the workshop as three things that empower change, are experience, reciprocity, and generosity.
Experience: Valuing the knowledge gained from experience, not only that which comes from scholarly sources. Those without scholarly credentials can still have a wealth of knowledge we can learn from based on their experiences and what they can do.
Reciprocity: Working together, giving and receiving, within and between communities. The Guide quotes Nella Nelson talking about allies working together with Indigenous communities to promote change: “Scared that they might be infringing on protocol but willing to do it and to walk with us and to champion for us. There aren’t enough of us to do it alone. We need to honour that they’re taking their time to work with us ….”
Generosity: In the workshop, Jewell shared a saying with us: If I can, I must. If I can help someone in need, I must do so. This is a powerful notion of generosity that could seriously change behaviour of those who think of generosity as something good to do but not morally required (what we philosophers sometimes call supererogatory).
These three things were all demonstrated clearly in the workshop series–Marlene and Jewell, as well as the participants in our large group and breakout room discussions, shared a wealth of knowledge from their own experiences. Everyone demonstrated generosity in sharing this knowledge, our questions, our ideas, our emotions, our feedback, our support for each other. And we were working together to both give and receive within the sessions, but also to help each other hold ourselves to account to express reciprocity and generosity by bringing home the harvest, bringing back what we have learned and experienced to our own roles and work.
We also had time to reflect on and discuss with each other what we are bringing with us from these sessions. Me writing this series of blog posts is my own way to reflect on and record what I’m bringing with me, the things that really stood out to me from the Guide and the series. Two things I wrote down in my notes from this session are the importance of emotional connection (discussed in the first post in this series) and the powerful impact of telling and listening to stories (discussed in the second post in this series). But I wanted to write this set of blog posts to help me remember and continue to take with me and emphasize the many other things that I found particularly impactful.
Closing the Circle
For our last session, we were privileged to have Lheidli T’enneh Elder Darlene McIntosh join us and lead us in ceremony and learning as we closed the circle of our workshops and our official time together. This was an incredibly moving session, which included a demonstration of smudging and an explanation of its significance. We could not all be in the same room, unfortunately, but watching through the screen and listening to the explanation was still very meaningful and impactful, as a number of participants expressed later in the session.
Elder McIntosh also spoke to a common theme we had talked about in the workshops, the fear of making mistakes. She emphasized that we needn’t think of mistakes as failure–if something doesn’t work, you learn from that and try something else. I really appreciate thinking about mistakes as just a normal part of life in this way, and it makes so much sense that I also find myself wondering: why hasn’t that been the way I think about them just as a matter of course? What in my experience and the world around me has led to me thinking that mistakes are something to be afraid of, a sign of failure rather than a sign of being a human being continually learning? And how can I pass on to my son this healthier way of making mistakes, reflecting, learning, and trying something else? I don’t have answers at the moment, but that’s one area of further reflection I am taking away from this series.
I want to end with a couple of quotes from the Pulling Together Guide for Leaders and Administrators, in the last main section of the book on looking towards the future. Leaders interviewed for the Guide were asked what they would like to see re: Indigenization 25 years from now. If one is going out on a journey, such as the journey of Indigenization discussed in the guide and the series of workshops I attended, it’s important to have a sense of where one is headed, what the end point may look like. This also brings us back full circle to the beginning of the book and the first post I wrote about the book and the workshops, about what “Indigenization” might mean. Here are a couple of quotes from that section of the book that stand out to me.
Angus Graeme of Selkirk College:
Indigeneity will be so engrained in the governance, operations, courses, programs, and services at the college that the term Indigenization will no longer be needed. Indigenous students will be confident and successful, proud of who they are, and proud of their cultures, traditions, and languages.
Ian Humphries of Camosun College:
I would love to be in a place … where everyone has the knowledge, there is no more ignorance about what happened in Canada historically with respect to colonialism and its impact. Camosun will be a place where Indigenous students feel very comfortable and supported, and it’s a place where our non-Indigenous students develop a much better understanding of Canada’s history.
I like these particular quotes because they emphasize what the end goal will look like for the people involved, for Indigenous students to be successful and for all students (and I would argue, staff and faculty too) to have a deeper understanding of colonialism, the role of the university in colonialism, and what (by then) has been done to address those issues (as well as what may still need to be done…this may be a long process).
Similarly, the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan says, in the section on Vision, Mission, and Values:
We anticipate that as the Plan is implemented that a gradual shift will take place in UBC’s culture creating an environment where respect for Indigenous rights is woven into the daily life of the University. For students, faculty and staff this will mean an environment in which they feel valued, respected and in which they will have every opportunity to thrive. (p. 21)
There is probably much more to say about what a vision for the future should look like, but I’m finding these generative as a start for my own thinking. And I expect that thinking will shift as I continue to learn, and we move forward on this gradual but critical shift in our institutional culture and practices.
I want to end this series of posts by expressing my deep gratitude to Marlene, Jewell, the folks from BCcampus who helped organize the series, and the participants in the workshops who shared and listened, gave and received so generously in our discussions. There was a lot of vulnerability shared as well as even more support, generosity, and kindness, as well as gentle prodding where needed to keep us learning.
A number of us found these sessions so valuable, and our learning community so impactful, that we discussed continuing meeting on a regular basis. This is a long journey, and it’s much easier with more people to help paddle!
Note: I asked for and received permission to share the words and thoughts of Jewell Gillies and Elder Darlene McIntosh in this post, with their names attached.