Pulling Together Leaders & Administrators, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts in which I reflect on my experience in a series of workshops focused on the Pulling Together Leaders and Administrators Guide, and facilitated by Jewell Gillies and Marlene Erickson. See more about this workshop series in my first post about it, and see the third post in this series as well.

This post is about the second and third sessions in the workshop series, and the sections on Kahkah (Raven) and Leloo (Wolf). As noted in the previous post, in the Pulling Together Guide for Leaders and Administrators the path of Indigenization is discussed as a journey. The section on Raven is focused on the importance of storytelling and ceremony as we paddle together, and the one on Wolf is about gathering–what we’re gathering from our journey.

Kahkah (Raven): paddle

The importance of story

The Pulling Together Guide section on Kahkah (Raven) states:

Now that your Indigenization journey has launched, this is the time to consider how to synchronize the paddle strokes. Often a journey involves getting to know one another in the canoe, by telling stories and recognizing what needs to be done to reach the destination.

One of the main themes that stands out to me from this series of workshops is how impactful storytelling is in contributing to community building, and deeper understanding guided both by the heart and the mind (and the spirit). A number of stories were shared in the sessions, and I felt these helped me connect more deeply to the topics under discussion, and to the participants in these workshops. Somehow listening to and reflecting on the stories helped not only ground the information in both thought and feeling, but also rooted it more firmly in my memory. And the stories that were told in the main sessions as well as in the many, many breakout room discussions helped to bring us together as a group–enough that many of us decided we want to continue together in some way after the sessions finished.

There’s also a difference between stories that are static on a page and stories that are told dynamically, in real time. As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson explains in Dancing on our Turtle’s Back, stories told in a gathering of people “reinforces the web of relationships that stitch our communities together” (34; note that Simpson is talking specifically about storytelling within communities of Indigenous people). In such settings,

the storyteller … has to work with emergence and flux, developing a unique relationship with the audience based entirely on context and relationships. … This context provides the storyteller with information s/he uses to decide what to tell and how to tell it to gain both individual meaning and collective resonance. (34).

A story on a page, or on a recording, has important value; but it lacks being told in a particular time and place, to a particular group of people, for a particular reason. The stories told within this particular community in the workshop series were tied to a specific time, purpose, and audience, and felt quite impactful for that reason.

An important part of the workshop series was the telling of the stories of the workshops in a visual way, through the graphic recordings done by Michelle Buchholz. You can see all of Michelle’s gorgeous visual stories in the recap post about the series on the BCcampus website. During the sessions, we ended each one with Michelle showing us the work in progress from each session, and then started the next one with the completed work. It was a wonderful way to remind ourselves of what we had just done in the session, and then the next week, what we had done the previous week.

The importance of ceremony

In addition, we talked about the important role ceremony plays in our lives, and how ceremonies and rituals can bring communities together and show their members that they are supported and cared for. A story was told about a ceremony for a family member who, as a child, was getting his first haircut, and how the whole community came together and this showed the child he was loved and supported.

We were invited to reflect on the role of ceremony in post-secondary institutions. In my own experience, there aren’t a great number of ceremonies; one that stands out is the ceremony for graduation, though (as noted in the session) that is for the students who succeed; what about those who are struggling and need support? We also discussed that there may be Indigenous ceremonies on some campuses and that where invited, it is helpful for the whole community to come together to participate and volunteer to help make these happen (rather than only having those in the Indigenous support centres take on all the work).

Leloo (Wolf): Gather

We gather many things along the journey to help us get to the destination, and also things we will bring back. One of the things we gathered in this section was knowledge about leadership and the importance of working with Indigenous and other communities.

We discussed the value of working together in community through this journey, including with other participants in this session as well as others in our institutions. One person in a canoe has a much harder time than several people pulling together.

But it’s not just that allies pull together in their groups, and Indigenous people, elders, and knowledge keepers pull together in their groups; rather, what was emphasized in the sessions was that we all come together in productive and respectful relationships.

We talked about one way to think about the role of non-Indigenous leaders in this relationship: such leadership is not about being in the front; instead, it is Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers who should be leading the way. The post-secondary leader who is an ally should be more in the back, facilitating the work led by others, helping to bring people along and ensuring things get done. Non-Indigenous leaders can motivate and facilitate discussions, invite guest speakers, provide resources needed to do the work, and step back and foreground Indigenous voices where they can. They can also help others understand their own “why,” as discussed in the previous post on this series.

The UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan was developed with the voices of many Indigenous people at the forefront, as well as contributions from non-Indigenous people. I hope that by using that as a framework I can be working from the back, as it were, allowing the views and voices of Indigenous people to guide the way while not laying upon them only the burden of getting the work done to make progress.

Finally, we discussed how anyone can be play a role as a leader in decolonization work, even if not in an official leadership position in an institution. There are many people in various parts of post-secondary institutions that can motivate and facilitate discussions, help to organize and do the work, bring people along, etc. In that way, the Leaders and Administrators Guide, and this series of sessions, are applicable to many.