Gathering centred on cultivating reconciliation leaders transforms how participants see themselves, their work, the future
An energy to discover and live into the full possibilities of reconciliation is still radiating days after a gathering in Whistler, B.C.
“I had an experience that changed how I feel about my work and gave me a vision of the future that I’m very excited and inspired about,” Jody Kaden says.
Hosted by Reconciliation Canada in partnership with the Academy for Systemic Change, the gathering convened about 18 people representing a diverse group of leaders – national Indigenous leaders, key network influencers and advisors as well as Reconciliation Canada ambassadors, community partners, funding partners, and facilitators.
Called the Reconciliation Leadership Learning Experience (RLLE), the highly participatory gathering is part of an effort to cultivate and equip a new generation of leaders who consciously and thoughtfully choose to live and work in reconciliation.
The stories of transformation in the lives of two participants in the gathering reveal how this goal is already being realized.
‘I am a leader as a First Nations male’
Troy Barnes joined the Reconciliation Leadership Learning Experience as a fourth-year student at Vancouver Island University (VIU) where he is majoring in First Nations studies and minoring in history. Troy’s First Nations roots are from the Klahoose Homalco First Nations located in Campbell River and Cortes Island, B.C.
Troy was hand-picked to attend the leadership event, largely given his active involvement with an Aboriginal peer mentorship program at the university.
As a result of the Reconciliation Leadership Learning Experience, Troy now has the tools and newfound confidence, he says, to start inviting others to have conversations about reconciliation, both at VIU, and in the broader community.
He has already begun sharing his personal reconciliation story in a number of scenarios he would have never dreamed he’d do so before. In fact, the day he arrived back from the gathering he had the opportunity to share his story with about 40 of the VIU staff and leadership.
“The gift that I got from the Reconciliation Leadership Learning Experience was (to realize) that I am a leader as a First Nations male,” Troy says.
“I have a voice as a First Nations male and I want to talk about these issues.
“Before, I wasn’t able to project my voice that I was gifted from my ancestors, and now you can’t shut me up.”
The shift in perspective Troy experienced came about largely through hearing the reconciliation stories of others, he says.
“They opened the floor a lot for sharing your own story about anything related to reconciliation, which was empowering,” Troy says.
“When I heard these stories it gave me the confidence to tell my own.”
The transformative power of a ‘living experience of one-ness’
Jody Kaden is the director of programs and partnerships for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, B.C. Region. She has worked with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada for 18 years, the last two in her current position.
Jody admits she joined the gathering with mixed feelings, looking forward to it, but also regretting the missed time to recharge with her family – something she holds very dear and integral to her personal health, especially given the challenges of her job.
She was happily surprised to discover the gathering itself had a tremendously rejuvenating and transformative effect.
“I had an experience that transformed how I’m feeling about my work,” Jody says. “I felt grounded and rejuvenated in a way that only happens in moments when I take holidays.
“I came away feeling like I had been away for a wonderful, refreshing holiday and returned to work with renewed purpose.”
Jody adds that the touchstone of that transformative experience is still alive in her and is helping her as she takes steps to reframe how she perceives her job and to cope with the stress of her position.
Jody is also now seeing new possibilities for how she might integrate the vision of reconciliation within the public service system in which she has a role. “That would be ideal for me, to be fed by the mission of that work every day,” Jody says.
She also plans to continue sharing her story of transformation, in hopes of creating a ripple effect of openness to conversation around reconciliation.
And she talks of being open to possibilities yet unknown.
So what about the gathering made this kind of transformation possible for Jody?
First, there was an element of being open to what emerges, which is so integral to igniting real change. “We were a group of people in a beautiful space together who weren’t sure what was going to happen exactly even the people who were designing it,” Jody says.
“We all came together and then we literally went on a journey of discovery about what reconciliation is and how we could talk about it and how that could feel risky and how we could make ourselves and each other feel more safe.”
But it was when she was matched with two other participants for ongoing small-group conversations that the spark of joy ignited on Day 1 “burst into flame,” Jody says.
“I felt so connected to and so accepted and so valued by these two Indigenous women – for whom I felt all of that as well – that there was no separation between us. We all saw each other as individuals and saw all of the things that we have in common.
“It was a living experience of the one-ness that Dr. Bobby Joseph talks about so eloquently.”
The gathering as a whole was about beauty, the beauty in all of us, “and what would be possible if we all felt that way about each other in the country?” Jody says.
‘I felt safe to say hard things’
The space and care made for the uncomfortable moments and elements of reconciliation also contributed to the creation of an experience that was both transformative and healing.
Jody admits she brought with her concerns about how intense the conversations might become. Her fears were fueled in part by a difficult experience as a young public servant attending a course on traditional knowledge in which the instructors brought in several Indigenous lawyers. “They were quite ruthless in their honesty about what white Canada had done to that point,” Jody recalls, noting the result for her was to feel devastated with guilt, a guilt she didn’t know how to cope with at the time.
While she didn’t come into the gathering intending to share that story and her concerns with the group as a whole, Jody felt safe enough to finally do so. “I felt safe to say hard things,” she says.
“And it was honoured.”
Her sharing gave other people licence to talk about their feelings of guilt. “So it turned that experience into a positive thing. It turned out to be a gift,” Jody says.
Troy says he also walked away with a stronger awareness that reconciliation conversations include elements and moments that are discomfiting, and that it’s important to be able to stand in that discomfort and work through it.
“A lot of Canadians are still not talking about reconciliation, and so for someone to stand up and say we are going to talk about these issues, (there will be some discomfort). The biggest key is to be okay to have these conversations any way,” he says.
Until a second gathering of RLLE participants in summer, the small groups formed in Whistler continue to connect regularly to provide support and encouragement to one another as they move forward on this path of lifting up reconciliation.
“My ultimate hope is to take these tools I’ve gained from this amazing experience and bring them to wherever I call home,” Troy says.
“I’m just forever grateful for this. It took down a lot of barriers for me. My heart is full.”
Jody also talks of being committed to continuing to share her story, as well as framing out a clearer picture of how she might advance reconciliation through her personal, professional and community spheres of influence.
“Anything that furthers the vision of reconciliation, I want to be able to support it and do whatever I can to make it happen,” Jody says.
A new initiative of Reconciliation Canada, the RLLE is considered to be still in the prototype phase. The design will continue to be refined moving forward.
Reconciliation Canada was born from the vision of Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Gwawaenuk Elder, to revitalize relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians through open and honest dialogue and transformative experiences.
Reconciliation Canada is hosting a series of events to move the reconciliation dialogue forward across the country throughout 2016.
Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger
This article was originally published to Axiom News.