Sharing Indigenous Knowledge Empowers Participants

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Jessica Bolduc, Social Innovation Residency alumna

Jessica Bolduc, executive director of the 4Rs Youth Movement and 2016 Getting to Maybe: A Social Innovation Residency alumna.

Blankets are laid out covering the floor of the Elder Tom Crane Bear Room. A group of participants are spread out across the space while Jessica Bolduc narrates Canada’s historical and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples.

Gradually the blanketed coverage, representing Indigenous territories, decreases dramatically. The faces of participants fail to mask their emotions: shock, disbelief, anger, sadness. These feelings are later verbalized in a sharing circle led by Bolduc, Anishinaabe kwe from Batchewana First Nation, who facilitated the KAIROS Blanket Exercise during a participant open-space session as part of Getting to Maybe: A Social Innovation Residency.

“There are lots of people in the program who are not Indigenous, but they are looking to push change for Indigenous communities. This is a good tool to deepen shared understanding and build relationships based on care, collaboration, and intention,” said Bolduc, executive director of the 4Rs Youth Movement. 4Rs is a collaborative of 14 national organizations that are fostering relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth by promoting respect, reciprocity,  reconciliation, and relevance.

This interactive learning experience is just one example where participants are taking it upon themselves to express one of the core concepts of the program: incorporating experiential learning into social innovation projects. Bolduc was one of 28 participants in this year’s 28-day residency. She used the opportunity to not just share her work, but to learn new tools as she ramps up her role in supporting youth through Truth and Reconciliation.

“Youth are real influencers in this process. They are moving on to university, entering the workforce, taking management roles, and joining boards and committees. They are starting to assert power in different ways and talk about things they are passionate about,” said Bolduc. “With youth there is a willingness and hope for something different than we have right now. It exists in adults too, but sometimes that conversation looks different. Some approaches around relationship building and identity building can be rejected by adults. This program tries to throw that on its head.”

There are lots of people in the program who are not Indigenous, but they are looking to push change for Indigenous communities. This is a good tool to deepen shared understanding and build relationships based on care, collaboration, and intention.

Jessica Bolduc, alumna

As a mentor and alumna of the program, Melanie Goodchild can attest to that. This year, she provided support to participants as they navigated through the transformative learning.

“Because you have these moments that destabilize you, your paradigm shifts. You think about yourself in the world in a certain way and when someone shakes that foundation it can be scary. Sometimes it surprises people,” she admits. “It takes a lot of courage to get out and disrupt people and systems. You need that moral support along the way.”

Goodchild is another example of a participant openly sharing insights from her culture. Member of the Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation, she brought her traditional bundle and sacred items with her as a participant in year one of the residency; stone turtles that represent the Seven Grandfather Teachings. She shared the importance of having physical representations of spirit helpers, as was taught to her by Elders back home, and gifted the turtles to other participants.

“A core piece of reconciliation is examining the relationship with Indigenous Peoples to make sure it’s equal and beneficial. It has been my experience that this begins with dialogue; there are so many misunderstandings in cross-cultural communications. A key moment for me was understanding how much everyone had to teach each other, Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” said Goodchild.

A senior advisor on Aboriginal relations with the Canadian Red Cross, Goodchild has kept a busy schedule since Banff. She’s in the midst of a PhD program at the University of Waterloo as a Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) Fellow and is wrapping up an International Women’s Forum Fellowship, run in partnership with Harvard University and INSEAD, the Business School for the World.

“Everyone should have that opportunity to take a month away from your obligations and focus on yourself, reflect, and learn in an environment where you are pushed out of your comfort zone,” she says. “When you are young, you go to camp or backpack. That’s harder to do when you are in your 40s. Without it you just keep forging ahead and building your life. When you stand still for a month, you can confirm you are on the right path.”

Introducing cultural components isn’t just proving to be empowering for Indigenous participants, it’s also helping to help shape the outcome of some non-Indigenous ventures. Dave Kranenburg is looking at ways to provide research, training, and funding support to early-stage initiatives focused on food sustainability. One project under development involves the creation of a demonstration farm for regenerative agriculture on conservation authority land in southern Ontario. Part of the conversation includes the involvement of multiple stakeholders, including nearby First Nations.

“When you think about food security in Canada, you don’t have to look hard to see First Nations being the most affected by it. Because I was so removed from the Indigenous perspective, I was left wondering where I start, how I enter a conversation, or whether I should enter a conversation,” Kranenburg said. “I don’t claim to fully understand Indigenous thought, but I came out of [the program] wanting to explore various perspectives around our relationship with food, the different ways people relate to their land, how food connects people, and how we can develop that as part of our food system.”

Goodchild and another alumnus, Derek Masselink, are helping Kranenburg with this as Board of Directors members of the newly incorporated non-profit Rhizome Institute. He says they keep him pointed “true north.” While the Institute is currently focused on initiatives in lower Ontario, its intent was always to support projects across Canada, specifically in rural and remote communities. “Food has an important role to play in the economic development of these regions and they’re the first to ask about when I’ll expand or point out opportunities for me to do so.”

The three formed a strong bond during the residency, including taking a weekend road trip to a nearby pow wow. “It was so powerful. We came from this program where we were exposed to self-expression and creativity. Then you see this amazing regalia and display of culture and heritage. I have a long way to go to understand how to work with First Nations, but it gave me the confidence to say that the easiest place to start is to show up, acknowledge it, and surround yourself with people willing to be your guides.”