Listening with our ears and our hearts - a conversational gathering with Indigenous partners and federal government employees

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On a cold yet sunny winter’s day, in the Royal Canadian Geological Society’s upper gallery at 50 Sussex Drive, overlooking the frozen Ottawa River (known in Algonquin as Kitchissippi or “Great River”) a group of 25 individuals sat in circle, ready to listen, to share, and to connect their hearts in story.

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In recent years, through our work across federal government departments, Stratos has witnessed the sustained effort by many government employees who are trying to better understand what it means to engage nation-to-nation and create truly collaborative efforts that move beyond one-on-one engagement, towards fuller relationship-building.

And, while we have seen progress being made in these nation-to-nation working partnerships and the policies and programs they support, we have also observed that there remains a gap in understanding, in action and in a path forward towards reconciliation.

It was these observation and connections that inspired Stratos, in partnership with our Indigenous partner First Peoples Group, to embark on a journey last Fall to foster meaningful conversation around what it means to advance reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the Government of Canada.

What started off as a small seed of an idea came to fruition on January 31st, 2019 when respected leaders in Indigenous communities and organizations around Ottawa convened together with federal government employees to share their hopes, challenges, lessons and other reflections related to reconciliation.

Sitting in circle, these individuals spoke honestly and openly about their experiences and over the course of the day, a few key themes emerged as priorities for further shared learning and exploration. These included:

  • The need for substantive and systemic change versus symbolic change: participants spoke of how systemic and substantive change has to be pushed from multiple fronts: top down, bottom up, and side to side. This kind of change goes beyond rhetoric and requires tools and processes (education, training, and cultural competencies) to drive us toward our desired outcomes as well as the performance indicators to measure our progress along the way.
  • The importance of building capacity and awareness within and across federal government departments: participants expressed a need for more human and financial resources, skills development and education among employees so that they can “advise fearlessly and implement loyally”. Some suggested visits to communities could help build this awareness.
  • The importance of respecting space, place and time – notably creating more ethical spaces to have meaningful conversation, which requires consideration of Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land.
  • The value in building connections, starting with our ancestral history.

While the intent of this Gathering was not to identify concrete actions, we have heard from some of our guests in the days and weeks following the session and know some have started to act on new insights or knowledge that they gained.

Moving forward, Stratos and First Peoples Group remain committed to continuing to work together to explore ways to advance reconciliation in line with our Reconciliation Strategy. It is our hope that we will have an opportunity to host another gathering that builds on the discussions we had on January 31st and / or spark new conversations and build new relationships in other regions across Canada.

Stratos and First Peoples Group would like to thank the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Living Tapestries for their support in this initiative.

For more information on this initiative contact Barb Sweazey,  Director, Organizational Effectiveness at Stratos or Guy Freedman, President and Senior Partner of the First Peoples Group.