• Dione McGuinness

Advancing Reconciliation – Working in Relationship with Indigenous People

During the past month I’ve attended several deeply thought-provoking events that focused on a topic that has become familiar to many of us, but is understood by few – Reconciliation. At the Leadership Edge Summit, I was intrigued by a panel, consisting of Jodi Stonehouse, Sykes Powderface and Brian Calliou. They spoke on “Reshaping What It Means to Live in Relationship with Indigenous Communities.”


The term struck a cord with me. What exactly is our relationship? How is it defined? And even more importantly, what does it have the potential to be?

Turns out, it started with Canada’s treaties with its Indigenous people, which bound all Canadians in a relationship together. One might be forgiven for missing this fact, as only in recent years has it been more widely communicated through our education system, our media, and our leaders. But it has been communicated by Canada’s Indigenous people. For many of us, their voices remained unheard for decades, until they began to be acknowledged through our court systems. We then began to hear of the anger that has been the result of hundreds of years of neglect, and even abuse of rights, of individuals, and of whole communities of people.

Relationship, hey? When I think of relationships, only through their failing do they wind up in courts. Rather, they are emotional ties that bind parties together based on such ideals as respect, caring, empathy, support…you get the idea. So, I was intrigued that the panel chose to frame their discussion in this way. I was also encouraged at the tone of the conversation. Elder Sykes Powderface spoke about his vision of relationship. He was not angry, as one might expect, since of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s 94 recommendations, only a handful have been achieved in the past few years. Instead, he and his panel simply posed a question: Given that we are in a relationship together, what can you, as leaders, do to move towards reconciliation?

Several days later I attended the annual Synergy Alberta Conference. On day two of the conference, participants were invited to take part in a blanket exercise, put on by members of the Alberta Energy Regulator’s Indigenous Engagement team and KAIROS Canada. A KAIROS facilitator took us through an experiential exercise through the history of Canada’s Indigenous people, and by the time it was completed there were some somber faces. Many were moved to tears as they were taken through this learning journey, and when we broke into groups to reflect on our experience they spoke not only of their grief, and even guilt for some, but of hope – hope that our awareness and understanding will propel us towards healing, change, and moving forward together, in relationship.

They say things happen in threes, and a few days after returning home I participated in a conference call with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). I was part of the Indigenous Community of Practice, and opening the meeting we were all invited to answer a simple, but profound question: What does reconciliation mean to you?

I have many answers to this question, and it begins with doing my part to open up discussions and generate awareness. Once we become aware, we can no longer unlearn our true history, nor ignore our responsibility – that path hasn’t worked. For Canada to foster a meaningful relationship with our Indigenous peoples, we might all begin by taking time to reflect on our own thoughts around reconciliation. And if we want to see even more transformative change, and possibly move conversations out of the courtrooms and into our boardrooms, let’s take this a step further and answer the question posed by Brian, Jodi and Sykes: What CAN we, as leaders, do to advance reconciliation?

If you’d like to continue this conversation, contact me at dione.mcguinness@brittland.com. I look forward to connecting with you!

© 2019 by BRITT Land & Engagement

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