NAC Encores – “Aistowaipiiyaop / Walking Together” and
“Partnerships are All About Relationships”
How do you build trust between communities when there is a history of trauma inflicted by one of those communities on the other? That question has increased in importance in Canada in the past decade, when it comes to relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and the prospects of pursuing projects that involve both. Our January 26 webinar was a reprise of two sessions from the 2020 North American Conference that were similar, but also very different.
“Aistowaipiiyaop / Walking Together” described the journey of reconciliation that Alberta Health Services has undertaken with Indigenous communities in that province. In 2017 an AHS employee intended to text a racial slur to a colleague; she misdirected her text and it went instead to the Kainai Board of Education. This incident served as a catalyst for healing and set AHS on a new path of reconciliation – beginning with a Day of Truth, attended by the entire AHS leadership team.
This Day of Truth brought focus to the health inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Alberta. For example, Indigenous people have a life expectancy 11.9 years less than the average Albertan, and First Nations and Métis young people are five- to six-times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous youth.
In the webinar, Janine Sakatch of AHS and AHS Advisor and Elder Harley Crowshoe describe the many significant outcomes of this experience for AHS. Indigenous Awareness and Sensitivity education became mandatory for all staff, and staff are invited to take part in sweat lodge ceremonies, and to participate in and become trainers in the blanket exercise – to understand the history and impact of colonization.
AHS also embarked on a different style of engagement that is informed by Indigenous friends, colleagues and communities. Harley explained that a long-standing mistrust of “western” medicine contributes to the inequity in health outcomes. Overcoming this mistrust requires an approach that allows for Two-Eyed Seeing.
The reconciliation journey, which is ongoing, involves the use of Ethical Space designed to create a platform for both parties to come together to have meaningful dialogue on Indigenous health issues that acknowledge both a systems approach and conversations in a safe and ethical environment. In bridging these gaps, Janine explains that AHS adapted the IAP2 Spectrum, adding Indigenous cultural elements to create a circle, rather than a continuum
“We all accepted that in order to genuinely connect with our Indigenous partners, to truly engage with them, we not only had to listen but we had to understand their processes, their protocols, their traditions – all of which were informed by cultural knowledge,” explains Janine. “We knew we couldn’t be successful unless we were willing to be led and taught – to truly listen.”
Creating trust and overcoming past traumas for Indigenous people is at the heart of “Partnerships are All About Relationships”. This session described the way Transport Canada works with coastal Indigenous communities to develop EMSA – the Enhanced Maritime Situational Awareness system, part of the Oceans Protection Plan. EMSA is designed to increase safety on the ocean, especially those from communities like Tuktoyaktuk, NT, which rely on small craft ocean transportation for their hunting and trapping.
Tyrone Raddi of the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation THTC says EMSA has been a success in large part because Transport Canada has treated Indigenous people as equal partners. This has helped them overcome generations of trauma inflicted in the past, such as Tyrone’s own experience, as one of the last generation of the residential school system. But he says the Transport Canada team succeeded in engendering the trust needed to overcome that trauma so the Inuvialuit could work as full partners in the project.
Marie-Pierre Parenteau of Transport Canada explains that listening was the key to building trust. She says the big thing she and her team learned was how to listen. They spent six days, just listening to an Inuvialuit elder, using a Learning Circle, with phones switched off. to learn about the Indigenous world view.
She also says she had to get out of the “public servant mindset”, which she describes as an armour against being self-aware. In partnering with Indigenous communities, she says one has to come with an open mind, an open heart and respect.
“When you give people a chance and they admit they’ve been wrong,” Tyrone Raddi says, “and you accept that, you can move forward.” IAP2 members can watch the video of the webinar here.