I was on the ground yesterday at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE), which brought together over 3,000 indigenous educators and researchers from all over the world. The program includes two days of sessions for young leaders who want to explore their passions and develop their skills. I marveled at the diversity of the attendees – from barefoot academics to suit-wearing system leaders – and realized that despite all the evident differences I had never seen a group of people at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre so unified.
I get to attend a ton of events, usually straddling the worlds of corporate and public education, and I have noticed a proclivity for disagreement among both the teaching and the HR communities. Everyone is friendly and unified in their goal, but generally at odds about how to achieve it. This is not surprising or even concerning in a climate that encourages disruption and innovation. What’s more surprising to me is that progress can be achieved without this conflict. I spoke with conference attendees about what I had noticed and asked what they attribute this unity to, and many responded by stressing the importance of a strong self-identity.
The concept of identity came up at numerous WIPCE sessions I attended. In his plenary session, Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chief Oren Lyons offered this advice to the indigenous leaders of tomorrow: “Know your people. Know your identity. If you know yourself, you can do anything.” Dr. Michael Donovan delivered an ignite session on self-determination through Aboriginal student voices, in which he talked about the role that the indigenous identity plays in approaching education. The ramifications of an unhealthy identity were also discussed, as in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where the prevalence of prisons has created a culture where most indigenous youth expect to go to jail. It has become an inescapable part of their identity.
Given the long history of trauma and marginalization the indigenous community has faced, I am heartened to see their pride and connection expressed through a strong sense of identity. I see the strength that this identity gives them in communicating within and beyond their community, and I think the business world could learn a lot from this practice of looking inward before looking outward. By better understanding themselves, indigenous people are able to connect with members of dozens of other nations from all over the world. How can we foster this sense of identity in our learning communities, whether in the office or in the classroom?
By Kate Salmon
Kate Salmon (@CSCKate) is a Communications Manager and general word nerd from Ottawa, Ontario. With a BA in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from the University of Waterloo, she continues her learning journey at Learnography with a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences. She lives in Toronto.