Bill C-92 An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families was passed in 2019, changing the definition of child care and family within Indigenous communities. Indigenous people in Canada - for the first time ever - are able to reclaim control over child and family services through the development of their own laws and structures. Parsons Dialogue has been invited to support the conversation. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings from working with a number of Indigenous communities as they navigate this critical undertaking.
Collaboration between communities, leaders and experts is crucial, yet challenging. At Parsons Dialogue, we are experienced in facilitating multi stakeholder collaboration. We often work in complicated environments, but over the last year, the work with Indigenous communities we have been invited to support has inspired us, humbled us and challenged us in new ways.
Bill C-92 is a significant piece of legislation in Canada, aimed at addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the country’s child welfare system. It allows First Nations to reclaim control from the Federal Government of their children’s well being and cultural upbringing - acknowledging the importance of keeping young people within their communities, culture and families.
First Nations now have the authority to create their own child welfare laws and systems tailored to the specific needs and beliefs in their communities. This is new and it’s changing the model. It is a crucial step towards reconciliation.
Any community that decides to develop their own child care laws must bring together a number of perspectives. Elders share traditional practices and their hopes for the future. The Chief and Council share a deep understanding of the present and knowledge of possibilities. Legal advisors and child welfare experts bring specific and technical knowledge. Knowledge keepers, clan leaders and community members are all consulted. Additionally, relationships with the broader child care system are to be considered.
Our role has been to provide a guiding process so these perspectives can be shared and understood.
I have been invited to support the conversation and am fortunate to have guidance from an extraordinary woman whose importance was hinted to me long before I recognized it.
In early 2023, I had my Oracle cards read at a friend’s birthday (I wouldn’t describe myself as superstitious, but have always found card reading fun). The card I pulled said that I was divinely ordained to meet someone who would have a significant impact on my life. At the time, I was intrigued, but I didn’t give it much weight. Now, nearly a year later, I’ve come to believe that this person is an extraordinary Anishinaabe woman named Marie Lands who has become a mentor, educator, cultural enlightener and friend. An Indigenous leader deeply embedded in the communities she serves, she has included me in this transformative work. She patiently puts up with and responds to my many questions and directs me towards readings and resources to find answers and continue my growth.
Together over the last year and a half, she has asked me to support her work and we have conducted five working sessions with four First Nations. We have worked with the leadership community to identify their aspirations for the future - an important starting point for this complex initiative.
We have led these engagement sessions using a creative planning process: Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope - or P.A.T.H.™.
P.A.T.H. is a short and powerful graphic planning exercise that:
(Source: North Star Facilitators)
Following the P.A.T.H. framework, I have been working with another colleague and a young Indigenous graphic facilitator to visually represent what we are hearing. The process begins with exploring the long-term vision of the community - what do they want to see in the future? What is their “North Star” vision? From there, we work to identify positive and possible goals with a one to three year horizon. Then, we explore the current context to understand who can support us and the strengths that we can build upon. We end the process by identifying short term goals and the activity to launch the process. We end by naming the P.A.T.H. and adding signatures. (obscured in the image below)
The outcome is a colorful, graphic “masterview” of where each community wants to be, and realistic actions they can take to get there.
This process and the nuances of working with Indigenous communities has challenged me to ease up my western/linear way of facilitation. I have had to let go of a tight grip on timelines and ‘SMART’ style goals (which I’ve honestly never loved).
I have learned how to discover the meaning of a story and how to translate it to process. I’ve learned that Ojibwe concepts don’t easily translate to English. I’ve also needed to embrace the philosophies of Open Space methods, meaning, “Whatever happens is the right thing, whoever is here is the right people, whatever is discussed is the right discussion”. I’ve learned to love listening to the Elders sharing their stories. I’ve watched how they never openly disagree, rather they tell an alternative story which reflects another view point.
I’ve experienced smudge, prayer, drum, pipe, water and berry ceremonies and have been the uninformed white lady to walk counterclockwise around the drum circle (I’ve been gently turned around).
One of the most interesting experiences has been watching the Elders arrive at the appropriate Obijwe word to label the final product. A concept is first articulated, followed by a search for the right word, followed by some debate on spelling, and then deep gratitude for the outcome is expressed. Sometimes the word(s) goes back to the community for confirmation before we record it.
With the guidance and support of my mentor, I have learned the importance of approaching this work not as an outsider telling the group what to do, but as a humble ally, listening intently and documenting the aspirations, concerns and goals of the communities. I have learned to ask questions, to work at the pace of those in the room, to be prepared to be wrong or corrected. It’s a vulnerable space, but I have felt welcomed and safe. It’s about listening, not telling…. synthesizing, but not overanalyzing, and importantly, confirming rather than assuming that I understand.
This is just the beginning in a long journey ahead for these communities and others in the same situation, who are faced with the exciting and challenging tasks associated with the passing of Bill C-92.
So far, the outcomes, both project-wide and for me personally, have been intriguing. I am so very grateful to be involved in this important work for Indigenous communities. I look forward to the continuous growth and learning that is on the horizon for all of us.