Also in Peterbourgh I met with David Newhouse, perhaps my most influential university teacher and a good friend. David arrived at Trent in 1989 from the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa. He came to teach in the Native Management and Economic Development Program, which at that time was a fledgling effort, mostly focused on economic development and with no real management curriculum. I was hired in May of 1989 to help research the field of native management, and I spent the first month of my employment searching for one book – any book! – on the subject. There simply wasn’t one anywhere.
We quickly realized that if we wanted to teach the subject, we had to create it. David, being an MBA graduate of Western University, felt strongly that we should be using the Western/Harvard case study method, which meant that I, as the researcher, needed to produce some cases. And thus began a three year collaboration during which I wrote or co-wrote something like 24 case studies for teaching management in Aboriginal communities and organizations.
My opus magnum of case studies was a set of four I did on the National Association of Friendship Centre’s process to negotiation with the federal government for their funding program. It was a large set, with many documents and many conversations detailed from notes taken by NAFC staff. Working on that case set introduced me to the NAFC, and when I subsequently moved to Ottawa in 1991, I started working there. They very much started my career, and my connection to them was facilitated by David and the cases I put together.
In my final year I undertook an honours thesis with David as my supervisor. I produced an 80 page piece of original research, developing a model that might be useful for looking at Aboriginal organizational culture. It was a rich learning experience writing that paper – the richest of my entire academic career – and on its completion (receiving the only A+ of my entire academic career) I felt no need to pursue academic studies further.
David is not a character without controversy, and this is why I love him. He needles around the edges of things, finding the questions that change everything. He is uncompromising, but curious and he quietly holds ground where he feels that truth is at stake. Here’s what he says on his profile page for the Department of Indigenous Studies:
“My interest is in examining the ideas that are forming the basis of collective, i.e. societal or institutional action within contemporary Aboriginal society. I want to try and counter the idea that we laid in front of the bulldozer of western civilization and waited for it to flatten us. The historical and contemporary record indicates that we have always understood the world around us, knew what was happening and tried to affect the world to make it more hospitable and amicable to us. For the most part, our agency as living, thinking human beings has been erased. I want to show how we used our imaginations to live in the world we found ourselves in.“
I love that…it sums up much I know about this man.
The ideas that I was exposed to working with David have constantly resurfaced in my life over the past 15 years. Like all good teachers, he teaches by being. He offers much in his stance towards a world obsessed with the pre, post- and present day modernity of indigenous peoples by simply refusing to allow anyone to pin it all down. Indigenous life is a slippery every changing world of transformation, conversation and change, and that is what David is too. There are no easy answers, only an invitation to converse together thereby discover together who and where we are.