Yesterday, in preparing for two days of teaching and training I spent the morning over breakfast reading some of th stories of Clayton Mack, the grandfather of my friend and client Liz Hall. I was reading about the way in which Nuxalk people gathered food from the land, whether it was the fish, game or plants and berries. He talked about the way the amlh – the spring salmon – were harvested using fishtraps. At one time there were 22 traps on the river. These traps would form barriers that the salmon would need to jump. When they jumped they were caught in a trap on the other side. There they would wait and the fishers would just gather them up. Whatever was surplus was let go upriver to other traps and villages.
This is a beautiful way to harvest fish, because it preserves life and delivers fresh animals to all who need them. It is the essence of a Nuxalk way of doing things.
Later that morning in the opening circle I asked why people had chosen to be in this training rather than anywhere else. From that conversation came a powerful statement. One woman, who works at the transition house in the community said quite simply and powerfully that leadership is simple revealing our own beauty to each other. We talked about the profound nature of that statement with respect to individual leadership but also in terms of the way communities lead as well. What would it mean if an organization within a community revealed it’s beauty in it’s work? What if communities exhibited leadership that way too?
From there we dove into a deep exploration of the power of appreciative inquiry. We went through the 4D process and then played with the Discovery phase by pairing up to look at another theme that emerged in the opening circle: the idea that Nuxalk culture should be at the centre of everything. A community reveals its beauty through its culture, and so we asked the question of each other: tell a story about a time when Nuxalk culture inspired you?
In encouraging people to interview on another, I invited people to practice the role of the Elder and the student. All of us will be Elders one day and the mark of an Elder is when you are called upon to tell your story as a teaching. And so, especially with some of the younger adults in our group, being invited to tell a story as if it is a teaching is a powerful invitation. And be invited to listen to a story as a student is a gift. When appreciative interviews are structured this way it creates a mutual relationship of gifting and support, and invites us to practice being both teacher and student.
The response to this set of interviews were very powerful, including stories of people who first saw their culture in all it’s glory after they were liberated from residential school. From those conversations we harvested a small set of principles around the teachings that we jokingly called “How the Nuxalk Nation saved the world.” The wisdom contained in these teachings is ancient, powerful, reality based and available. It provides a concrete set of principles around which people could design Nuxalk programs or organizations that are in line with a cultural perspective on the world.
On the second day, we spent time looking at leadership as an act of courage. We are playing with etymology in these days, looking at heart based leadership that proceeds from seeing. Heart-based leadership has courage at its root, derived from the French word coeur, meaning heart. We talked about the chaordic path as a path of finding the courage to encourage others and keep moving in the face of discouragement. Strengthening heart is a powerful leadership capacity and one which is in short supply in indigenous communities that have lived through decades of discouragement.
Leadership also comes from seeing. Spectare is the Latin worked that gives rise to the words speculate, inspect, respect and perspective. These are leadership capacities, the ability to see something that touches your heart and convene a conversation around it is a leadership moment available to all in which any member of a community can step up and start something. In fact it is truly the only way anything does happen.
This afternoon, we concluded our day with a world cafe on the question of “If you could do one thing to improve the lives of children and families in this community what would that be?” The idea was to demonstrate how The World Cafe can be a powerful process for getting a group through the groan zone by building shared perspective. What I didn’t expect was the harvest we took from this cafe. In an hour the group hatched an idea for a community house, in which people would be able to come and shine – radiating their beauty and their leadership, to cook and eat together, hang out together and learn the Nuxalk language and culture. Such a building could be built by the community and an enthusiastic team of people may well step forward in our Open Space tomorrow to lead the way on this project.
It has been a good two days of teaching and learning here, and tomorrow we run an Open Space with the community on what it will take reclaim control over child and family services for th Nuxalk Nation. With the capacity that is building here and the enthusiastic leadership, I’m looking forward to the day.