This week I am in Kuujjuaq, Quebec, a settlement which lies about 20 miles upriver from Ungava Bay. I am working with government agencies, Inuit claims organizations and Inuit polar bear hunters on a user-to-user meeting between hunters from Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut. Nunavut is a Canadian territory, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut are sort of semi-autnomous Inuit regions of Quebce and labrador respectively. All three areas arose from the settlement of land claims with Inuit organizations.
It’s an interesting meeting. All of the hunters are Inuit and they all hunt polar bears in the Davis Strait area, but they have different ways of doing it, and different cultural practices and even their dialects are different. There are a few unilingual hunters who only speak Inuktitut and so we have simultaneous interpretation between Inuktitut and English. Most of the meeting is being conducted in Inuktitut. The reason for the meeting was for the hunters to meet each other and see if there is anything they would like to do together with respect to the polar bear populations in the Davis Strait area. I won’t comment on the content of the meeting as we aren’t finished yet and it’s not for public consumption anyway, but I will make a few observations on the design and the challenges I have had as a facilitator.
I worked with a number of colleagues in designing this meeting using a Theory U framework. We knew that the first day would be much downloading, with some presentations and declarations and political positions. Even though these guys spend a lot of time on the land they are all very active in conferences and planning meetings and several of them are canny politicians. Day two was designed to take us through the bottom of the U, into presencing the emerging future, that which is not yet known. That included getting us out of the meeting room and on to the land where we hoped new insights would be sparked and the hunters in particular would feel able to stretch themselves. And day three was envisioned as a day of relaizing some new plans and ideas for working together. It didn’t break down exactly by days, but that was the gist.
Yesterday we began with the room set up in a cafe style and it quickly became clear that that wasn’t going to work for the participants. I wrote about this a little yesterday in a post that distilled my lessons from the day, but the short for is that they weren’t ready to try something radically new. They wanted a familiar room set up, which meant a hollow square that seated 40 people and a chair for the meeting. My colleague and I were happy to accede to this request. The design of the meeting would otherwise have become a massive distraction for the participants.
Interestingly, even as we changed the room around, and changed our facilitation style, the basic architecture of the flow remained the same, and today the process shifted even more. We spent the morning on the land out of town, on an excursion to a hunting camp. We were perched high above the Koksoak River, away from the tree line on some very rich and abundant tundra. The day was bright and very warm and the land was teeming with berries: crowberries, blueberries, and cranberries mostly. We spread out in smaller groups, some walking, some sitting and talking, others on little solos. We didn’t give any context for the time on the land this morning, but I had said last night as we broke up that we would be out on the land tomorrow, thinking and being in a different way.
After an hour or so of milling around, and picking a few cups of berries, the hunters all headed into to the small hunting cabin. When I went in to get some tea, I found them sitting in a circle, in deep conversation in Inuktitut. They had begun the meeting again and we simply let them go for it. At lunch time, some stew was brought out and someone unveiled a large piece of bowhead whale muktuk which was sliced with an ulu and laid out on the floor on a cardboard box lid. We ate together and then the hunters decided that they wanted to go back to town, to the meeting room and continue meeting there in a caucus.
So we headed back into town and the users hid away in our meeting room for the rest of the day discussing proposals with each other. My colleague and I stayed outside the meeting room and waited for what needed to happen to happen. The participants facilitated their own meeting and the government reps went off and did some business together awaiting an outcome from the users. All afternoon the hunters met and worked on various agreements and resolutions together, sometimes in small groups and other times in a de facto plenary. They have adopted a more traditional Robert’s Rules way of working in order to plan together because that is what is known to them. They are doing their own work and even though I didn’t technically “facilitate” anything today, I held space. Sometimes to wisdom not to intervene is what is required to keep space open. We have kept tabs on what is going on and expect to play a role as facilitators tomorrow as the users present their recommendations to the government reps, but in this meeting, we’ll see how the flow goes. It is a dance between shallow form and deep form, between holding on to the right things and letting other things go, and all while working in a context I know next to nothing about in a language I can’t speak. What is serving to guide me is the deep architecture of the gathering, my constant private checking in with the flow of the U which I know will bring us to some emergent learning. So far, the meeting is going as we planned it – at a deep level. On the surface everything is changing all the time.
A very interesting meeting.