Change Starts with Me: A Resounding Success
Participants and Organizers want to make Emerging Leaders Forum an Annual Event
NCFNG’s recent Emerging Leaders National Forum, hosted by the Squamish Nation, brought together a committed group of young First Nation citizens from across the country for an intense and profoundly moving three-day experience in November.
John Langan is confident that the tools he learned in the forum’s workshop on revitalizing language will help him achieve his goal of learning Cree and Saulteaux. John is a young emerging leader from the Bear Clan of the Keeseekoose First Nation in Treaty 4 territory.
John chose to attend the language session, which taught participants a language-learning strategy known as “where are your keys?”. “It’s a game-based approach to learning language,” he says. “It really gets you learning quickly so you can start talking with people without feeling self-conscious.”
During a welcoming session, participants shared their traditional dances and songs. Over the weekend, those attending were fortunate to see a wolf, and later, a bear and her cub. And during a self-reflective solo time on the land, 12 eagles soared overhead. “We all had the same feeling: ‘the ancestors are here,’” says Pawa Haiyupis, NCFNG’s Emerging Leadership Manager.
National Centre for First Nations Governance staff and partners designed the Forum’s structure to create an immersive experience. “Many conferences only give you an hour-long workshop before you’re moving to the next topic,” says Pawa. “We wanted to do something different.”
After being welcomed to the Squamish Nation territory and participating in a plenary session, individuals chose to attend one of four eight-hour workshops:
• bringing community together through the art of hosting,
• engaging youth through inherent rights and responsibilities,
• using traditional songs to enhance culture, and
• revitalizing language.
Open Space facilitator Chris Corrigan led the art of hosting workshop. “New forms of governance are rooted in how we engage with others,” says Chris. “If we want to change the system, we need to change our conversations. By developing this capacity in our communities, we can break free of the status quo. It’s a simple but transformational tool.”
He emphasizes that hosting is a leadership practice. “You don’t need rank to be a leader,” he says. “You can be a leader by being able to host good conversations. Helping young people develop in this way brings new energy and creativity to decision making and leadership.”
The Forum culminated in a pro-action café, with people adding structure and detail to some of the projects they want to take back to their communities. Other participants offered advice on the projects, which ranged from the personal (“how can I start living my culture?”) to the communal (such as building a big house, developing an emergency management plan, and involving youth in policy decisions).
Participants began planning the next national gathering and intend to make Change Start with Me an annual event. Ontario youth would like to host a national forum in 2013 and some Nations expressed interest in holding a regional version of the event.
For Pawa and others, the Forum underlined the power of community – both past and present. “The ancient ways are new again,” she says. “This generation is very connected to the past. Change happens when we start living in this space, in the ancient ways. There’s also power in the new, and with this Forum, we stepped into new territory and created new patterns for how we come together.”