Building on the best of all cultures

If you had the opportunity to spend a few days on reserve in northern Ontario, what would you say? Youth organizers in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation asked the question and were amazed at the response. In 2013, 43 Canadians were hosted by the KI community over 5 days to develop a clearer understanding of what living in a remote community in the North is like. In the process of organizing the tour, youth in the KI community built confidence and leadership skills that will help them in future projects.

The success of the KI Tour is just one of the stories celebrated in a new report produced by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights and the Tyee Solutions Society. Leading Together: Indigenous Youth in Community Partnership is a publication written by emerging and established indigenous and non-indigenous journalists, with each article depicting a different partnership in community, a focus on what worked, what didn’t, and lessons learned.

Leading Together

Where the KI First Nation tour was an opportunity for deepening understanding between people from dramatically different backgrounds, other examples include partnerships to make child welfare services culturally relevant, training young indigenous journalists, and creating peer support networks for young indigenous professionals.

As Erin Montour and Stephen Huddart from The J.W.McConnell Family Foundation wrote in a Globe and Mail article published alongside Leading Together, these young indigenous people are “creating trust and a belief in the future where before there was ignorance, fear and despair, and building the foundations for a more innovative and inclusive Canada. This is what reconciliation in Canada should be about – the creation of a partnership society that builds on the best of all cultures.”

This celebration and recognition stands in stark contrast to the spirit of Jeffrey Simpson’s article in the same newspaper where he declares some First Nations as living in a “dream palace” of yesteryear, while others choose to integrate to varying degrees with the majority cultures. While one report builds on a history of partnership and reconciliation, the other falls into predictable and unhelpful blaming and division.

Leading Together encourages us to build on a long-held tradition of partnership building in Canada, dating back to the arrival of Samuel de Champlain at Tadoussac in 1603. It doesn’t ignore the pain and deceit of the past, but it is focused primarily on learning, bridge-building and inspiring more young indigenous people to recognize their leadership potential. As Duncan McCue and Rachel Pulfer write in the second Foreward of the book, “These stories are grounded, real-world stories, that show how to inspire Indigenous youth, teach Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to work together and, perhaps most importantly, offer us all lessons on the importance of giving back.”

These stories should be shared widely and often.