Two weeks ago, on February 17, the provincial government announced mandatory Indigenous cultural competency and anti-racism training for its 60,000 Ontario Public Service employees (news.ontario.ca).  Our organization tweeted our congratulations to Kathleen Wynne.

The media shared this announcement and we heard some discussion on CBC Radio Show, Up North with Jason Turnbull. Harvard Professor Frank Dobbin’s research indicates that mandatory anti-bias training may not produce the results intended.  While I appreciate Professor Dobbin’s research interviewing participants from the United States, this has not been my experience in Northwestern Ontario.

My ethnic background is Ojibwe from north of Lake Superior, Cree and French from northern Manitoba and English straight from England.  I have been so fortunate to experience a variety of worldviews resulting in my life passion to be a bridge between people of different cultural backgrounds.

Diversity and Indigenous sensitivity training can be conducted in an objective and non-judgemental way and in an environment that everyone feels equal using the Indigenous pedagogy.  I use the Anishinaabe philosophy of the circle in most of my teaching opportunities stemming from the foundational medicine wheel teachings and sharing circle.  I am always amazed at the reaction of some academics who may not be familiar with such a teaching style but appreciate their participation and heartfelt thanks at the end of the sessions.

My teaching is not about pointing fingers or stressing the negative aspects of the situation but rather relaying the facts for educational purposes and focusing on next steps.  I have told participants that we are all treaty partners in Canada and I strongly believe that it is the mainstream society that will assist with the healing of the Indigenous culture.

It’s my job as a traditional Lodgekeeper to make everyone feel safe and comfortable and initiate a dialogue.  I believe that the learning is in the dialogue, the exchange of experiences, thoughts, questions or concerns.  Interaction and dialogue is always the focus of the presentations that I conduct.  I may be delivering some hard facts but rest assured that we will still be able to laugh and share insightful information with one another. Love and kindness always shines through.  “…What struck me was that Cindy taught in such a way that I learned with both my head and my heart. Very powerful” – Anne Ostrom, Healthy Communities Coordinator, Thunder Bay District Health Unit. Read more testimonials.

I often will suggest to people that if there needs to be any sort of negotiations or mediation, you need to start that conversation with food, as food is the common denominator of all beings.  If you are learning about a new culture, it would always start with food.  Let’s say you were meeting an Italian family for the first time, what is the first thing that they are going to do?  They are going to sit you down to a meal.

The other thing that I have noticed when doing mandatory cultural training is that the few participants who may be feeling challenged by the mandatory classification of the training generally are encouraged by the overall enthusiasm of their colleagues. They are engaged in our sharing process and get swept up in the learning opportunities.  Sometimes even resulting in a significant transformation of understanding at the end of the day.

My twenty-five years of experience traveling in the Province of Ontario working with Indigenous communities, industry and government has given me great insight into initiating and fostering working relationships.  This experience and the experiences of other Anishinaabe Facilitators are directly transferred into the ten workshops that Blue Sky currently offers.  We have worked hard at formalizing available learning opportunities and are currently in the International Association for Continuing Education and Training accreditation process for the One Tribe:  Indigenous Worldview and Diversity Coaching.

I would encourage corporations and businesses to move forward with diversity coaching in their workplaces as soon as possible.  Not only is it the right thing to do, it will be valuable to your business.  Call me today to discuss the direction of your team’s coaching.

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