This week the great storyteller Jim Dumont has been visiting Baawating to tell the Anishinaabe creation story. In this story, the first Anishinaabe stepped onto the Earth with a single toe as not to harm any other life. What this says to me is, in our relationships to all things “do no harm.”
“Relationships are based on trust, clarity of expectations, honest communications, consistency of actions, and a shared vision.” (Making Change Happen: Shared Vision, No Limits)
Trust and Reconciliation
Building trust is a long-term goal in community and history is not in our favour. To reconcile foundational wealth being “twice stolen,” reparations is a way forward recommended by the United Nations and many Black communities. While the oldest treaty with the Onkwehonweh is the two-row wampum, the reality is that Indigenous sovereignty is still not recognized. Black and Indigenous communities are also disproportionately represented in Ontario’s child welfare and justice system. This is not emblematic of trust. Trusting youth, at many intersecting identities, to develop their own solutions to issues in their community is not the only way forward but it is a great start. Organizations and foundations need to sit down and listen to youth, hire youth, and transform their systems to allow trust to be built. Youth need their own spaces to talk and develop their own systems and networks.
“We ask every person who reads this action plan to reflect on the effect they have had on First Nations youth and children in their own work and lives and ask them to take care in their interactions with us. Our sense of self is shaky enough as it is.” (Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan)
The Current State of Accountability in the Youth Sector shows that evaluations required by funders do not align with the needs of youth-serving organizations and that there is not enough awareness regarding the impacts of “optimism bias.” Increasing race and demographic data and making it open source through accessible user interfaces not only encourages accountability in youth-serving organizations but puts the power of data in the hands of the youth and grass-roots youth groups. Honest communication and trust go hand in hand, and how data collection is being conducted should be tandem with the youth and their communities.
“Many Aboriginal scholars have entered the research field questioning how research is being conducted, and have developed methodologies that are culturally sensitive and appropriate for community settings” (Indigenous Approaches to Program Evaluation).
For Northern and Remote Indigenous communities some themes have already been identified:
- The need for the program evaluation to be culturally sensitive
- The use of a participatory evaluation approach
- The use of the principles of community-based research
- The need to ensure that the evaluation has respectful relationship building
- The importance of including a community context
(Sage Advice: Real-World Approaches to Program Evaluation in Northern, Remote and Aboriginal Communities)
A radical shift needs to take place in the very language we use in the youth sector. Given the great diversity of identities and experiences of youth, and their varying access to mentors and information, not all youth leaders have the ability to access institutional supports. Even grass-roots groups can run the risk of distancing themselves as they shift their own language to suit the needs of funders rather than community.
Governments, foundations, organizations and grass-roots groups all share a vision to have positive outcomes for youth, but our relationships to one another needs work to move past the guilt and shame of our pasts, and processes.
When Jim Dumont tells the creation story, I am compelled to reflect more on the consequences of my actions. The power of “narrative persuasion" can shape behavioural change and for me raises the question: How can we utilize stories for institutional change across systems? If our shared vision is one of positive outcomes for youth, our programs need to support the type of youth leadership that is emerging now.