In a dynamic conversational session the participants of this years Leadership Conference had the rare opportunity to join in a Conversation among two prominent Chiefs. Both Chief Elijah Harper and Chief Guy Lonechild took the stage at TCU to engage in a discussion of their leadership experiences in the context of the local and national stage. Nelson Bird moderated the session. In listening to these two Indigenous leaders it was interesting to see how aboriginal ways of knowing had influenced how they saw leadership. Chief Lonechild spoke of the expectations on a leader to be a role model. Although a leader is often seen as a strong and influential person they are also human and that means that they too are capable of making mistakes. It is in this teaching of humility that helps keep a leader grounded in who they are. Chief Harper backed this sentiment by saying those hard times build character and give you something to stand up on. Chief Elijah Harper says people have respect for those who embrace that humility. When facing challenges as a leader it is important to remain connected with your identity. I think remembering those lessons in humility are very important to developing those honest and real relationships.
Relationships are extremely important to First Nations culture. Both Chief Harper and Chief Lonechild discussed relationships being a key to understanding and working together. Several times throughout the conversation Chief Harper talked about the need for a better understanding of the treaties that affect us all as treaty people. There is a need for a ubiquitous understanding of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal issues in order for all treaty people to have a healthy relationship, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. Chief Lonechild continued this theme pointing out the importance of understanding and what makes up a person (father, golfer, what ever) in order to establish a good relationship. Connecting with people means learning about their journey – where they came from, where they want to go and what they value.
These leaders also took the opportunity to discuss some of the myths and stereotypes that damage the understanding and relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Both Chief Harper and Lonechild spoke optimistically about the future. With the primary education system mandating more aboriginal ways of knowing being introduced into the curriculum, the growing numbers of Aboriginal students succeeding in post secondary education, and treaty issues slowly making their way onto political agendas, both Harper and Lonechild saw a future where we could all be working together inclusion and for the better of us all.
It was a real pleasure to see these two leaders together discussing their culture and leadership styles as interconnected. I think we sometimes separate who we are from our leadership strategies. For me, it was important to see these two influential leaders making their careers and cultures combine to have effective outcomes.