When I first approached Ellis to explore the idea of him being a keynote speaker for our inaugural Community Perspectives event his immediate response was that he was tired of the same worn-out approaches and wanted to try something different.
What is something different? Difference is about creating a safe space for people to have an open and honest dialogue about what culture really means to them. We wanted to invite people from their communities to share stories of what it’s like to live as an average person.
What does it mean to be average? What comprises culture? These thoughts resonated and energized me. Outside of band council leadership and liaisons there are few opportunities for industry to directly connect with community members. Our upcoming event offers a chance to rectify this.
I asked Ellis about what comprises a robust community. “We can’t build strong and proud communities if our citizens aren’t’ strong and proud,” he explained. “Terrence and Caroline [our panel members] have always had it in themselves to succeed. They just needed someone to give them a chance.”
After being elected to Haisla Council Ellis soon realized there was a disconnect between the solutions at hand and the very people they were meant to help. Communities are struggling and have been for many decades. Ellis quickly discovered that although many people talked about moving forward, the status quo still remained. Politicians were willing to endlessly discuss the Indian Act and treaty negotiations; there was a readiness to resolve residential schools’ issues or debate the finer points of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There was also a tendency to blame government for everything. None of this helps the average person living on reserve.
Economic development is an integral part of a sound poverty reduction plan. Yet issues important to First Nations communities are not well understood by industry or government. This could be due to a lack of direct exposure.
Our first Community Perspectives event aims to be a catalyst for change and spark an ongoing dialogue to ensure that people are given a voice.