Written by: Cara Lenoir, Naakah Solutions Inc.
In your role as a business communicator, there may be a communications or engagement plan where you need to consider First Nations, Métis or Inuit (Indigenous) worldviews and have your written document translated into an Indigenous language. You’re not sure where to begin, so you turn to Google and see if there’s anything out there that gives you an example to refer to. Maybe you check out a college or university to see if there are any professional development courses you can take in this area of study. There may be someone you know from the local community, but unsure how to approach them. This situation is somewhat of a predicament. Understanding another worldview, besides your own, takes a lifetime of study through lived experience. Let’s explore the first step — the definition of worldviews.
There are several worldviews, or another way to think about it is perspectives, that you operate from. You have lived experience being a business communicator, perhaps you self-identify as an agender person, or maybe you’re a parent of teenagers. All your experiences inform and shape your perspective, which evolves as you continue to learn a new way of understanding and relating to the world around you. According to Oxford dictionary, worldview is defined as “a person’s ways of thinking about and understanding life, which depends on their beliefs and attitudes”. Now let’s take that same definition and consider it from an Indigenous perspective.
Indigenous ways of being and knowing are based on lived experience in language, cultural values and beliefs, relationship with the land, an understanding about how everything is interconnected, and the way of thinking is circular. This a lifelong learning journey and these teachings can come from Elders in the community, parents or other family members, and peers. In my opinion, Indigenous languages and the relationship to the land are critical to perceiving the world and understanding how everything is interconnected. I’ll share a couple of examples from my lived experience in navigating the complexity of two worldviews.
As a toddler, I spent time with my grandmother and aunty who only spoke Dene Zhatıé (South Slavey), which is one of 11 Official Languages in the Northwest Territories (NWT). My Dad mostly spoke Dene Zhatıé but did speak English when communicating with me in my formative years. Although there were some Dene Zhatıé words that I could understand, I mostly spoke English. Growing up, I was raised on Traditional foods from the land such as rabbit, caribou, moose or white fish and having store bought meat on a rare occasion. My mitts were made of rabbit or beaver fur to keep my hands warm in minus-30 weather. At a young age, I learned whatever happens to the land will impact the Traditional foods that my Dad puts on the table.
Going to school was a different story. Although I had to take French classes in grades 1-3, I kind of rebelled wanting to learn my language so I can communicate with my Dad, aunties and uncles. Because of this rebellious move, I got “the ruler”. Today that would be unheard of. Regardless, this is where I learned that the French language had masculinity and femininity, or in other words, is gender-based. By grade 4, I no longer had to take French classes, but still was not able to take Dene Zhatıé classes since that was not an option, plus I was maybe one of four students who were Dene.
Earlier this week, I was listening to the CBC Radio while driving in Vancouver to run an errand and found this episode to be quite an interesting topic about Indigenous Sexuality and Gender. Thomson Highway commented that in the Cree language, there is no word for gender and that everyone is she/he including the Creator. This non-gender way of identifying a person in an Indigenous language aligns with the new culture of people not wanting to be defined, categorized or caged by genderized language. To me, this is profound and illustrates one of the main differences between the western and Indigenous worldviews and languages.
So how can you take these examples and apply them to your communications plans or developing marketing collateral? Speak with a translator or interpreter from the local Indigenous community to review your written material and see if it can be translated or interpreted to connect the two worldviews for a shared understanding of a concept or idea. Keep in mind, there might be English words that don’t exist in an Indigenous language, such as Climate Change. A close friend of mine, who is a fluent in Dene Zhatıé, is finding a way to describe Climate Change so Elders can understand what the government and researchers are speaking of. This creates a pathway for collectively deciding what can be the next steps to address the impacts of Climate Change in remote or rural communities.
Allyship is another term that may not exist in an Indigenous language. After checking in with another close friend who is a fluent in the Tłı̨chǫ language, another Official Language in the NWT, she shared with me that she hasn’t heard of the term “allyship” or even about diversity, equity and inclusion. We chatted briefly about how these words seem to be the new “buzz words”, yet no one asks Indigenous Peoples about their thoughts on how they relate to these terms being used. Near the end of our chat, she said after looking at Google about the definition of allyship, she shared an example of how her Nation can partner with another Nation in English and then translated it into Tłı̨chǫ. I asked “what does that mean in English? “and she said “it means helping or supporting one another”.
One final thought, it’s crucial to have a First Nations, Métis or Inuit person on your team to share their perspective on how to best approach the development of your communications or engagement plans and marketing collateral when you’re wanting to reach Indigenous audiences. Your communications teams may have all the right skills and qualifications, but do they have a different perspective or lived experience that connects with Indigenous audiences?
On that note, I am honoured and grateful for being invited to be a guest on the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Calgary Blog. Mahsi Cho (Thank You)
Cara Lenoir is a descendant of the Dene Nation in Northwest Territories and a proud member of the Liidlii Kue First Nation — a remote northern community located by the mighty Mackenzie River and now calls North Vancouver home.
Through her company Naakah Solutions Inc., Cara is an independent Indigenous Relations Strategist and works with clients across Canada to foster relationships between Indigenous Peoples, governments, and industry. Her passion is bringing people together to build reconciliation pathways and contributing to the enhanced cultural competency, knowledge and capacity of all those in partnership.
Cara earned a Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurial Management from Royal Roads University, as well as a Management Studies diploma from Grant MacEwan University.
In her volunteer hours, she serves as the Co-chair of the Indigenous Engagement Community of Practice with the International Association of Public Participation Canada (IAP2). She is also a Learning Partner with the Indigenous Awareness Learning Program.
Cara Lenoir, Indigenous Relations Strategist
Naakah Solutions Inc.