Kumik: Council of Elders
Background and Objectives
On September 6, 1990, former Deputy Minister Harry Swain met with Aboriginal employee representatives to discuss some significant concerns. These centred around the difficult working conditions experienced by certain Aboriginal employees during the turbulent summer of 1990. It was decided that Aboriginal Elders would be contacted and contracted to provide essential guidance and counselling services to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal employees of this department in the National Capital Region. Services of this sort are unique and can only be provided by Aboriginal Elders, given their training and experience in matters pertaining to Aboriginal culture, philosophy, practises and the holistic approach to life.
The Council of Elders was established and operated under the joint auspices of the Office of the Director General of Human Resources and the Executive of the Committee for the Advancement of Native Employment (CANE). The Council is located in the Elder's Lodge, referred to in the Algonquin language as 'Kiche Anishnabe Kumik', and for brevity referred to as the "Kumik".
The purpose of the Council is to provide Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal employees with instruction and counsel in dealing with problems arising in the work place which have developed because of unfavourable attitudes and cultural differences.
The Council is here to stimulate among all departmental employees a greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal culture, philosophy and practises.
Who Are the Elders?
There is a large number of First Nations across the country, embracing some 55 languages and major dialects, and constituting 11 linguistic families. The definition of an Elder varies from nation to nation. For example, the Six Nations' definition of their Elders include: Faith Keepers, Clan Mothers, Hereditary Chiefs and Spiritual Leaders. The Algonquin Nation in their teachings an Elder is defined as someone who possesses spiritual leadership which is given by one's cultural and traditional knowledge. This knowledge is found in the teachings and responsibilities associated with sacred entities such as the Pipe, Wampum belt, Drum and Medicine people. In addition to the spiritual recognition given by the Creator and the Spirit World, and elder is given the title and recognition as elder by other elder of his/her respective community and nation. Also one does not have to be a senior citizen to be an elder. The gifted individual is given the position of elder by spiritual and human acceptance and must commit to fulfill his/her responsibilities and respect of the Creator's teachings. Other nations have their own definitions, but their functions are basically the same: to ensure that traditional values, principles and other teachings are passed along, and to provide instruction to help individuals live in the right way.
The Elders who participate in the Council have been invited by members of their nation or linguistic group who are currently employed at INAC. Names of Elders who might be able to come to Ottawa for short periods of time are initially put forward by cultural centres across the country, or are nominated by Aboriginal employees here or by other Elders. Invitations are extended based on availability to participate.
Scope of Work
The Elders, who form the Council, come from across North America. They are selected based on their experience as mediators, their spiritual and traditional knowledge and their capacity to pass on these experiences to others.
- provides culturally relevant psychological, spiritual counsel and support to those Aboriginal employees who are directly affected by problems and crisis arising from cultural differences;
- passes along knowledge of traditional concepts and beliefs, spirituality, ceremonies and other practises;
- conducts traditional spiritual ceremonies as needed;
- advises on how these aspects of traditional cultures can be rendered compatible with requirements of the contemporary workplace;
- serves as a source of accurate information about Aboriginal heritage.;
- presents verbal accounts of Aboriginal history and leads discussions on traditional methods of record keeping; and,
- provides opportunities for departmental employees and managers at all levels, to become knowledgeable about, and sensitive to, the historical context and role of Aboriginal people in Canada and their contemporary situation and aspirations.
In the performance of these activities, the Elder is assisted by the Elder's Helper. The Elders provide, from time to time, verbal reports of their Council of Elders activities to the Departmental Representative.
What Is the Kumik?
- a place to speak and listen to Native Elders and hear their teachings;
- a place to express concerns and discuss workplace and life problems;
- a place to share and understand cultural differences; and;
- a place to meditate quietly.
Why Was the Kumik Established?
- to provide a better understanding of cultural differences and help people appreciate and accept the differences of others; and,
- to allow Native and non-Native employees to benefit from the knowledge and teaching of Elders, their traditional and cultural counselling ways in dealing with life and work problems which may occur as a result of cultural differences.
Who Will Be Interested in the Kumik?
All employees of the Department or anyone working in intercultural situations, especially those working with Aboriginal people, employees, bands, Native associations, and so on.
Benefits to Participants
Participants in the Kumik:
- provides a greater opportunity to develop a better appreciation of Aboriginal culture, philosophy, and practises of First Nation throughout Canada;
- provides a more positive climate to facilitate understanding and cooperation at the working level between Aboriginal employees and other departmental employees;
- facilitates improvement of the quality of service we provide to the Aboriginal clientele; and,
- provides an opportunity for all departmental employees to discuss with the Elder, on an individual basis, issues concerning their work or their personal environment in a unique setting.
- confront issues in a changing environment and the difficulties of reaching group consensus;
- increase their interpersonal and intercultural effectiveness;
- experience the many facets and problems of cross cultural communications.
- analyse concepts held by other cultures as compared to personal concepts;
- become sensitive to non-verbal and non-written communication and become aware of its effect on interpersonal communication;
- understand that a culture is a way of life as well as a body of solutions developed by people for survival and growth in a particular environment;
- appreciate how personal and group values and assumptions are influenced by group/cultural interactions and see how differences in attitude, values and assumptions may present effective group/interpersonal communications; and,
- enjoy a peaceful experience.
Activities Within the Kumik
Elders are here on a continuing basis, each staying for a period of two weeks. Other persons may participate by way of assisting the Elders as guest speakers. The Kumik is open daily during the week, with activities as follows:
|9:00 a.m.||Opening ceremonies|
|9:10 - 10:00 a.m.||Individual Visit with Elder|
|10:00 - 11:00 a.m.||Individual Visit with Elder|
|11:00 - 12:00 noon||Elder's Lunch Hour|
|12:00 - 1:00 p.m.||Open Discussion/Teaching|
|1:00 - 2:00 p.m.||Individual Visit with Elder|
|2:00 - 3:00 p.m.||Individual Visit with Elder|
|3:00 - 4:00 p.m.||Individual Visit with Elder|
|4:00 p.m.||Closing Ceremonies|
These activities are arranged out of respect for the work schedule of INAC employees.
Schedules of activities are posted near each elevator at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Les Terrasses de la Chaudière, 10 Wellington, Gatineau, Quebec. Private interviews with Elders are held in the counselling room.
For further information, please contact:
(819) 953-2913 or by fax at (819) 994-7171
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