This week, ImPACt SK talks to Dr. Marie Delorme about her perspective on IPAC’s National Year of Dialogue. Dr. Delorme is CEO of The Imagination Group of Companies. She serves on the RCMP Foundation Board, River Cree Enterprises Board, the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, the Alberta Premier’s Advisory Committee on the Economy, and The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. She is also an advisor to two Universities.
She has received the Indspire Award in Business and Commerce; and was named as one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Dr. Delorme has also received the University of Calgary Dr. Douglas Cardinal Award; Alberta Chamber of Commerce Business Award of Distinction; Calgary Chamber of Commerce Salute to Excellence Award, and Métis Nation Entrepreneurial Leadership Award.
Dr. Delorme holds a Bachelor of Science degree, a Master of Business Administration from Queen’s University, and PhD from the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on inter-cultural leadership.
ImPACt SK: Dr. Delorme, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about your perspective on and your experiences with the call for Reconciliation and Dialogue within Canadian society. To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and how the legacy of Residential Schools in Canada has impacted your life?
Dr. Delorme: The dark legacy of the residential schools has far reaching impacts on all Canadians, as the objectives of this ill-conceived system were to dismantle families and assimilate Indigenous people into the dominant culture. When families and social systems are disrupted; when political and faith-based laws and policies encourage racism and isolation, every member of society is touched in some way. As a young person, I was aware that society did not readily accept Indigenous people. Being the child of a white mother and Métis father; and thus belonging to a group that did not fit with either culture, brings unique challenges relating to identity and self-esteem.
ImPACt SK: As you know, IPAC has deemed 2017 to be the National Year of Dialogue for Renewing Relationships with Indigenous People. With respect to public service professionals (whom IPAC represents), one of the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to “…call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training and intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.” In your consulting practice, you’ve worked with many different public sector institutions. Why do you think that it is vital to successfully address this particular Call to Action?
Dr. Delorme: Although UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and TRC have been extensively covered by media, as was the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report published in 1996, there is a general lack of awareness amongst most Canadians. We live in an era of news sound bites and messaging in 140 characters. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for the important in-depth conversations necessary to fully understand the history of Indigenous peoples. It is important for those in public service to understand how the past impacts the present and to develop cultural competencies. Educating public servants is one step in developing respectful government-to-government partnerships and ensuring that culturally relevant and respectful policies and programs redress the legacy of residential schools and make a real difference in the lives of Indigenous people.
ImPACT SK: Are there any examples of reconciliation and good relationships that you have seen that can serve as lessons for all of us working in the public service? What are those lessons?
Dr. Delorme: Federal and provincial governments have entered into agreements and memorandums of understanding with Indigenous governments. Those relationships that focus on education are particularly important to ensure that Indigenous children receive the same opportunities as all children and have access to the same kinds of supports as all Canadian youth. There are some great examples across the country where communities have taken control of their education system. When history, language, and culture informs curriculum, children develop a solid foundation for learning. Corporate Canada and NGOs are discussing the TRC Calls to Action. Partnerships for economic and community development exist in great numbers across the country; these partnerships flourish when the relationship is mutually beneficial in every sense.
ImPACt SK: In terms of building new relationships, what do you think is required of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous public service professionals for them to be supportive of each other in the spirit of Reconciliation? What will it take to get there?
Dr. Delorme: It took generations to get where we are today; hopefully the process of reconciling does not take generations. The formula is simplistic but the process is complex. The new relationship must be based on first acknowledging the past and the inter-generational impacts of over 100 years of ill-conceived policies, laws, and social experiments. Apologies have been made and some reparation established. But the real work is just beginning in recognizing Indigenous constitutional, legal, and human rights; and to engage in mutually respectful and cooperative partnerships.
ImPACt SK: In your experience, what are the opportunities or the barriers to building new relationships? How will we know when we are on the right track in building these positive relationships and when we are not?
Dr. Delorme: We will know that progress is being made when the most critical issues facing many Indigenous people are addressed. These include low levels of high school and post-secondary completion; inadequate housing and crowded living conditions; lower income levels; health indicators that are lower that national averages; and high youth suicide rates.
ImPACt SK: How do you think that these new relationships can lead to positive collaboration and partnerships?
Dr. Delorme: See above
ImPACt SK: You have worked in both large organizations and small ones and have consulted in both the private and public sectors. Do you see any particular type of organization or sector as having made significant progress with respect to Reconciliation and new relationships?
Dr. Delorme: Generally, the organizations that are engaging with Indigenous communities are those who have regional economic or political interests. It is not surprising that the resource, financial, and utility sectors have mandates, policies, and processes relating to engaging with Indigenous people. Supreme Court and lower court decisions dating back almost 2 decades have focused on the duty to consult. That duty is triggered if there is a chance that there may be an adverse impact on a community’s rights and traditional uses. It is not surprising then that almost every project impacting the land, air, and water affects the interest of at least one Indigenous community.
ImPACt SK: What do you think First Nation, Metis and Inuit governments need and expect from new relationships in order to help them grow and achieve excellence in the delivery of programs and services to their citizens / members?
Dr. Delorme: Indigenous people in Canada are not a homogeneous group. Hundreds of distinct cultures, languages, ways of knowing and being mean that the relationship is built with each group in a way that respects their unique protocols and practices. However, some fundamental ideologies for those relationships include core principles of respect, equality, and the preservation of Indigenous languages and culture. Foundational to this process are renewed nation-to-nation relationships between federal, provincial, and Indigenous governments.
ImPACt SK: To what extent are you hopeful that Reconciliation and Dialogue will lead to a better future in Canada? What makes you feel this way?
Dr. Delorme: Hope for the future lies in lessons from the past. Against all odds Indigenous people have survived. This speaks to great resilience in the face of unimaginable suffering. I see a future where survival is replaced by thriving. Where racism is replaced not by tolerance but by embracing and celebrating diversity. Where language and culture inform the fundamental identity of our young people. Today, despite the social and economic disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in our country, there is another story that is rarely told. Over 30,000 of our people are in post-secondary institutions; over 40,000 are entrepreneurs; we are academics, scientists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and business people. This is the future I envision. This is reconciliation.
ImPACT SK: Dr. Delorme, thank you once again for taking time to talk to us here at ImPACT SK. We greatly appreciate you sharing your experiences and thoughts with us as we move forward into this new era of Reconciliation and Dialogue.