Looking at Governance from an Indigenous Perspective
In celebration of National Indigenous History Month, Vantage Point reached out to a governance expert, Kinwa Bluesky, for her thoughts about not-for-profits and Indigenous governance.
Kinwa works as a consultant to organizations and leaders in the areas of strategic planning, organizational development, fundraising, and project management. She is also a legal researcher, policy advisor, human resource consultant, and contract manager. Kinwa is a doctoral student at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. It is an honour to have her share her thoughts with us.
Please tell me about your work within governance as it applies within organizations with a social mandate.
I am an Indigenous consultant – working with Indigenous communities, Nations and with local, provincial, and federal government. This is one way that I can be more engaged and more connected to the people. My background is in law, and I use it in terms of understanding legislation and policy, and then how these create impact. I try to work from the top-down and bottom-up -- hopefully we’ll end up creating change somewhere along the middle for everyone involved.
Everybody is committed in some way to have Indigenous peoples be more self-determining, working towards more self-governing structures & frameworks in all areas of governance. Everyone is working towards what reconciliation means and how institutions can be more proactive in trying to implement various different tools and frameworks, such as UNDRIP as well as the call to action through TRC. Most recently, I’ve been working in the province implementing Jordan’s Principle, ensuring First Nations children and youth have access to social, education, and health services when they need them.
What have been the greatest influence(s) to governance as you practice it?
The ideal is that people have self-governing bodies, so then they are able to make laws and policies based on their own self-determining desires. Because I work a lot with governments, I feel like funding impacts significantly the kinds of opportunities that can be achieved moving forward. This can sometimes be a blessing and also something that has to be reckoned with as well, as funding seemingly comes and goes. For all First Nations organizations and societies, funding is very unstable, but I’m hoping in the future we can look at various different funding models that allow our peoples to become more financially secure in being able to offer the kinds of services and programming to fully meet the needs of their communities --- as they should be met.
What are some key steps not-for-profit boards can take to implement more diverse and particularly more Indigenized representation? And what about governance approaches?
Representation is a very interesting topic. I end up going to a number of Indigenous events and conferences, and still there are high numbers of male chiefs present. Women are not fully representative in a 50/50 -- the numbers are very high in terms of male leadership, and if we look at business,the trend would likely the same. In human resources, health and social services, women appear to be more dominant within those areas of leadership, which is refreshing and nice to see. I would like to see diversity flipping so there are more Indigenous female Chiefs, CEOs, Founders and Operators, and Chairmen of Boards – because we are present, doing good work, and we are rising through the ranks.
As for Indigenizing approaches, that’s part of the work that I do in my academic research looking at how Indigenous law can become more active– not just on an individual level, but guiding the laws of our communities, our governments, organizations, societies, and programs. So that our laws are being more fully reflected in our policies and not something we think about as, “Oh right, traditionally this is what we used to do!” It’s active and present and we are all agents of legal change, fully enacting and being our Indigenous laws. I’m constantly looking for ways to do that – and we are doing it! It’s in how our relations are built, how we conduct business, how we provide services, and most recently, how we prioritize our children and youth and women. We are creating ways of change.
What is your biggest hope for your broader work in 2018?
There are areas that are building up momentum locally with Chief Ian running for mayor – that’s exciting and might change some of the work that I’ve done in the past for City of Vancouver, recognizing Indigenous women and being proactive to create spaces for missing and murdered Indigenous women girls and their families while the Inquiry was going on here. We’ve done some work with the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addiction by taking into account the needs of our members in the Downtown Eastside. There’s been quite a lot of reconciliation work, led at the time by Ginger Gosnell-Myers. It’s nice to see the steps taken for reconciliation – the work is now opening up space for leadership. I think even provincially, various ministries are open to creating change, specifically around First Nations children and youth and around mental health, with the creation of the new ministry (Mental Health and Addiction).
“Abundance” is a principle value at Vantage Point. How do you bring an abundant viewpoint to your day-to-day work?
When I was in Ottawa working at the archives on my dissertation research recently, I came across something that my great-grandmother Angenik Kaponicin had written. This was captured in the early 1900s. She said that when it came to our territory -- I’m Anishinaabe, from around the Ottawa region-- “we were just free, to go wherever we wanted,” and then she talked about how there was enough food to feed everyone. And I just thought, “that’s such a wonderful mindset to have been living in.” She acknowledged that this had changed. She was born in 1880s and had seen the transition of being able to roam free to living on reserves. Initially the environment there was able to provide for the health, wellness, and food security for everyone involved. That’s not the case now. What an empowering view to behold – and how can we maintain that today? How can we build towards this abundance for everyone and all who roam freely across these territories?