This conference draws on best practices to celebrate successful community-based partnerships and explore the challenges in building future partnerships dedicated to creating healthy communities.

A Message From Our Co-Chair, Jim Potts

The Carving:

During a visit to Yellowknife, George R., a territorial government official responsible for promoting economic development in the northern communities, invited me to lunch. He was curious about a course I teach entitled Aboriginal Perceptions. “What is this course about and why is it necessary?”

I spoke of systemic barriers and culture clash, how the way of living in remote communities is so different from that in large communities like Yellowknife. This difference often causes wellintended initiatives to go off the rails and few understand why.

George replied, “I don’t know about that but here’s one of my problems. Three years ago people in a small Inuit community were getting together every Tuesday and Thursday and making beautiful sewings and carvings and selling them to fly-in visitors. We offered to increase their incomes by shipping their artwork to southern markets and return the profits to the artists. All agreed. We’ve been doing this for the past three years. We’ve absorbed most of the transportation costs and now they tell us they want a salary. Tell me, how has that anything to do with cultural difference? To me, they’re simply trying to milk the system.”

“Let me tell you a story.” I said. “One day a young Inuk was guiding a white man (Kabloona) across the tundra. They came upon an old Inuk sitting by his kayak carving a piece of ivory. When Kabloona saw the small carving he said to his young guide “That’s beautiful. Tell the old man I’d like to buy it.”

The offer was made “He won’t sell it, it’s a gift for his son.”

“A gift? He can carve another for his son. I’ll give him a good price.”

After brief negotiation Kabloona made his purchase. Upon holding it in his hands he thought for a moment and said “Tell you what, tell the old man if he’ll carve ten a month I’ll buy them all. That’ll give him a regular income. But, oh, I’m not paying so much next time. After all, I’m buying quantities. We’ll negotiate a price.”

“Not tell him that.” said the young Inuk.

“No, you tell him.”

The young Inuk explained the offer. The old man turned and looked at Kabloona with a big smile, then started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” said Kabloona.

“He thinks you’re a funny man. If you want ten a month they’ll cost more. That’ll be work, the first one was done for love.”

“I think that’s your problem George. You unintentionally changed a bi-weekly social event into work, so of course they want a salary.”

Apply this story to the quest for scarce resources that is accelerating across Canada, much of it on what is known as traditional native lands. Many Aboriginal leaders claim that over the next few years their communities will be faced with more challenges than ever.

I leave it to you to decide on the importance of officers knowing the communities and the people knowing and trusting them. Work to enhance, maintain, and build, that trust now. Don’t wait until you’re called to keep the peace at a protest, caused by an issue you cannot resolve.