Uncolonizing the workplace using Indigenous Kinship building practices

Uncolonizing the workplace using Indigenous Kinship building practices

Xhastin Land Based Healing Camp created by Xhastin (Yvonne Jack,) with the support of community Elders. Xhastin is of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. Photo by kelsie kilawna.

As the late evening sun continued to shine on the mountains, our plane landed on the homelands of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, known very briefly as Whitehorse, Yukon.

It was a momentous occasion for the Indigenous Employees Network at MakeWay, as we gathered in person for the first time to forge and strengthen bonds based on our shared connection and love of the land. This gathering embodied the essence of our three-year strategic plan, where kinship and relationships would lay the foundation for MakeWay’s strategic aim to bring about radical transformation through systems change. Bringing together people and land.

MakeWay is dedicated to uncolonizing* its internal frameworks and dismantling oppressive systems, creating a safe and empowering work environment for its Indigenous, Inuk, and Métis team members. In alignment with this commitment, the Indigenous Employees Network was established, and its members eagerly boarded planes to come together in person.

‘A few sleeps backwards’ 

On our first day we were warmly welcomed by Xhatsin (Yvonne Jack), her smile radiating genuine joy that permeated the air. In the teachings of the sqilx’w** (Indigenous) people, it is believed that the land reciprocates the love we show it. What we pour into the land, it pours back into us. That’s why experiencing joy while visiting the land alongside others brings forth immense gratitude. Joy is a vital aspect of the sqilx’w culture, especially when we unite to create and manifest new dreams, much like the transformative work accomplished at Xhatsin’s Healing Camp and beyond.

That morning began with a child-led storytelling session around the fire, where the young one began their story with, “A few sleeps backwards.” For many Indigenous people, stories are not bound by linear or chronological time. They hold significance across all time—past, present, and future. As some of us immersed ourselves in stories from distant homelands by the campfire, others engaged in storytelling while gathered around the beading table in the Canvas tent. Laughter filled the air, intermingling with the children’s storytelling.

Part of our Nation-building work involved embracing the stories that encompass the teachings and Natural Laws of the communities we are connected with. This immersive experience allowed us to understand one another in a way that cannot be achieved through online interactions alone. Trust was nurtured around beading tables, campfires, and shared meals, where we engaged in heartfelt discussions, laughter, tears, and simply held space for one another’s presence.

Once a common understanding was established, we are ready to embark on a collective journey.

Holding Space

“The pause” holds significant meaning for sqilx’w people, serving as a teaching in times of grief, loss, or change. It reminded us to honour these moments by pausing, setting aside our work, and tending to the ceremonies that accompany change. We also refer to this practice as “holding space.” Our collective embraced silence as a means to honour one another’s needs, and thus, our second day commenced with a moment of reflection.

Coming together in that poignant moment solidified our bond as we stood side by side, navigating the path ahead together. Words were unnecessary; it was a time to be spiritually present and take action.

The group honoured Braden Etzerza through blanketing him inside the Healing Yurt, where he grounded the energy of the group. Photo by kelsie kilawna
Oolichan and herring eggs, made for the group by the amazing cooks at Xhatsin Healing Camp. Photo by kelsie kilawna

We concluded our morning at the camp with a heartfelt meal prepared by Xhatsin and her talented group of cooks. Many of us savoured the flavors of oolichan and herring eggs for the first time, listening to stories from our teammates whose families sustained themselves through these nourishing foods. There is an indescribable power in how food can fill your heart and become a source of spiritual healing during challenging times.

The remainder of the day was dedicated to crucial work, culminating in a shared experience at a stunning restaurant. Gathered around a large table, we were serenaded by Benny and the Jets, and none other than the King of the North, Ernest Monias. We sang, laughed, and delved deeper into each other’s stories through continued storytelling.

Jessica Duke, after her blanketing, her blanket has symbols of the bear on it which is part of her sqilx’w skwist (Indigenous name). Photo by Nicole McDonald

Before bidding farewell, we decided to visit Medzih E’òł (in the Tagish Language) and Wàtsix NakwaniYé (in Tlingit), known as Carcross, Yukon—a place of unparalleled beauty. It was during this closing ceremony that we organized a giveaway, a time-honoured teaching where we bring forward heartfelt gifts symbolizing the acknowledgment of special work accomplished and the sharing of wealth. Seated on the sandy shores of Kusooa Lake (Bennett Lake), we engaged in giveaway and honoured Jessica Duke, the President of our Indigenous Employees Network, by blanketing her for how she holds space for all present.

The team arrives to Kusooa Lake, (aka Bennett Lake) where we honoured a dear colleague, and shared dreams on the land. Photo by kelsie kilawna

Following the giveaway and blanket ceremony, we took turns sharing our envisioned dreams for the network’s future. By speaking these dreams aloud and engaging in discussions, we took the initial step in turning our aspirations into action.

As we bid farewell to one another, our hearts were filled with gratitude, profound connections, dreams taking shape, and hopes of reuniting in the near future.

Undoubtedly, it was an unforgettable journey, one that will forever hold a special place in our memories.

Language Notes: 

The writer, kelsie kilawna, is from the syilx Nation, where the governance structure is based on egalitarianism. This means all language is lowercased, including the writer’s name, this is based on the teaching that not any one thing is more important than the other.

* The writer embraces the term “uncolonize” to acknowledge that certain aspects within a system cannot be fully “decolonized” as they are inherently rooted in colonial structures. This choice of language reflects a commitment to transparency, recognizing that the workplace operates within a capitalist framework. While actively working to dismantle harmful elements, it is important to acknowledge and address the roots of colonization and capitalism that have shaped the workplace.

**When kelsie refers to “sqilx’w,” it signifies being “of the land” in nsyilxcen (the language of the syilx Peoples). This term encompasses all Indigenous identities that have a deep connection and blood ties to the land, sharing the same fundamental essence as the land itself.

About the Writer:

kelsie kilawna, a syilx and Secwepemc woman, who lives on her syilx homelands, briefly referred to by guests as the “Okanagan.” Her writing style embodies her commitment and duty to uphold the well-being of her people through respectful storytelling. kelsie recognizes the shared responsibility among all sqilx’w to be caretakers of the land and so ensures she nurtures the relationships her community has cultivated with other Nations by sharing stories in a good way that honours and respects all.

originally published at MakeWay

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