I had the privilege of spending a day with members of the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) last Thursday learning about their history, beliefs and traditions, their unique self-government and their vision for a better future for their people.
I say privilege because it’s not often those outside the Band are invited in, and Thursday’s business networking forum was the first of its kind in the history of the Sechelt Nation.
You would think by the name that it was all about touring properties and signing deals, but the Band has a different approach to business.
That approach was evident in the make up of the forum that devoted an entire morning to explaining the Sechelt Nation’s history, their way of life and what they hold dear.
Then we took time to share a meal together and talk before getting into the governance of the SIB and ultimately pass around some business cards.
It occurred to me that the event was similar to a potlatch, which is the traditional way all business was once conducted for the Sechelt Nation.
A potlatch included the sharing of a meal and much discussion that often resulted in policies being developed, decisions being made and political relationships being restored.
I found it interesting to hear members of the Sechelt Nation describe their history in a decidedly divided manner at the forum. It appears life for them is divided into before and after contact, which is understandable considering the devastating effects contact with non-Natives had on them. With contact came smallpox, which nearly wiped out their people, and later residential schools, which nearly broke all who were left.
I think the division of history explains some of the distrust still felt today.
But the most eye-opening part of the forum for me was the presentation by keynote speaker Howard Rainer of the Native Wellness Institute.
A long-time friend of Chief Garry Feschuk and held in high regard by the SIB, Rainer started his talk by adjusting the seating arrangements, telling SIB members to sit beside a non-Native they didn’t know.
Sid Quinn, with SIB resource management, sat beside me. Then Rainer set the stage telling everyone some of the characteristics of SIB members. He used words like responsible, spiritual, generous, talented, gifted and intelligent. I couldn’t disagree from what I’d seen that morning.
Next he got us talking, asking each other questions like “why are you so darn cute?” Once the laughter subsided and the walls were a little lower, Rainer hit us with a question I wasn’t prepared for: “What do you have to offer that would help our people excel?”
All I could think of was understanding. I told Sid I would let people know what I’d learned that day and try to help break down stereotypes in the community, that I would tell the story and help clear up misunderstandings. Often I think that we (and I say we as in all of humanity) don’t see the whole picture and make our judgments based on our perception of what is going on.
Perception is a funny thing, influenced by our own history and circumstances, and I’ve found that making decisions based on perception almost always ends badly.
Take the time to get to know the SIB, their history and their culture, and you’ll be glad you did. You can find out more at www.secheltnation.ca.