Field notes: what we’re learning so far in IPAC’s National Year of Dialogue

– by Catherine MacQuarrie, IPAC Senior Executive in Residence on Indigenous GovernmentEN - NYOD Logo - Grey Text

When IPAC decided to undertake a National Year of Dialogue for Reconciliation and Renewed Relationships with Indigenous Peoples, who knew it would be a time when honest, respectful cross-cultural conversation and learning not to fear “the other” was going to be such a big issue for the human race?

Eight weeks in, I’m pleased to say that we’ve had some very positive conversations, forged some new friendships and are starting to take away a number of concrete lessons for government organizations and individuals on how to advance reconciliation and develop better, more effective working relationships with partners in First Nation, Metis and Inuit governments and communities.

The first session of the year on a drizzly night in Ottawa, attracted a diverse audience of 137 people. It was called Building Understanding of Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

IPAC Ottawa-NCR event

Two federal assistant deputy ministers, a senior policy advisor with the Assembly of First Nations and a Metis scholar discussed the capacity building needed within public services to understand reconciliation, and engaged in a lively dialogue with the audience. A large contingent of young public servants and university students brought a lot of passion and hope to the discussion.

We recorded the whole event for you. View the Event Recording

This was quickly followed with a Leaders Dialogue Circle on January 23, with twenty-five senior leaders from Indigenous organizations, federal and provincial governments, from academia, and from civil society. Building on a recent essay for IRPP by David Newhouse of Trent University entitled “Indigenous Peoples, Canada and the Possibility of Reconciliation” this non-partisan, non-political discussion focused on the opportunities and challenges public services face in supporting Canadian governments achieve what Professor Newhouse described as “the most important nation-building project since the railway”.  The significant need for public service education – about Indigenous peoples and history, and the legal and intellectual foundations for reconciliation – was a major topic for the group. So too was the importance of planning and measuring reconciliation commitments, but without losing sight of the need for action.
Read the Summary of Discussion

IPAC Manitoba Event, Pictured: 
Brian Hart, First Nations of Northern Manitoba Child and Family Service Authority; Billie Schibler, Métis Child and Family Services Authority; Patricia Cox, General Child and Family Services Authority; Sandra (Sandie) Stoker, All Nations Coordinated Network of Care; Tara Petti, Southern First Nation Network of Care; Cora Morgan, First Nations Child Advocate

An important and timely day-long discussion called Child Welfare and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was hosted by IPAC Manitoba on February 2 in Winnipeg. Manitoba is unique in Canada for having specific First Nations (southern and northern), Metis, and general child authorities. It also has some of the greatest challenges.  Manitoba has approximately 11,000 children in care – the most per capita in Canada – and about 90% of these children are Indigenous.

Key conclusions from the day included:

  • Communities should have greater control over how things are designed and delivered (they have ideas on solutions; government needs to allow those solutions);
  • Flexibility is needed to respond to different community realities;
  • Current government institutional and program barriers are preventing communities from achieving success; and
  • The need to shift resources away from funding reactionary measures to focus on prevention.

Read the Event Debrief

Then it was off to Toronto and IPAC’s annual Leadership Conference.  This sold-out event featured a keynote presentation by Roberta Jamieson, whose distinguished accomplishments have earned her national renown. Roberta is currently dedicating her considerable energies to education, through Indspire, a foundation to support education of Indigenous youth.  Roberta urged the public service audience to be part of Canada’s most profound public policy opportunity, “but the public service needs new tools for this new Canada, new knowledge. Learn about Indigenous peoples, learn about successes. Learn to partner.”

A conference workshop called:

Roberta Jamieson

“Leaders: our role in reconciliation” featured practical tips for building new working relationships with Indigenous peoples in the spirit of reconciliation. Manitoba deputy minister Angie Bryce, Chief Stacey LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Parks Canada Vice President Rob Prosper, and 2 Spirit/Queer-Indigenous advocate and artist Teddy Syrrette, had lots of practical advice and day-to-day tips for how public services can re-frame their approaches to policy development and service delivery for better results. It’s a positive sign of the times when the entire panel, including the senior government officials, is made up of Indigenous people.

In spite of the challenging social context and the tough issues still to tackle, I’ve been struck by several constants in the range of our dialogue events so far:  the level of interest and openness to dialogue, the generosity of Indigenous participants, and the consistency of the messages we are receiving from everyone:

  • Public servants need a lot more education to break down stereotypes and fear
  • Reconciliation opportunities are everywhere. All government organizations have a responsibility to build meaningful relationships – don’t just kick it over to your Indigenous Affairs ministry
  • Practice ReconciliACTION: make a plan, stick to it, keep yourself honest to your intentions
  • Practice institutional integrity: work to build trusting relationships; starting with listening openly to Indigenous partners about what works for them, and helping implement that.

A warm thank you to the partners who have joined us on this journey so far:  AFOA Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, Canadians for a New Partnership, the Canadian Association of Programs of Public Administration and Indigenous Works. Your support means a lot.

Keep current on past and coming events at 

Catherine MacQuarrie

Catherine MacQuarrie joined IPAC as Senior Executive in Residence, Indigenous Government Programs, on a two-year assignment from the Government of Canada to help IPAC extend its practice to include Indigenous governments, and to work with IPAC members on the education of public servants at all levels of government about Indigenous peoples, as recommended in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Catherine has 25 years of executive experience in the Government of Canada, most recently as Vice-president, Strategic Directions and Service Excellence at the Canada School of Public Service. 

Catherine first joined the federal Public Service in 1994 with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, working in aboriginal land claims negotiations and self-government policy.  Prior to joining government she worked in Aboriginal media for over a decade.

A Metis born in Alberta, Catherine grew up in the Northwest Territories where she launched her first career as a reporter, newspaper editor and a senior manager in Aboriginal media. She holds a BA in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson University and an MA in Public Administration (Public Policy) from the University of Ottawa. Event and workshop attendees have responded overwhelmingly well to Catherine’s call to action, so we encourage everyone not to pass up the opportunity to walk part of their professional journey with her.

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