News and Articles

Learning from Stories of Community Resilience

October 2, 2014

Convenor: Jennifer Brennan, University of Toronto Conversation Starters:

  • Lisa DeLong, Prince’s School for Traditional Arts (PSTA)
  • Laurie McLaren, Aboriginal Initiatives, Nipissing University
  • Zeni Thumbadoo, National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW)
  • Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, Ahousaht First Nation
  • Dominic Richards, Prince’s Foundation for Building Community


BRENNAN: Excellent. Yes. Good morning, everyone. We have the good fortune and opportunity of, of being bright an early here this morning to see everyone. So it’s good to see everyone after a, it was such a fantastic evening last night. Thank you very much, Adele [Simmons] for the opening, the opening summary. I think you’ve created a superb platform really for our conversation. It was, many of the thoughts that you shared brings together the importance of what we, what we engaged in yesterday.
I would really suggest that yesterday our overall theme was around understanding these complex, the complexities of isolation and the complexities of the challenges of, of addressing isolation. Today we get to sit back a little bit.
Today I think we sit back and I’d like to characterize our panel very much as sharing stories… sharing stories and practical experience. And I think it gets to the point of so we’ve, we’ve engaged in this process of understanding the concepts and now is our opportunity to, to gain some insight from practical experience of those engaged in community activity and, and supporting community resilience.
And so I’m very pleased to be helping to facilitate our panel today, a diverse group that will bring and share with us stories. One thing I did want to do with our panel today is invite, invite questions as well.
In many of our table conversations there was an interest in going a little bit deeper and having a bit of a broader conversation. So I want to invite that. We’ll be asking each of the panelists to speak and, and share a perspective that, that relates to our, our theme of community resilience today and our overall really goal and objective today of gaining greater insight so we move from understanding, to insight, to action, and, and the next steps that will follow.
So I hope you will engage in the conversation. I’ll ask each of them to speak for five minutes and, and very much as we saw yesterday this is about how do we spark conversations. And then we’ll have an opportunity to carry on the conversation at each of your tables, and then an opportunity as well to, to share any insights that you have from your, your table conversation.
So we’ll get underway. And I’d like to ask my good friend, Laurie McLaren, she is the Executive Director at Nipissing University in charge of all of the aboriginal services within a large institutional complex. And, and I’d like, I invite her to share her perspective and story that will help us all relate to the ways in which communities are really key to resilience and, and sustainable solutions in the future. So, Laurie, I’ll ask you to, to kick us off here, please.
MCLAREN: Good morning… good morning.
ALL: Good morning.
MCLAREN: It’s really an honor to be here this morning. Good morning to my fellow panelists, to everyone who’s gathered.
And I’d like to acknowledge this territory that we’re on today, that of the Mississaugas of New Credit. I come from a very small village called Hunter’s Point located some 500 kilometers north and just slightly east of Toronto, of where we’re sitting right now. And I’m really happy to be here this morning and to tell you all that I am not here alone. My mom, who’s one of my biggest supporters, and encouragers, and models, I would say, of resilience is here with me today. So I’m very, very happy she’s here.
And also one of the elders who I work with in my work at Nipissing University supporting indigenous students, John Sawyer is also here. So I’m, I, I feel like I’m at home. And I’ve also been very welcomed here so thank you to all of you.
It’s a pleasure to talk a little bit about the work that I do but I’m not going to talk this morning about my work at Nipissing University because I recently had this thought following a visit to Cusco, Peru some four years ago. I, I visited, attended a conference down there, World Indigenous Conference on Education. And during that period of time I met indigenous peoples from across the hemispheres, but the one in particular that I was quite interested in was beginning this dialogue between indigenous communities in South America and North America because I was very fascinated with the particular community that I visited that all of these things that I had read about, these images and these ideas about connectedness, about partnership, about reciprocity, about relationships with the land, about knowing, you know, having place-based knowledge given to you by your grandparents, it was very much alive and well in that community and it still is.
It made me think about the many students who I’ve worked with over the years at Nipissing University coming in whose experience with the land, whose experience with their grandparents and these, these very, very real traditional knowledges, they’re becoming memories. They’re becoming something that their parents talk about and their grandparents talk about, and this feeling of being unattached to that is increasing.
Now that concerns me a great deal because I believe it is those very things that make us, that give us our identity as indigenous people.
And I’m a very, very, very proud Algonquin person from Hunter’s Point. I believe very, very strongly in connection to the land. And had I not had a very loving, supportive, encouraging home to grow up in for the first five years I don’t know that I would’ve had further success in my life in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education.
So I believe that that’s a very, very necessary element in any kind of education. And life education and life experience, as I’ve been shown, is very, very critical. So back to this little community in Cusco, Peru, I wish that I would’ve had the time — and I apologize for this, I am going to send this picture back to the committee so you all can see. But I took a picture of these two little girls who were in this community. The community is called [] and there are 12 villages outside of Cusco, Peru. They’re all Quechua villages but the one in particular where we spend time, these people are people that they would call “of the llama.”
And by the way, I have permission from their leader to talk about their stories today. I try and be very careful about who and how I share stories because they’re not mine. I’m just relating to you some of their experiences. But, they have, they want to share their story.
Just to come back to this little picture, if you can imagine two little girls, so one three years old and one four years old, very, very young, young little children. And in the image they are both seated near a basin on the ground and they’re doing laundry. They are washing the clothes. And some, you know, as I looked at the picture I see connectedness. I see belonging. I see two little girls who know their role. Around them they see their parents who are very, very engaged in their community. They are very, very engaged with their family. They’re excellent role models and that’s what these little girls are doing. They’re contributing. They’re taking their place in their community. They are learning to, to be and, and to be happy, and to watch them participate in the activities of the family.
So taking care of one’s own family but that of the broader community is absolutely incredible.
And as I was admiring the many images, thank you, Daniel [Kooveanatuk], for you image that you shared last night about inclusion, I would submit to you that that image to me, that’s a perfect example, that image of those two little girls of inclusion. It’s very, very rewarding to be here to be among people who want to see more of that. And I really see that this opportunity between the northern hemisphere, our students that we work with at Nipissing University learning something about that strength, about that resilience, seeing it in action.
We are not going to spend a lot of time reading content and, and attending lectures on it whenever you can see it for yourself and become part of it because I think that there’s strength that comes from that lived experience one might call it.
So, I think I’m going to stop there with that story. But I would invite anyone who would like to, you know, hear a little bit more about it. And certainly I will submit the pictures from that visit to the village and, you know, and invite all of you to have a look and, and maybe reflect on some that yourselves in your own work because I’m certain that with all of your minds and hearts here today you’re probably all very, very involved in, in ensuring that inclusion continues. And I’m really, really happy to share some of my thoughts with you off of my scrappy little notes that I made on the plane from Cusco.
BRENNAN: Great. Great. Wow.
Thank you very much, Laurie. [SPEAKS FIRST NATION LANGUAGE].
I think that’s a wonderful beginning to our panel because it really starts to peel back some of the layers in terms of so community resilience, how do we begin building community resilience. So Laurie shared with us how it really begins with, with the individual feeling very connected first to the family and then to the community. So there are many ways in which we, we need to sort of take the understandings and the sharings we had yesterday and then apply them to actual examples.
And what a powerful image Laurie has shared with us this morning and, and one that really enriches our understanding of so what, what are the pieces. And then, then how can we, can we ask maybe the deeper questions about well then how do we support that young child understanding connecting with their role, understanding and connecting with their culture and identity within the community?
So it’s not so much about thinking about education outcomes, particular, to a particular child in the abstract but really understanding those outcomes as they relate to them within their context and w-within, within their community and family context. So thank you so much, Laurie for, for beginning us there.
We’re going to shift geography a little bit right now.
Happy to introduce my new friend, Zeni, who I’ve just come to know. Zeni is the Deputy Director of the National Association of Child Care Workers. And I, we’ve had a few conversations and really I’m so thrilled to be asking Zena to, to share a story. And I think, and I ask each of you to listen to the ways in which these stories also connect, and then, and then whether there are clear differences, and different challenges, and different, different perspectives. But then what are the ways in which we learn and we can see the connections that then build the strategies moving forward?
So, thank you so much, Zeni.
THUMBADOO: Thank you. [SPEAKS SOUTHERN AFRICAN LANGUAGE]. Thank you for the opportunity to be able to, to share some stories from South Africa here.
The National Association of Child Care Workers, the organization to which I belong is in partnership with government and the Minister of Social Development to recruit, develop and train 10,000 child and youth care workers in South Africa servicing particularly children and vulnerable families in rural areas. The partnership is important because it actually shows South African government’s commitment to building a children’s workforce and creating a workforce that services children at the hours children need them, which is morning, evenings, weekends, and public holidays, which is what child and youth care workers do. Now I know many of you might know that Cape Town is one of the top hundred cities in the world to visit and it is beautiful. But at the same time there is Kopi, a little, rural village and community in Limpopo Province, a rural province that is also part of South Africa, and this is the way we work.
I’m just hoping that we are able to put up the picture of the story I’m going to tell. I’ve had the video people just… is it up? Thank you.
This is the village that I’m talking about. Here we are recruiting and raining child care workers who are learner child care workers. They’re in training. One of the things they, they identify were that children in this little village were going down to the river to collect water in these little Coke plastic bottles because there was no water in school and they wouldn’t have water if they didn’t actually collect their water. But as you can see the water’s not clean. And the potential of cholera and other illnesses were very clear when the child care workers spoke to the clinic. And the clinic suggested that what they needed to do was to boil the water and maybe put detergent in it, called Jik in South Africa.
Nobody could afford the Jik and nobody liked the idea of putting Jik in their water anyway.
But there was a whole effort to being made by the child care workers now to boil water for the children in child-headed households in vulnerable families, get neighbors to support the boiling of the water for these children and supporting this initiative. The child care workers went to the local school, which is a very small school because it’s a small community, and had a meeting with the teacher and the principal as well as the children and advised them to go back home and talk about boiling water.
They followed this up with a huge community meeting and they called in Water Affairs, the circuit inspector for the school, social workers from the Department of Social Development, community development workers, the local government, and together they discussed this concern that they were having about water. What is interesting is that Water Affairs said that they would actually look at putting in boreholes and at the moment they are looking at that very river of setting up wall holes so that water could be transported more adequately to communities.
And in that process they saw, saw the circuit inspector from the Department of Education there so they told him that, you know, the school only goes up to grade seven because at grade eight there is no school, no classes and there’s no high school in that community. And it costs too much for people to travel. So the circuit inspector is busy in the process of looking at to whether he could add an extra classroom for the next grade of children and to look at obviously the issue of a high school.
What I want to extrapolate from the story, I just want to say that this all happened in six months. This is the effort of unqualified — because they’re still learners — child and youth care workers, who were able to bring in an energy around children. And one of the things I’ve learned is that generally in most communities if you bring children’s issues to communities very few people are against it. Everybody wants to support children. So it’s a really good energizer.
Important as well to bring in local stakeholders because we know that local expertise is important and you can animate responses if people come together and talk about what we could do together. Quite often people are apathetic, they’re tired, “Nothing’s really going to happen in our community,” and you do need some activism. You need somebody with energy who can actually start processes going. And in this case the child care workers did bring in that, that level of energy and animation.
What I liked in this story as well is the issue of synchronicity, which actually talks about, you know, your meaningful coincidences. It was really fortunate that the circuit inspector was there. But what was really great was that the child care workers were able to capitalize on the opportunity. They were able to see the moment, and they were able to see the energy in that, and they were able to be responsive in the moment. And they were able to connect the dots. In child care we talk about meaning making, we talk about working in the moment.
I think earlier on when we had your presentation you talked about breadth and depth. Maybe this is a story about breadth.
But if I could just quickly tell you about the depth. Generally in meetings that we have around the Isibindi project we gather people around and we put a candle and to say that the candle represents a child and remember here we are child focused, and the reason we are gathering together is for children. And what we’ve done more recently in gatherings is collected stones from local area and put them around the candle saying that these are firestones. These are stones that represent firestones in the olden days, remember, people used to hold the firestone and when they traveled nomadically they would be able to light the fire much more quickly. They were able to ignite in different communities.
So we said that, you know, “Pick out a firestone. Think about your own life. Think about who was a firestone in your life. You wouldn’t be here as a community member if you didn’t have others who were with you and helped you on your journey.
And in actually remembering who was a firestone in your life think about how you would be able to be a firestone in the lives of children.” And when you go deep within you, you tell the most fascinating stories.
And when people feel brave enough in a community to share stories of their own lives, of their own poverty, of their own hardships they are able to understand that it’s okay. All of us have problems. All of us have come from the same, same histories.
There was a wonderful story — can I just share that quickly? — that was shared by a granny in one of our communities where she that, “We were so poor we didn’t have any food. When we went to school we went drinking water because that would fill us for the morning. And I didn’t even have a panty. I didn’t have underwear. And when I went to school what we found is that the other children would come around and they would actually snap the elastic on their panty and they would say, ‘I’ve got a panty. You don’t.’ And so we used to feel so embarrassed and I used to feel terrible.”
And then she said that what happened was her teacher noticed her, her pain, and her teacher gave her an elastic band to put around her thigh so that when the other children would come around she had something to snap as well ’til she managed to take her out and bought her her first panty. And she tells the story saying, “My teacher was my firestone.”
What I get from that story is that she doesn’t say, “The teacher was always there with me.” She didn’t say, “The teacher carried on in my journey in life.” She actually reminded me that random acts of kindness do matter, and being present to other people’s pain, being able to see other people’s pain does matter. And of course in… child and youth care we talk about responding in the moment. This is where you notice something, respond straightaway. There is an energy and a magic in the moment. And connect the dots, make, make meaning out of a situation and a positive meaning for a child.
That actually reflects the spirit of Ubuntu. South Africa talks about a philosophy and a spirit of Ubuntu, “I am because you are.” And in both stories that I’ve shared I think that we can see community coming together because we are together and our own personal growth and the growth of our community contributes to the whole. So thank you.
BRENNAN: Thank you. Thank you so much, Zeni. “I am because we are,” and so many, so many powerful images. Thank you so much for sharing. And I just invite everyone to take a moment and reflect on… many elements of the story, and then we’ll have an opportunity to have a little bit of a dialogue amongst all of us once we’re, once we’re through the panelists because I know it sparks many, many thoughts. It certainly did for me listening, listening to these stories so thank you. Thank you so much. The resourcefulness of individuals acting in the moment as well.
So I think we’re, we’re already beginning to start to think about some of the strategies and get to some of the more difficult questions about how do you support community resilience in, when there doesn’t appear to be resources and opportunity.
And I think we’ve heard from, from both of our panelists already some really interesting insight about how, how that, that is supported. So we have three more panelists.
I’m very pleased to introduce Chief Shawn Atleo. He’s a hereditary chief from Ahousaht First Nation and formerly National Chief to the Assembly of First Nations, which many of you have had the opportunity to, to learn a little bit yesterday. There are over 600 First Nations across Canada so you can imagine this is a very diverse group of communities facing very different, different challenges and different perspectives. It’s a real pleasure to have Shawn join us here to share also some, some personal reflections, maybe not so much about the the broader issues, the broader challenges, the theoretical pieces we talked about, but also being able to think very much about the issues around community resilience from a personal perspective, so, so welcome to, to Chief Shawn. And I’ll turn it over to you now.
ATLEO: Thank you. Are we on? Hello? All right, can you hear me? Can you hear the crickets?
Those are real crickets. That’s so much fun. There’s crickets in the background.
Thank you very much for that, that… introduction, Jennifer. And Jennifer, we’re colleagues for the last I don’t know how many years, probably going back a decade overall. But Jennifer was Chief of Staff in my office and I want to join in, in the acknowledgments that have been made. [SPEAKS FIRST NATION LANGUAGE] Mississauga of the New Credit [SPEAKS FIRST NATION LANGUAGE].
Recognize the elders who are here know that you did a, a traditional opening at the beginning of this important gathering and conversation. Those are a few words in my language. [SPEAKS FIRST NATION LANGUAGE].
I also go by the name of A-in-chut coming from a little fishing village, formerly also a whaling village on the west coast of Vancouver Island about as far west as you can get here in, in Canada. And, as Jennifer was saying, I come from this role as a former National Chief.
I get to be one of two former National Chiefs in the room here. I think most of you have now met Ovide Mercredi, a good friend, a mentor of mine and somebody who I greatly admire and respect. And so Ovide, this is Atleo version 2.0…
…the rehab of former politicians here.
It’s, so this is like therapy for some of us as well.
I have to say it’s a great privilege and joy to be here and I’ll reflect briefly on, on matters of, of more personal nature, matters of the heart, if you will.
Being particularly inspired we just heard about the grannies being referenced. We love our grannies and our moms, and especially inspired by the presentations by the young people really fill my heart with feelings of inspiration.
And what stands out for me is the courage that gets displayed, courage that is being demonstrated by being vulnerable and by being open. And that’s a little bit what I’d like to touch on is that this notion that we’re gathering around overcoming isolation and deepening social connectedness really for me feels very much like going to sharing that which is most vulnerable in our lives as a way to deepen it, as a way to deepen connections that so often are in our lives we end up skimming across the surface.
And in conversations like this with crickets chirping in the background helping us to be reminded for some of us who are oriented as, as the Nuu chah nulth people are, [SPEAKS NUU CHAH NULTH], that we are all one. We are all connected. We’re connected with all living things.
In fact, the old timers back home would say, “Even the rocks are alive,” and the kids’ eyes would get big. Even the rocks are alive and are to be care for and respected.
All living things are to be respected and we’re connected to all living things. So those, those sentiments, they feel this is where it begins to feel like these, these are universal sentiments that are at the core of most every culture around the world. And I’m also very thankful to meet new friends. For example, some of you traveled from South Africa and your luggage went missing, and I was offering up my clothes. I got some extra clothes.
A very tiring, long trip. I took part of my Master’s degree, Master’s in Education at the University of the Western Cape. We didn’t get a chance to talk but some of you are South Africa friends. And so I feel connected having dipped my toes in both the oceans and heard the stories told by women showing the scars on their legs of the, the struggles that they had witnessed growing up in the townships and doing an intercontinental Master’s with these women who would share one single computer in their township outside of, outside of Cape Town. The world feels really small.
I met another woman from Vancouver Island where I come from. She says, “I come from a little town, Lantzville.” And it was so sweet. And I said, “Well, I come from a little town, too, Ahousaht. We’re just on the other side of the island from each other. Come all the way here to Toronto with the rest of you in order to meet for the first time.”
It says a little bit about what brings us together, this notion about looking for a deeper connection between and amongst ourselves.
And really the story that I’ll summarize quickly is one that in a week from now my people will gather in something that we call broadly the potlatch, [SPEAKS NUU CHAH NULTH] in my language, is the act of what the newcomers would call the… gift giving exercise where gifts were given out by the chiefs and it was said that, that the chiefs would empty out all their wealth in, in order to raise themselves up, which is one way to describe it.
But in essence I’m talking about an ancient form of, of governing, the, the powerful connection between the spiritual, artistic, and, and political leadership of a peoples. And we’re going to be honoring the memory of my late grandmother. So in the, in, in honoring the, the presence of and the, the wisdom of those who’ve gone, gone before us, the way Laurie honors her mom about what you went through and what your generation went through, we honor you for allowing us to be here in a moment like this.
She raised up 17 kids, outlived three husbands — tough woman; the West Coast.
And she said to our family that education was going to be so important for, for our family. And she talked about how, you know we were so used to fighting with our fists. We fought or fight with our fists and now we do it with education. And she was encouraging. She encouraged her eldest, who was my dad, became the first doctorate degree person to accomplish an academic doctorate degree in our village, probably in our tribe, maybe even in British Columbia, and that was only 20 years ago; very recent history.
The ceremonies that we will have next month were outlawed. They were made illegal by the Canadian government until very recently. And I think behind this notion of being vulnerable and being open is beginning to tell these stories about the ravages of the residential schools, what it did to tear our families apart.
So I’ve been having conversations with my little brother, with my aunties, with my parents, and with cousins about the intergenerational trauma, about the violence that we witnessed in our communities, about the challenges in our relationships with the rest of the world, with Canada, and with British Columbia, but feeling powerfully encouraged by the encouragement of my late grandmother, who before she passed on she was holding my hand in the House of Parliament listening to the Prime Minister apologize to her for sending her away to residential school, for forcing her kids to go to school.
And she said to me that day, she says, “Grandson, they’re just beginning to see us. They’re just beginning to see us.” It was words of encouragement that I still carry in my heart today and we’re going to dance our feet off in a couple of weeks. We will consider it the end of mourning. We’re going to celebrate a life lived, and we’re going to be thankful for every moment that we had with her, and that she’s still in our heart whispering in my ear ease-even as I speak to you those words of encouragement that we can do this.
We can have what we say, a life going forward full of health and well-being, where languages, 52 languages in Canada, most which are poised to disappear will reemerge again strong That the age of indigenous peoples has arrived here not only in Canada but globally, and we will have a say about our relationship with not only each other as people but with the living environment around me.
And then the end of the month we’re going to wash the feet of the young girls who are coming of age, a ceremony that was made illegal that is now coming back. These are precious young ones who are going to have the power to give life to the next generation. Treat them with respect and kindness. And I link that to the recognition of the issue of murder and missing indigenous women and girls in this country that has happened at this forum. Some of the deepest ways that we see one another are happening right here.
So to be vulnerable, to be open to talking about the shame, that sticky substance that could hold us back to be true, and honest, and, and demonstrating that courage, that’s what you young people did, you stirred up in me last night and I’m thankful for that, thankful for the grannies that are here and that have gone on, and the grandpa’s, too.
Don’t forget the grandpas. We appreciate them all, and the ancestors who paved the way for all of us. So just a little story about the resilience of a, of a tiny woman, she was a little shorter than me, tremendously powerful, showing the way for her people, showing that strength and courage and the sense of vision that I’m so thankful to be able to carry on in her memory today. So thank you.
BRENNAN: Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that.
And I think we’re already, it feels to me we’re already transitioning into some of those really important strategies and lessons. And they’re not the obvious ones. They are about being vulnerable and they are about being willing to ask the difficult questions. I know this came up in my small group discussion yesterday where some people said, “You know, it seems that maybe we’re just talking at the surface and it is really important if we are to support communities we need to be able to ask the difficult questions and then find the strategies and the ways in which we support communities to have those conversations.”
So thank you for the just incredible encouragement and, and the visualization of what that means for a community to celebrate a ceremony and a way of being that was once outlawed, and now the… challenges and incredible opportunity of, of celebrating that.
We have two more speakers, and I just want to encourage everyone then I will, I do want to open up the conversation because I know many of you have, have thoughts and perspectives to share so we’ll do that right away. We have the really fortunate opportunity having heard these stories to now think about ways in which arts and culture, and I think we’re heard bits and pieces of that from, from all three of the presentations, the ways in which art, and culture, and design play an incredibly important role in supporting communities and supporting community connection.
So we’re very fortunate to have with us Dominic Richards, who comes to us from the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community in London. And I’d like to turn over the floor to, to Dominic.
RICHARDS: Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. It’s a great pleasure to be here across the pond, so to speak, and to be a part of what has been the most remarkable coming together of what’s felt like the world sharing local ideas but in a global perspective. And that’s a very inspiring place to be that I, I found myself in.
When London was bombed very heavily during the Second World War and the Parliament itself had been partially destroyed Winston Churchill got up and said that, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” And that really is the essence of what I wanted to talk about today, which is about how enormous the built and natural environment has an effect upon us in our daily lives, and how it can foster community consensus, and bringing people together, and, and creating a space for people to flourish, or it can do precisely the opposite. It can isolate. It can d-denude the environment, both built and unbuilt, and it can destroy communities and the sense of well-being.
I think the 21st century may well b-become to be known as the century in which we became an urban planet. We are forecast — the numbers are very difficult to get one’s head around but — by the middle of this century there’ll probably be another 3.4 billion people living in cities than there are at the moment. And taking that figure down to another enormous number, in China in the next ten years 300 million people will move from the country to the city. And these, these stories are being created in Africa, in India, and in much of the, of the developing world and it really is going to transform the lives of so many people. And the question is, are the lives of those 3.4 billion people that are going to be added to cities in the coming decades going to be improved or diminished and will people be more isolated or more socially connected through living in those urban environments.
And we cannot deal with the issues facing the planet from a human growth and human well-being or environmental concerns without realizing that the most enormous impact is coming from urbanization and becoming no longer a rural planet but an urban planet. His Royal Highness’s perspective in all of the work that he’s done is to try and give voice and to empower local communities.
No more important is this than in the built environment where often what has been experienced by people since the Industrial Revolution started a couple hundred years ago in, in Europe is that people have been experimented upon, and people have been dictated to as to how they will live in their cities. They have not been made willing parties in the creation of their cities. And the result of that is a lot of dislocation, a lot of communities not feeling connected or have a sense of belonging to space.
And this has been accentuated in the last 50 years of the 20th century. And what His Royal Highness has tried to do in his charities, including in the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, is to give a voice to those people and making those people designers of their own urban lives rather than being people that are told where they will live and how they will live.
In essence the Foundation’s perspective is that people thrive in communities that are walkable, where we can walk from place to place, which are mixed use, which means that the, the way that we shop, the way that we study, the way that we work, and the way that we live, and the way that we enjoy culture is all mixed together and not separated into distinct zones linked by a freeway. Communities need to be mixed income where that you have all different ages and income living together.
You do not create a healthy community by either creating a ghetto of the rich or a ghetto of the poor, and properly integrated society has people living cheek by jowl.
Finally, local identity is absolutely key to having people having a sense of rootedness to the earth. And so much of what is built today is not rooted in local identity or respecting the sense of place. And that create a kind of architectural jetlag for people in that if you’re in Shanghai, or if you’re in London, or if you’re in Toronto and what you see all about you is not linked to and related to the earth, and the locale, and the sense of place I feel that you will be disconnected from your culture and your community in a way that makes you feel that you are not re-respecting or engaged in where you come from.
More and more we’re understanding that as we’ve lost our connection to nature and to where we come from we really need our built environment to reinforce who we are, where we come from, and what our history is.
And one of the things that I’ve very much enjoyed in my very early experience of First Nations in Canada is how much they place at the heart of their, their community is a sense of belonging and place. And we, the western world, could really learn from that. And His Royal Highness has long been supporting the need for development and for community building to happen with the local identity.
But one of the major issues that global urbanization is creating, apart from a general sense of dislocation and, and sameness, is what we’ve seen happen in many cities, which is urban sprawl. And urban sprawl is a very isolating way of developing a city. And one of the reasons that it is is because when you rely upon a car to get from place to place you lose the miraculous moments where you just bump into people on the street, where you connect with your neighbors, where you are mixing with different kinds of people.
You end up having to get into a car, to drive on a freeway, to go a long distance, leaving a very privatized small box in a big yard, and that really acts against those kind of community-building things that in traditional communities we have seen and why it’s the traditional communities sort of survived often become places that we all love to visit because we sense a sense of community, and connectedness, and squares, and open spaces, and shops, and galleries, and coffee, and all the things that create a richer environment out there on your doorstep.
Sprawl is something which detracts from physical activity. It undermines what we call “social capital,” which all those elements that come together when we have a mixed use, mixed income community. And those types of residential forms are, are what we call closed. They’re not open. They’re not places that people congregate in, and mix in, and, and pass through. They’re sort of closed suburbia, which are very privatized and isolating.
And in many parts of the world a lot of local understanding and knowledge is lost in slum clearance. And in the United Kingdom in the 1960s for very good reasons and for very laudable reasons when there was very substandard housing it was regarded as important that we demolished communities and rebuilt very modern high-rise concrete towers to provide everybody with a kitchen and a bathroom.
It comes back to a lot of the conversations yesterday about how do we define poverty. Is it just a numbers things? I would say, “Is poverty just about how many bathrooms you have?” It’s not necessarily because what we’ve found in the United Kingdom is that great social experiments when we said that, “We, in a rather paternalistic fashion, know what’s good for you. And we will destroy your, your historic community, and we will place you in these towers where you will have a electric lift, and you will have a bathroom, and a kitchen, and everything will be pristine and modern, and we’re giving you something better.”
We’re actually ignoring the things that make a community rich in the first place, and those can be things like, “We live cheek by by jowl and we have multiple ages living together, and we live as an extended family. And yes, it’s all a bit tight and crowded. But actually if we had cleaner streets and lavatories, good running water, and those kind of things but actually also were able to live in a traditional form that would probably be better than razing the whole of our, our built environment to create what you consider is right for us.”
And it’s being repeated in China now where you have traditional communities along lanes, which are overcrowded but where people have a sense of belonging and community, who are then destroyed and moved away from where they grew up in and put into these high-rise towers, and all of their social bonds are destroyed by that. It causes a great dislocation in our culture and our sense of belonging.
So one of the major things that the Prince always is trying is to do to make sure that if anything is planned for a community, or a town, or a village that actually we sit down with the people who come from there and we say, “How can we serve you, and what can you teach us about what you need and how you want to live?”
And it’s a very subtle thing but actually there is an enormous amount of embedded wisdom.
The Prince is always frustrated when professionals think that they know best and they haven’t consulted and, and act as servants of the community rather than as, as the directors of what needs to be happening. And this leads me to the point that if we are going to think about poverty, and social exclusion, and connectedness we need to think about the hardware. We need to think about how we plan our cities. If you don’t have the hardware right it doesn’t support the software, which is all the work we do with human beings to create opportunity and to create community, then you’re fighting against it.
So why don’t we think about what the hardware looks like and how the hardware serves the kind of community we want to live in? And that means that we can actively design and develop cities thinking about social cohesion, thinking about creating opportunities for on-the-fly community connectedness, thinking about making sure that we have integrated societies.
When the Prince spent the last 20 years building a new city he did some very radical things, which he said that, “The car will not be king. The pedestrian will be king. And we will not have a suburb that is poor and a suburb that is rich. I will have one third of my city housing the poorest members of society and you will not be able to tell which door opens into a wealthy person’s house and which door opens into somebody’s house who is on Social Security and not able to, would not be able, to be able to afford that.” And that is a huge way of removing a barrier and creating a different aspiration for people.
Time and time again I have gone to developments where we have worked at this and you have a staircase in London, for example, of a midrise housing block where you will have people on social housing on one floor, key workers who pay half price for their house, and people who pay three quarters of a million pounds for their apartment.
And what we have discovered time and time again is that when you respect the environment and you create a place where you’re mixed together people take care of it, and they feel empowered, and you avoid many of the social ills that come from treating people like they are less than valuable because they’re poor and they therefore should be segregated and put into sub hou-standard concrete ugliness because they’re poor and they don’t deserve somewhere beautiful to live that connects them to where they are. And very recently I visited a family. It was a mother who was very unwell and would never be able to work with two young children, and she was moved from a project to a new development, which was mixed.
She said she will never be able to break out of her poverty because of her illness. But what she’s got now is that she’s got her children growing up in an environment where they are not treated as other, and she feels that their lives will be transformed because they see people coming and going to work, people all working and living together and it will raise their aspiration levels and not drum into them that they are poor and do not belong in the wider society and will be extradited to the outskirts because of it.
So, we have produced a report for today for this symposium and I’ll give Jennifer about 30 copies of this. It will much more eloquently say what I have said. But I’ll just finish with a recent moment, which really summed up for me why His Royal Highness supports communities and supports these kind of things.
And I went to a new development in a small Scottish village in a very, very poor part of Scotland, where you have three generations of the same family being, being unemployed because of the deindustrialization, etc. We’re building a new community and we are trying to create the kind of mixed communities there and we were looking at where the next part of the town was going to be built.
If you create an environment that speaks to that kind of thing you might just find that you have a healthier, happier, more integrated environment that will work against the kind of isolation and disconnectedness that we find in so much of the built environment. And if we don’t start thinking this way we’re going to have the most enormous problems this century from 3.4 billion people being segregated and dislocated from their locale and being divided according to their social standing and their bank balance, which won’t the create the kind of rich society that we all want to live in.
So, thank you.
BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Dominic. You took us through a lot of really important information there. We have one more panelist and then I’m going to encourage some questions from the floor. I know lots of you have many, many ideas that you’d like to share and we want to provide that opportunity. We’ll then take a short break and then we’ll be able to come back to, to the table conversation. So I just want to encourage everybody to stick with us. I think there’s so much valuable insight that, that we’re gaining here on, on so many different levels. And I want to make sure that we, that we capture all that.
I’m really pleased to ask Lisa to share with us. Lisa DeLong from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts is also joining us. Some of you will know Lisa from yesterday from the great workshop that she helped us with yesterday. And we’ve just asked Lisa to say a few words that helps reinforce the role of traditional arts and culture. We’ve heard about many aspects of that in our panel and it thank you interesting to hear about some of the very specific works.
And then again I really want to encourage everyone to, to ask questions and engage in a bit of a dialogue. We’ll have about ten minutes for that, and then we’ll have a short break, and then we’ll have more opportunity for a group conversation at the table. So lots of opportunity to engage and I invite Lisa to, to wrap us up here. Thanks.
DELONG: Okay. Thank you. I think we can all think of times when we’ve had our most important, most vulnerable, and most deep conversations when we’ve been sitting next to somebody and working on something together, whether it’s cooking a meal, maybe we’re at a campfire together, maybe we’re working in the garden together, or just something like that where we, we have a shared work. And this is something that we have discovered in the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.
When we’re out doing art workshops whether it be in elementary schools, or working with artisans who have… incredibly skilled in their crafts, whether it be a community or a professional client or what have you, when we’re, when we’re in these settings working on an art or a design project together we find that really important conversations take place.
When, when we’re making art in a traditional manner we’re remembering that we are actually part of nature. We’re inseparable from it. And this is something that’s universal to every member of the human family. The same sun rises every morning for every single human being on this earth. We, we all look up in the sky and see the same moon. We might see slightly different constellations but we all see the stars.
This is something that we have that’s universal. And we, when we are creating beautiful things we turn to our environment for those resources. We were making paints with children, you know we have them turn to the earth and find the colors and the plants that will become the source of their colors. And creating that connection to the environment also somehow creates a way that people can reconnect to each other, that shared work that enables us to create something beautiful together that we can’t possibly do just as lone individuals. And this is something that I have seen in many of our different project whether we’ve been working here in Canada and the community has rallied together to support workshops that are happening in schools, or whether it’s in a community up in Burnley in the north of England where generations have been affected by the loss of the textile industry and you have, have problems that have been passed down for many years.
But there’s something to be said about all sitting around making something beautiful and experiencing success together. I’ve been in several workshops with young people where I’ve suddenly become aware and very humbled that I might be the first person in a long time who’s ever told a child something good about themselves. And they don’t have to worry about it. They don’t have to sort of have it change their life really immediately. They just have to know at that moment someone is listening to them and it’s safe to be vulnerable.
And meanwhile they’re making some art and feeling successful at it. And that piece of art is, becomes a permanent piece that is, that they can see every time they go to school or when they take it home to show their family.
So I guess that the story that I want to share with you at this point is that, that shared work, and my experience is with artistic shared work, shared work can be incredibly healing. It helps build bridges between people who thought they were isolated, that shared work can take people from two very different parts of the planet and very different cultural experiences and you’ve got one project that you’re working on together and you’re hoping it’s going to turn out all right. So I think I would look for places where you can find that shared work whether it be with a family member or a neighbor down the street.
BRENNAN: Thank you so much, Lisa. That’s great. Really, really appreciate that.
Thank you. Thank you.
And I think that was such a rich panel and conversation. I’m not going to attempt to summarize that because I want to provide an opportunity for everyone from the floor to have a comment.
I think what we have heard, though, the importance of the role of ceremony, culture, and heritage in building community resilience. The place of children at the center of many of these conversations, the critical notion that we need to be vulnerable, that we need confidence and agency to, to really support communities in this important work, that we also, I really like the description that we need to get both the software and the hardware right in order to support communities to connect to nature, and to culture, and to heritage. So, so many thoughts.
And I think also I’d like to suggest that there’s a very important message and it’s also a very urgent message. So I just want everyone to think about the sharing and the lessons that we’ve heard today, how they might apply in your work, in your sphere.
We’ll have about ten or maybe 15 minutes for questions and, and then we’ll have a short break and we’ll have the table conversations as you have coffee and enjoy your short break. I’m going to ask Kim Samuel to be our first person to offer a few reflections and, and potentially a question for some of our panelists as well to kick off this portion. So thank you so much, Kim.
KIM SAMUEL: Thank you. That was a wonderful panel. Thank you all. I really felt listening to all of you that this is a, this is the gathering of the gentle souls and, and Shawn bringing in the, in the spirits to, to be with us here today.
I just really wanted to share with you something that I think is pretty exciting and I’m going to actually with you, Zeni, pick up on a term that you used, which is “firestone.” I once heard a friend of mine, Quincy Jones, who you many know from the world of music. And he’s a wonderful creative, creative soul. And he said to me, “You know, Kim, coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
And I’ve seen that a lot but I’ve never seen it as much as I did a year ago when I was in South Africa, as both part of Synergos Institute and part of Oxford Human Development and Poverty Initiative. And we were meeting with communities and doing research.
Part of that was a very long and very enriching road trip to Grabouw. And on that trip we had the opportunity to meet with Zeni’s organization and to have some coffee and get some grounding before we went on to this community where they were working. And we were sitting in a meeting room and I was looking around and sort of just grounding myself. And I saw the medicine wheel up on the wall.
And that struck me as kind of unusual. I thought some more and asked, “What’sthe medicine wheel doing up on the wall?”
And the answer I got was… “Oh, well, that’s from the, that’s from the First Nations of Canada” as if “why wouldn’t it be here?”
And I said, “Oh, I know that. But, why here?”
“We use it as a healing tool.”
And I thought to quote Adele [Simmons] from how we began today, I thought, “Wow. Wow. This is pretty amazing.”
For me this was the firestone that brought us here today. And this was the moment when I realized that I was surrounded by teachers, some of whom were there and some of whom were here, and in some way of coincidence had all come together at that moment.
Fortunately I looked up at that wall at that moment and I thought, “You know, this is really the same story.”
And it is the story of healing.
But I bet that this community here doesn’t know about that community there in terms of concern over what I’m calling the feeling of sitting alone at the bottom of a well.” It wasn’t a feeling of, “We need to have a gathering or even a symposium.” It was a feeling of, “Wow, these people really need to meet and I can be the bridge to do that.” So I just want to honor that feeling in this moment and to put [it] out as a question. And I’m really taking what I’ve heard from all of you — but I really love the image of the children and the firestones.
And that in each of our group discussions now we might consider some of the firestones that we’ve experienced in our own journeys from whatever point we want to enter that space.
BRENNAN: Great. Yes. Thank you so much, Kim.
I think that that’s absolutely a perfect question that will help frame the table conversations as soon as we have that opportunity. Because I think that’s exactly right.
I mean I think sometimes we don’t know how to label or identify those forces in our lives, but they’re. They’re there. And they’re certainly there when we’re working on things that are really important and that have effect to all of those around us and to our broader community. So I think that that’s a wonderful way to begin our small group conversation.
I did want to provide the opportunity for anyone who wanted to ask our panelists [for more] information. I know a lot of the ideas sparked many thoughts. I saw people writing notes furiously and I saw people connecting with one another so I just want to provide an opportunity before we have a short break.
If there’s anyone we have microphones that we can take to you… Please… Then we’ll come back. Yes.
LAUREL STEINFELD: Thank you all for sharing this morning. It was a wonderful panel as Kim said.
I’ve got a question for Dominic. And I think your point about the hardware is really important because so much of what we create can isolate or create opportunities for connections. I have lived in Johannesburg for a number of years and those from South Africa will be able to identify the amount of lack of connectedness in that city with the high walls, etc.
So my question for you would be when you have those sorts of situations in which communities have already built up these high walls to protect them from each other how do you encourage them to take down those walls when they’re so afraid of the consequences of doing so?
RICHARDS. Yes, well, that’s an enormous challenge.
And actually what you’ve talked about you can relate to many cities around the world. I mean it’s an endemic problem where we’ve constructed walls around ourselves all over the world. How do we actually move the conversation forward. And quite frankly, people are always going to respond with fear. The only way that you could answer fear is through people seeing the benefits of a different way of living.
So there’s no point saying, “Well, what you’re doing is, is morally wrong and you shouldn’t be living that way,” because you won’t get anywhere.
What you need to show is that, “Well, what is it about really successful communities that made people be happy, fulfilled, and have a sense of well-being?”
And they tend to be cities which are not segregated. They tend to be communities where you have the chance to bump into neighbors and people. They tend to be cities where you use your two feet rather than a car. And they tend to be cities which are beautiful and have a sense of belonging.
So it’s a long journey to undo what’s been done. And perhaps the best way that we can show and encourage people to move is by building exemplars that show, that foster this kind of development.
So what we do at the Prince’s Foundation is we work with local communities and we did develop mass plans, and then we engage multiple partners to actually build out communities this way. And then I think you might find that people use their two feet to move to those kind of communities, and people will take up the challenge to live in a different way.
But again, you can’t go into those communities and knock them all down and say, “I’m sorry. We’re now going make you all live cheek by jowl and you’re going to live this anyway,” because it’s a repeat of the paternalism that was at the root of getting there in the first place.
But what we can do is that we can sit down with communities and build new communities and reinvent communities that were there with the permission of those communities and see if they don’t shine as sort of beacons of light to those people who are essentially prisoners of the old, well the “new” way, of building community.
BRENNAN: That’s great. Thank you. Thank you very much.
And I really appreciate the honesty with which we have to address some of these complex problems. There aren’t, I don’t think, easy answers to any of what we’re addressing. But there are really important solutions and strategies and I think that’s what we’re hearing reflected.
Please, yeah, go ahead and then…
This is a question for Shawn. I guess as I was listening to the entire panel I heard you say that, towards the end, that this is the age of indigenous peoples. And I also heard Dominic say that this is kind of the age of urbanization as well, with hundreds or millions of people moving into cities.
And heard across the panel this importance of sense of place.
And so I guess I would invite your perspective on stitching those things together — what does the age of indigenous peoples look like in this urbanizing age and what does place mean for us now?
ATLEO: Thank you. Well, I’m a part-time reservation, east man, breakdancing, potlatch dancing, ceremonial fishing, modern, Indian.
And I remember giving a speech to 24,000 Adivasi in India through an interpreter saying, “You’re the real Indians”…
…when I was over doing a march that was being led by those who picked up the torch from Gandhi for the landless poor throughout India.
And I think there’s no question from a legal, political, social and economic perspective that this is the age of indigenous peoples from many perspectives. We now have the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has finally been endorsed by countries like Canada and the United States.
You see a line from the work done by the work of those at the forefront of the women’s movement in the barrios of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, dislocated indigenous peoples who are seeking some of the basic necessities of life as they were forced into an urbanized situation being pushed out of their homelands, or speaking with.
Martin Luther King, III — “MLK3” I like to call him — and having him to talk about his father’s legacy and the work of the Civil Rights Movement and the notion of being and seeing the other.
The indigenous peoples that I’ve represented politically and the community that I come from close to a million plus but people would suggest there’s over 8,000,000 Canadians with indigenous ancestry.
So by extension the age of indigenous peoples becomes the door through which we see that we’re all indigenous to somewhere. We’ve got roots that all connect with somewhere.
That the walls that are being constructed in Johannesburg — I had the privilege of traveling to attend the funeral for late Madiba with the delegation from Canada — those walls in Johannesburg are the walls we’ve got in our hearts, the ones that hold us back from being real, and courageous, and vulnerable.
The richness that exists when we open to each other is the counter side of the fear that creates those walls, and I believe it begins in our own hearts. It begins in our own spirits.
That the work that we have is to go inward now. It’s really an endless universe that our elders would describe that if we are vulnerable to, to someone else we have the courage to talk about our fears, the things that we love, the, the things that we want in our lives, the things that have us feeling pain, and, and worry, and anxiety.
That buzz of anxiety that seems to result in not only to creating physical walls between spaces and places that we live but in the policies, the fear that Martin Luther King was working against.
The fears that were there about universal suffrage for women, the fears that were there about indigenous peoples in South America places like Peru. Or here in Canada.
That somehow if our people are lifted up — the likes of which former National Chief Mercredi talked about being able to take our rightful place — that somehow that takes away from the other. Creating that fear that we have these unseen walls and barriers that are all the more powerful than those hardware constructs, although I really appreciate and agree that these need to be married.
They need to be parallel efforts and integrated. In fact, that idea of dropping those walls between people, dropping those walls between human beings, and having real human contact, which is what a forum like this — it might seem slippery this form, it might seem that it’s not as concrete as the work that we might do in our daily lives where we’re pushing budgets and we have goals and objectives.
But it was really an inward journey that’s a little bit counterintuitive — the idea of having connectedness really means going and being connected with yourself first.
And being vulnerable is a way of overcoming or challenging directly that fear that, that we have.
Many of us have grown up naturally combined with this shame, this shame about who we are or where we come from, inability to do things in life. “Not good enough,” we heard were some of the courageous vulnerable expressions by the young people as they were saying, “I was told that I couldn’t do it.”
And people like my father were told, “You’re, you’re less than human and you can’t accomplish this in life.”
So he said, “Give me your toughest!” at the thesis defense for the master’s.” And then he went on and said, “Give me your toughest,” in the university at the doctoral level, because I want to see what you can throw at us, that we’re human, too. We have the potential for genius and tomfoolery.
That’s what connects us. So I really appreciated this panel and for me the age of indigenous peoples in an inward journey that we’re human beings, [SPEAKS NUU-CHAH-NULTH] in my language: that we’ve got hearts, and we’ve got minds, and we’ve got spirits.
And those sentiments, how beautiful. I grew up in that village that was being described. My kids get the violin out because we had no TV. There’d be an oil stove at night making toast as the old timers told stories. And there’s nothing that a child loves more than the cup of tea is being stirred really noisily. The old timers stir them really noisily as you’re getting ready to fall asleep.
Such beautiful feelings of interconnectedness that we all have in our history. And we can learn from this.
The age of indigenous peoples is the age of people.
It’s the age of spirit.
It’s the age of dropping those walls, the challenges that we face, the human conflict that we see, the deep suffering in some of our communities. It begins in the inward journey and connecting with one another in a very vulnerable way.
It’s counterintuitive that the journey to overcoming isolation is that person down in that well that Kim, you so beautifully describe. It begins in that person because it says right there that they’re the ones also who know the, the best journey forward. So that’s what excites me.
I believe we’re in an important moment personally and I believe now is the time for that new, new old vision to now reemerge.
And it’s happening right here in this room and I’m really thankful for it.