Chris Corrigan shares three lessons he learned about leadership while doing work this week with Aboriginal leaders in Canada. This is good stuff. I rarely quote this much, but I sense this is stuff that has value far and wide for all of us. It resonates with the groundswell I hear, feel and read about concerning our need for each other, for community, in turbulent times. And how we take responsibility matters, regardless of label of “leader.” Thanks, Chris.
Teaching one came from Nancy Jones one of the Elders who gave us small blankets with a medicine wheel design based on a vision that she had about unity, leadership and healing. One of the great teachings in this medicine wheel was about the north, the direction from which winter weather and wind comes. We laboured here through a blizzard today, waiting for an hour until whoever was coming was going to show up, and working small processes with diminished numbers. But the Elder gave the teaching that essentially the weather teaches us that “whatever happens is the only thing that could have” and that the chaordic path is an inherent part of leadership: you can never really be in control.
The second teaching was from Ralph Johnson. I asked him about the Ojibway word “ogiimaw” which is often translated as “chief” or “boss.” I asked Ralph what he thought the word must have meant before contact, when the concept of “chief” was basically unknown. He said that word relates to the word ogiimatik which is the poplar tree, the tree that is considered the kindest of trees. Poplars are gentle, flexible, quiet and kind and are also good medicine. He said this idea of kindness is what is under the word “ogiimaw” and that influencing people through kindness is the kind of leadership that the word implies. This is very different from the kinds of leadership implied by the word “chief” which is a title now won by competition in a band election, a process that seems to engineer kindness right out of the equation. This is a great legacy of colonization – the lowering of kindness from a high leadership art to a naive sentimentality.
Ralph also gave me one more little teaching that rocked me. He told me that the word I had always understood as “all my relations” – dineamaaganik – actually means “belonging to everything.” Seems like a small change in translation, until another Elder, Marie Allen chimed in and said that the problem with leadership these days was the way ideas like “all my relations” activated the ego. The difference between “all my relations” and “belonging to everything” is the difference between the ego and the egoless I think. This is what Ralph was trying to tell me. That the centre of the universe is not me, and things are not all related to me, rather I belong to everything. Marie and I took a moment to express amazement at the way the earth used us to channel life in a particular shape for a short period of time. We come from her, we return to her, and in the interim we do our work upon her.