It was very unusual for me as a First Nations consultant to undertake this academic research process that did not allow for the level of collaboration undertaken with my prior research. Within the recognized process of working with Aboriginal peoples, the process is emergent, with the Aboriginal organization or Nation leading the identification of research required to benefit their community and participating in the development and approval of questions that often follows one or more of the initial steps of research: for example, a literature review, committee planning session, or both. This on-going collaboration in an emergent research process maximizes the potential of action research to affect localized change efforts. This academic research process was utilized with an interest to maximize the collaboration with the Consortium partners. However, prior approvals with completed research questions was, in my opinion, not as effective as the more collaborative methods used in most of my previous work.
This was also the experience of the University of Victoria, which has recently introduced a new innovation in their approach to research involving Aboriginal peoples, wherein they seek an approval in principle at the outset of the research with subsequent steps that include identification of research specifics and research questions to be identified through collaborative planning with their First Nations partners (C. Lalonde, personal communication, November 3, 2010). Once this process is completed, full approval is sought.
Impact of Research on Researcher
The second lesson learned was the intimate nature of the research and the impact it can have on a researcher. According to Dr. Shawn Wilson, “If the research doesn’t change you, you’re not doing it right” (personal communication, April 19, 2010). This research forced me to face inter-generational residential school syndrome issues that have negatively affected me and that I have seen impact other Aboriginal learners at an alarming rate. Given that this healing process has only recently begun nationally with the Residential School apology by the federal government (Government of Canada, 2008), the outcomes, like the need to support national healing, is only just starting to emerge.
Provide Title of this Third Lesson
Another lesson learned was related to the intergenerational residential school syndrome, where trust of the education system is difficult for Aboriginal peoples. I, too, found trusting the process difficult, despite the kind and supportive nature of both my academic supervisor and my project sponsor. Without any rational reason, I experienced a deep sense of fear and insecurity at the outset of each course. Despite having developed the resiliency required to move through the courses in the Masters of Arts in Leadership Program at Royal Roads University, this fear has lessened, but still remains. This awareness helps me to support other learners through the system using a strengths-based approach and establishing resiliency videos for VCC Aboriginal learners, workshops within VCC, and in providing services. More importantly, however, I have started to develop a deep sense of respect and trust my academic supervisor and my project sponsor, who in retrospect, I wish I had relied upon more.
In looking at leadership lessons learned, I have realized how important leadership training is for and by leaders at all levels within an organization. This leadership is rarely linked to positional power and is primarily established through social influence arising from servant leadership values and actions. Within the time of this research being undertaken, a great deal of progress has been made, based primarily upon social influence and a strong sense of community responsibility. This approach has allowed me, along with the support of many good people, to “do the right thing” (INT 3) and to lead from the heart (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 351). For myself and others like those at the Confederation College,
We look at our work as evolving. It is a work in progress. We cannot be positional but can remain principled in our approaches. We have worked hard to neutralize the political influence and interference factors although this is difficult. We have tried to cultivate our own sense of leadership in post-secondary education and are actively de-segregating ourselves in this larger mainstream educational environment. We are committed to transforming this learning environment to enable all of us to explore and expand upon Aboriginal and Canadian discourse. We know that it will not be easy but we are determined to make changes. We are not merely interested in maintaining the status quo or in adaptation of educational models; rather, we recognize that we are responsible to build them. (Confederation College, as cited in ACCC, 2005, pp. 7071)
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