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Cultural competence workshop sees tremendous turnout

By Guest Blogger Katie CH Lin

When the Hesquiaht First Nation Place of Learning was built in Hot Springs Cove in 2009, members from both the local and surrounding communities and organizations were invited to celebrate its opening. This new school represented opportunity – but not just in an educational context.

“Our elders got together and said, ‘How can we make this powerful?’” recalls Carol Anne Hilton, a member of the Hesquiaht Nation and co-founder of Transformation International, an award-winning First Nation socio-economic company. The elders agreed that this event would not walk the line of regular civic ceremonies, but instead, would focus on the students and, particularly, on their connection to culture by giving each child an Aboriginal name.  

 “When that school opened, they called each one of those children by their Indian name,” Carol Anne explains. “And that was powerful, to be able to shift from that experience where our parents and grandparents’ names and language were taken away from them, and call back our children into the education system by their own names.”

“That’s where you see the process or emergence of cultural competency – and it proves that we can do this in a way that’s built on recognition and a process of inclusion.”

On May 31, an incredible 69 participants gathered at the Best Western Cowichan Valley Inn for a workshop on “Gaining Cultural Competence in Working with Indigenous Clients”. Sponsored by the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society, this workshop was facilitated by Transformation International co-founders, Ainjil Hunt and Carol Anne Hilton and saw a diverse turnout of participants, some of whom hailed all the way from the Sunshine Coast, and ranged from non-profit and health sector professionals to students, RCMP, and librarians.

According to Carol Anne, cultural competency is a dual process focused on building confidence, awareness, recognition, and understanding.

 “Just as much as organizations, businesses, and governments want to understand how to work with First Nations,” she says, “First Nations also need to build that understanding and awareness of how to work with organizations, businesses, and governments, because they too have their own cultures.”

 The full-day workshop was infused with humor and anecdotes as Ainjil and Carol Anne guided participants through educational presentation segments and interactive group exercises.

For many, this workshop marked an important jumping-off point when it comes to both strengthening their relationship with First Nations clients and building a more inclusive approach to decision-making.

 “It’s encouraging to see that there’s such an interest in improving cultural competence,” says Judy Baxter, the Library Manager at Vancouver Island Regional Library’s South Cowichan branch. “I feel like this workshop has certainly helped me to become more mindful about how I go about reaching out.”

 “There’s a massive shift in global consciousness,” Ainjil reminded the room before the day’s end, “and we’re all riding that wave.”

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