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Learning from Indigenous Culture for Continuous Improvement: Building Relationships

Continuous improvement in our modern world centres around processes and products. But what about our relationships?

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Numerous studies have indicated the need to develop soft skills in the upcoming years. Increasingly people will need the skills that enable them to understand, respect and work with others , skills that are required for good relationship management.

What can we learn from indigenous practices in terms of relationship management? The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People protects the rights of indigenous people to promote and protect their cultural beliefs and customs. Can we go beyond diversity and the need to understand and respect others to appreciate the intrinsic value of these indigenous practices? It is time to appreciate that Indigenous people have much to contribute to the development of good relationship management skills.

Photos by Virginia Stanley

Although Canada’s indigenous peoples have different knowledge, understanding and ways of perceiving, the common thread is the importance of their relationships with each other and with the land. They have a deep understanding that everything is connected and that success can only be measured through the quality of our relationships. Over the years, it has struck me how much value Indigenous people place on building and maintaining relationships.  I have often been amazed and touched by the willingness of my Indigenous colleagues to take the time to get to know me and to share their beliefs. Relationships are meant to be long term and meaningful.

We believe that beings thrive when there is a web of interconnectedness between the individual and the community, and between the community and nature (Alberta Education, 2005).

“Handbook for Aboriginal Mentoring – what. why. how. who? (2007, p9).”

All relationships are values based. At the same time, feelings are relationship based. So, a relationship is defined by how you feel about that person and the value that you place on that feeling. This is difficult to translate from one culture to another, but some of the tools used by Indigenous people can provide some guidance on establishing good relationships.

For example, the original meaning of respect was “in relation to’. A number of indigenous cultures use the medicine wheel and the four directions teachings to understand and guide their relationships with the land and each other over time and throughout the life cycle. The medicine wheel is the most familiar and has become a symbol of harmonious relationships.

In the Anishinaabe culture, it is fundamental to demonstrate respect in every aspect of daily life. They provide additional guidance for respect and good relations. For them honesty, kindness and sharing are the foundation; each value cannot work independently of the others. They offer this mantra to guide their actions:

“Be honest in your sharing
Share your kindness
Be kind in your sharing.”

With this first blog, I have provided a bit of an introduction on Indigenous approaches to relationship management. I am certainly not a knowledge keeper nor can I speak with any authority on this subject, rather I hope to convey my sense of wonder at the value and diversity of indigenous knowledge. Consider this blog as a series where I explore more in depth, with the help of my mentor, Dwight Powless, how Canadian Indigenous practices reflect and can apply to different aspects of quality and continuous improvement.

Photos by Virginia Stanley, Canterbury Arts Program, Canterbury High School, Ottawa.

This article is Part 1 of the series: Learning from Indigenous Peoples for Continuous Improvement

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