Idle No More

As I write this from the comfort of my office knowing that my children are fed, clothed, housed, and have access to great education, Chief Theresa Spence resumes her hunger strike in a teepee across from Parliament Hill on an island in the Ottawa River. Daily rallies are springing up not only in Canada but across the United States and as far away as New Zealand to support indigenous rights. Economic disruption is happening through blockages with clearly more to come. It is truly time for Canada as a whole to closely examine the resonant impacts of assimilation policy on Aboriginal peoples and how to move forward. The call to stand “Idle No More” has a complex backstory and the urgency to remedy the profound disparities that exist in Canada has lead to the simultaneous calls to action with Indigenous Canadians.

Growing up next to a Reservation on the Saanich Peninsula highlighted the disparities between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians on a daily basis. It also provided plenty of opportunity to confront my own racism as it emerged within my developing mind, as I tried to over-simplify my perceptions with an “us-and-them” mindset. As my ability to hold multiple perspectives in mind and empathize developed, I became more aware of the complexity and profound impacts of the assimilation policy that still stands as the Indian Act. Across the sheltered waters in Brentwood Bay where I grew up I could hear the resonant echoes of drums coming from the big house. The Salish songs invoked more curiousity for me than the bells of the Anglican church that chimed on my side of the Bay. In time I came to understand that there is a vast difference between a traditional culture and the constructed welfare state known as the reservation. This is something that the Government of Canada has done over the course of hundreds of years. This understanding still informs my work and has shaped my career.

In 1994 I went to work in South Africa with township youth. The parallels between townships and the associated “Homelands” of Apartheid and the Reservations in Canada leapt to the forefront of my awareness. I also learned that the Apartheid system was at least partially modeled after the Indian Act. I worked in South Africa through their Truth and Reconciliation Commission and subsequently have seen the acute need to have a similar process in Canada, and one that addresses the broader reaches of assimilation policy above and beyond Residential Schools. I published Our Own Apartheid in Northword Magazine highlighting my reflections on these experiences and have also written a forthcoming novel titled and then we dance to expand on this theme. It is this insight based on the braided strands on my life experiences that has me sitting here writing this as Chief Theresa Spence emulates the conviction, resolve, and tactics of Ghandi to bring attention to the need for us as Canadians to address the complexity of both our past and current policies and practices toward Aboriginal peoples.

What the Idle No More movement is demonstrating is that there is cohesion between the many First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations in Canada, as well as numerous non-aboriginal people calling for equity and social justice. Discontent with the current government’s approach has been expressed by Aboriginal leadership and it has now culminated in Chief Spence’s courageous hunger strike to accent the urgency for many Aboriginal communities to address fundamental basic needs as well as international gatherings under the banner of Idle No More. This current reality is the result of the Indian Act and the historical assimilation policy and practices carried out across many generations in Canada. There are no simple solutions and this is cannot be reduced to merely an economic problem. Yet the solutions are tweeting with the hash tag #idlenomore and posting on Facebook to educate the broader public about issues that have been cindering embers for generations and are now flickering flames spreading.

There is profound possibility coming to the surface at these flash mob round dances, as we witness in real time the integration of traditional culture and cutting edge social innovation. In my work with Aboriginal communities I never cease to be amazed by the tremendous capacity that exists and is so often stifled by the onerous bureaucracy stemming from the Indian Act. It is now 2013 and we have not successfully completed our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission and we still have assimilation legislation governing Aboriginal Canadians. There have been tremendous efforts toward a more equitable and hopeful future for Aboriginal Canadians and it is now time for all of us to be Idle No More, to have open collaborative dialogue as a nation to right this persistent wrong.

The world is now watching and I want to be part of a Canada that is once again known for its empathy and sense of social and cultural justice. And I want the children in Attawapiskat, and indigenous communities in Canada to enjoy the same opportunities as my own children, but let us start with fundamental basic needs.

Lee White works as a Senior Advisor to Build Strength From Within Aboriginal communities and organizations with GMG Consulting Inc.


Cooperation is Canadian

Two significant transformative things happened for me in 2005: 1) my first child was born, and 2) I ran as a political candidate in the British Columbia provincial election. The two were integrally linked. The issue of climate change and social disparity had long lent to a deep sense of skepticism and bringing new life into the world required me to to fully engage in a shift toward political progress. I have long believed that the political process is not leveraging the inherent strength within the public, and proceeded to utilize dialogue rather than the convention of debate. The distinction here is that with debate a proponent holds a position and argues to persuade others to come to their point of view, whereas with dialogue a generative conversation takes place where all parties come to a more complex and coherent understanding. Dialogue promotes a cooperative process of progress. Our political convention clings to debate and references the now archaic command and control structures of the industrial mindset. As a Green Party of BC candidate in 2005, I engaged citizens from across the political spectrum and worked from shared values toward a more meaningful and generative political dialogue.  I found that the more we conversed from our values and the less we clung to rigid confines of partisan political interests, the more positive the process. I found strong shared convictions with conservatives as well as environmentalists, and a strong thread of agreement from all sides came around electoral reform.

Invitation to discuss cooperation from Nathan Cullen from Nathan Cullen on Vimeo.

I first met Nathan Cullen in early 2008 shortly after I moved to Smithers. There was never any partisan barrier, no debate, we went straight to how can we work together to make Canada better for all kids, not just our own. I took comfort immediately in the fact that Nathan was my MP, and that he was fully open to cooperate with me as an agent of change. It was clear to me immediately that Nathan Cullen is a politician cut from a new sort of cloth. a person who can see beyond his own ideas, and listen to all the ideas that are expressed in the room. I had many opportunities to sit in rooms with Nathan convening dialogue, and he has a profound gift for this, for making space for conversations to unfold for greater complexity and coherence to emerge. Nathan is a leader in the sense that Lao Tzu idealizes in the Tao De Ching, a leader that invites possibility and empowers constituents to engage.

I have subsequently joined the federal NDP specifically to vote for Nathan Cullen in the leadership race. I do not consider myself to be a New Democrat or a Social Democrat, but I believe in the value of cooperation, the power of true dialogue, and the capacity of Nathan Cullen to lead the NDP in a way that Canada has not seen within the traditional political framework.

“so” – a skiing inspired poem

A Poem: When God and I Are One

I wrote the original version to this poem in Instanbul, Turkey in April 2008 while attending an Integral Without Borders conference in conjunction with my work with One Sky – Canadian Institute of Sustainable Living. I had the opportunity to experience a truly remarkable process called Big Mind – Big Heart, a technique developed by Zen Master Genpo Roshi and delivered by another Zen Master Diane Musho Hamilton. Big Mind – Big Heart is a contemporary fusion between Zazen (ie. zen) mediation and Jungian Voice Dialogue, and stands as one of the coolest things that I have ever done to peel through the complex layers of selfhood.

Sitting close to the Hagia Sophia in a room full of diverse spiritual practitioners – Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and other (the vague category that I identify with) – digging through the perceived constructs of personal identity with Big Mind – Big Heart demonstrated that there is an integrally informed spiritual revolution happening. The call to prayer added to the majesty of the moment and the salient insight that collective transformation is possible. It even helped me to get over my personal aversion to the word God for this poem.

When God and I Are One is a performance poem born from hope for humanity. Within that cauldron of diversity, we all knew that despite some difference in how we view the world, there is more that we all share. Experiencing the Muslim call to prayer at one of the most spiritually historic and energetically eminent places on the planet while participating in a meditative practice, inspired rapture.

Recently I sat with a group of people at Vancouver ChangeCamp to talk about Embodied Leadership and Occupy Yourself. The call to awareness that has spread across the globe through the Occupy Movement must also be like the call to prayer to orient us all to what is sacred within us all. If any of this is of interest, I strongly recommend watching this trailer for the forthcoming documentary Occupy Love.

If you are interested in playing with the Prezi that I used to put this together, please do. When God and I Are One Prezi. There is also a creative commons access on YouTube.

Global Eco-Metrics

I am drafting a proposal the the exciting and innovative Climate CoLab contest sponsored by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence titled Global Eco-Metrics.

By changing how we measure value, we can transform the global economy.


fear is a gateway

The first time I went caving I got stuck. After  rappelling into the cave entrance and walking through the early passages I was introduced to my first “squeeze”.  I was coached to extend my arms and wriggle into a vertical slot smaller than the girth of my shoulders and chest. The technique for wriggling through such squeezes is to exhale in order to compress the chest wall and then inch along through the constriction. Not far into my first squeeze in my first true cave, I panicked. In trying to back out with an acute sense of claustrophobia my body became rigid. The constriction of muscles lodged me in the squeeze and forceful jerks to get out only made the situation worse. My two brothers  had to calm me down enough so I would relax and work my way back out.

I have never been so terrified in my entire life. It was then that I clearly decided that I was not a caver.

That is until over two decades passed and I ended up as the Operations Director for Horne Lake Caves and circumstance invited me to face my acute fear of tight places. I have built a career as a guide and outdoor educator that eventually funnelled me into organizational administration. Much of my career has focused on using adventure based activities for personal growth, walking people to their edges and inviting them to expand their comfort zones into wider realms. I developed my own personal practice to expand my edges as well with moving meditations in the mountains largely but also on rivers, lakes and the ocean. I found fear to be a gateway to insight and expanding personal capacities. Fear marks a threshold to broader circles of being.

I had been in the caves at Horne Lake after the the terrifying squeeze instance but I was very reserved about any tight spaces. I stayed away from my edges, and the fear that they prompted. When a series of synchronic event funnelled me to the job with Horne Lake Caves, I reflected on this premise of fear as a gateway and took the opportunity to expand my edges beyond preconceived notions. I still feel a deep physiological aversion to squeezing and find tight crawl ways a challenge but I can take what they teach me about myself.

I crawl way I came through in the picture above.

In all the various mediums that I have worked with – rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, high ropes challenge courses, and more – crawling through geological wonders in absolute darkness feels like the most direct and dramatic means to cross internal thresholds.

Working in caves provides me a fantastic means to practice expanding my edges by addressing doubts and preconceived barriers. Fear is a gateway that leads to ever more resilience and fulfillment.

The next grand adventure

A dear friend passed away on June 15 after a 16 month struggle with cancer. Martin Holloway was both a catalyst for creativity and a levelling agent through turbulent times for me and many others. How Marty lived his life is a testament to sustainable and meaningful living. A true minimalist, ecologist, Park Ranger, adventurer, deep house DJ, and tireless dancer to the rhythms of life, Marty taught simply by being. I was impelled to write some words to share at a gathering to honour Marty and feel that there is merit in sharing them at worldbliss.

When I think of Marty, I see a well planned list:

  • deep house music,
  • a daily walk in a natural environment,
  • a mischievous grin,
  • and always, a sense of adventure.

A couple of months ago Marty explained to me that he did not want a funeral. Ever so practical and always beyond wanting to be the centre of attention, Marty told me that he would rather people simply take a walk in nature, to look around and rejoice in the beauty all around them. Perhaps a little feisty in his non-conforming, Marty has likely taught us all about the utility of making the most of every moment. In February Carolyn said something that I will never forget, “Despite his illness, Marty is the most alive person in the room.” Indeed.

The natural world was Marty’s church, praying by playing, intimately awake to the subtle wonders of the moment. We have gathered to pay our respects to a dear friend, brother, son. We are left with memories, stories, and faith – however we choose to define it. These are all things that we need to share to remember a truly remarkable person. And this is something that we can do everyday with a simple walk in the natural world – to see the beauty that Marty saw.

The birds eye view that paragliding provided Marty gave him an elevated perspective and a metaphysical metaphor. When flying a paraglider you climb up by catching thermals, the rising air. Marty talked about practicing for the last great thermal. Throughout his struggle with cancer Marty worked down his list and found an incredible amount of peace with the metaphysical unknown. True to himself he remained open yet wanting to see tangible evidence. On the morning of Wednesday June 15, 2011 Marty caught that last great thermal and has embarked on the next grand adventure.