Consultation with Indigenous communities is essential, and goes beyond the "legal duty to consult". How should public servants prepare for such consultations?
Valérie Gideon talks to us about her vast experience in consultations and offers us solutions that are respectful of the reality and traditions of indigenous communities. (This episode is a conversation in French only)
Annie Leblond, Learning and Development Manager, Canada School of Public Service: Hello colleague! So, we went to meet with Valérie Gideon at her office in Ottawa to talk about consultations with the Indigenous communities. Why is this so important for public servants?
Benoît Trottier, Learning Advisor, Canada School of Public Service: I think that it's important because before developing this Indigenous Learning Series, we met with several community leaders, intellectuals and Indigenous public servants, who told us that public servants are often unprepared when they go into the communities. Also, people around the table in the communities can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of requests that are made and the number of visits that are conducted in a the course of a year.
I was curious to know what a director like Valérie Gideon thinks of these issues and if she was able to offer a few potential solutions that would help public servants be better prepared and allow them to coordinate their efforts before consulting the communities.
Annie Leblond: And she gave us several potential solutions. During the conversation, you talked about EC-6s. For people who don't know what an EC-6 is, "EC" is the job category for analysts, individuals in the social sciences in the government. And the "6" is the 6th level. You could say that it's closer to the top of the pyramid than to the bottom.
Benoît Trottier: Thanks for the explanation.
Annie Leblond: Anyway, she was very generous with her time and her explanations. She's a very inspiring woman. You even went a little bit further. You talked about her leadership as an Indigenous person. It was really cool to hear what she had to say about that.
Benoît Trottier: Yes, absolutely. Are we going to listen to it?
Annie Leblond: Let's listen to it.
[Audio music begins]
Valérie Gideon, Senior Assistant Deputy, Indigenous Services Canada: My name is Valérie Gideon. I'm Mi'kmaq from the Gesgapegiag community in the Gaspé region of Quebec. I'm the Senior Assistant Deputy for the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch at the new department of Indigenous Services Canada.
[Audio music ends]
Benoît Trottier: Valérie Gideon, thank you for inviting us to your office. It's a pleasure to be able to chat with you today. I've wanted to ask you these questions for a long time. We're going to try to address the issues around consultation fatigue. We hear terms like that being used in departments quite often now. I'd like to know your views on this, if that's okay.
Valérie Gideon: Absolutely.
Benoît Trottier: In addition to the duty to consult and to accommodate First Nations communities, what's your perspective on the importance of engaging with communities and developing relationships with them? Beyond the legal obligation, why is it important for public servants to go there?
Valérie Gideon: At a very high level, it's mostly to advance the reconciliation agenda among Canadians. Not just the Government of Canada, but all Canadians and the Indigenous Peoples.
Senator Murray Sinclair, who is part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said it very well: "Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining relationships between ourselves." So it's really about developing an ongoing relationship between Indigenous communities and the Canadian government. In order for that to happen, in order to establish trust and succeed in changing the dynamic, there must be regular discussions and effective participation between the representatives of Indigenous communities and all levels of the federal government.
Benoît Trottier: When we went to consult with the Elders before establishing, when we went in order to develop a plan for the Indigenous Learning Series, we were told that sometimes public servants would just show up and "make fools of themselves." I have a hard time understanding what this means. I don't have your level of experience after all. How do public servants make fools of themselves when they arrive in a community? What behaviours should they adopt or not adopt?
Valérie Gideon: There's a Grand Chief in British Columbia, Doug Kelly, who gives a speech that resonates with many people, in which he makes the distinction between a public servant and a bureaucrat. If you're a bureaucrat, you come with your proposal already developed, your agenda so to speak. You've already decided that at the end of this 45-minute to 1-hour meeting, you must have this project or that decision. Or else you say, "Okay, I've completed my consultation." That's a bureaucratic approach.
An approach from someone who serves the public, as public servants, we're here to serve the public, and that includes Indigenous people across the country. The first thing we have to do is listen. We have to realize that we all make assumptions and have perceptions that come from what we learned as youth and as adults, in our relationships and through our discussions with family and friends about Indigenous people in the country. These perceptions still exist. We have to realize that they are a part of us. And when we arrive at meetings, they have to be put aside so that we can say, "I have an open mind and I'm listening."
It's a learning process, in my opinion. It's not the Indigenous communities and peoples that have to learn from the government, or that my position or the government's position must be clear, so that it's up to them to understand it.
It's my responsibility to understand their perspective. What protocols should I use to develop a relationship with them? What resources will they need to really participate in the conversation?
Another thing that often happens is when we decide on an agenda or an initiative and then have to consult with the Indigenous communities and organizations, when we start thinking about the engagement or consultation process, we don't necessarily ask, What's their point of view? Where do these people come from?
I mean, usually a director or an Indigenous organization will have 2 or 3 people working on a file. For the Assembly of First Nations, it's possible that some sectors have more funding and that they have 10 to 12 people, but that's the maximum. When you look at federal departments, there are hundreds and thousands of employees. When you think about the number of people who work on a Memorandum to Cabinet, a Treasury Board submission or a minister's statement, there are hundreds of people involved.
When you meet with an Indigenous organization, you have to think about that. How can I structure the process so that it's effective for them? Give them, if possible, background information in advance; ensure that they have time for reflection; ask them who should be invited from their ranks; ensure that there won't be as many as 5 or 6 times the number of federal representatives as theirs; and ensure that you also use their language of choice. If possible, offer interpretation services, with people who can interpret the Indigenous language that they choose. That's something I've seen; it's new. No one thought about it before, but I think it's a great practice to consider.
You also have to make sure that they're comfortable with the purpose of the meeting, that you've discussed beforehand how notes will be shared. Do they prefer that we take meeting notes? Do they want to take meeting notes? Do we do this together? And then make sure that you're taking as much of the responsibility for the secretariat duties as possible, if you can do so and they agree, to lighten their administrative load. Sometimes, if we can complete a call or a meeting and then submit a summary of the discussion right away, it's much easier for them to share it with their representatives, leaders who couldn't participate in the meeting because they weren't able to or they didn't have time.
For organizations like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami or the Assembly of First Nations, it's very important that regional representatives are informed of all the discussions they have with the federal government. If we can get a 2-hour meeting with them, for example, about climate change and then later in the afternoon or the next day, send an email providing the key points we discussed so that they can review and modify them so that we're respectful and the points align with their reflections during the meeting. They can then immediately share the information with their regional representatives. This saves them work and makes the job easier and more transparent.
These are examples. It's a simple approach, but it makes a big difference.
If you go and you didn't really explain the purpose of the meeting. You sent them 5 or 6 emails and they finally replied and you organized the meeting. You arrive with 6 or 7 more people than they expected, and then you give them an agenda. They look at it. You ask them questions and they didn't even have a chance to consult with their own team.
Benoît Trottier: There are conversations that didn't take place.
Valérie Gideon: Conversations that didn't take place internally. After you leave, you've taken a lot of notes. The 6 or 7 people with their noses in their books were writing, writing and writing down everything you said. You leave, and they don't hear from you for a month, a month and a half. Then you send them an email saying: "We are waiting for you to follow up on this or that. You have not indicated the proposals you would like or how we should approach them. Do you need...." We have unrealistic expectations of their ability to respond.
We didn't really invest in establishing a respectful relationship with them ahead of time, but we expect them to respond to us, to give us feedback before the minister signs anything. It always happens like this, very often, anyway.
Benoît Trottier: What does establishing a respectful relationship with them in advance really mean? Concretely, how do we do go about doing this? How far in advance? Do we write or call?
Valérie Gideon: It all depends on whether it's a regional or a national initiative. In general, there are lots of national initiatives. Make sure, too, that the department's regional offices also involve regional organizations. This is what people don't really understand either, it's that national organizations, their strength, it's really to ensure that regional and community viewpoints are considered. It's not their job or responsibility to make sure that these points are view are well informed and that there were meetings. It's really our responsibility to make sure we do it. So, having a relationship that is enhanced and that will be efficient is really making sure that this relationship is established at the regional level, as well as the community level. It's not necessarily just the tables at the national level that will be effective. The rest of us established, a long time ago, partnerships at the regional level, and we're trying to make sure that each time there are new initiatives, we go back to the same tables where we have Memoranda of Understanding, where we've already determined who should be represented. We already have all of our processes in place that are pre-established.
It's a long-term investment. When you establish partnership tables, it's not for a specific problem or initiative. It's because you've recognized that as a department, with the mandate you have, it's important to have regular consultations with Indigenous peoples. The relationship is already pre-established, there is already a trust that is established. When you bring new ideas, you don't take people by surprise. You've already had these conversations. They should at least be aware of the department's reflections. This also allows us to ensure that even when we're proposing new policies or new financial propositions, it comes from their ideas, it's from their priorities and their needs. It's more a more balanced approach.
Benoît Trottier: So they feel more respected.
Valérie Gideon: Yes, and you are mutually responsible at the point.
Benoît Trottier: It's co-development, finally. I see doubt in your eyes?
Valérie Gideon: I think people are asking a lot of questions about co-development. It seems to be a new thing. I think that it's just a new term that's being used more frequently, but at its heart it's really more a question of partnership than co-development.
Benoît Trottier: Out of respect, in fact, to establish a real relationship. Your employees benefit from the fact that you have this knowledge, this experience and this awareness of the need for respect in the approach, but I wonder what proportion of public servants benefit from this luxury of having a boss who understands the time it takes. What would you recommend to an EC-6 who goes into a community for the first time, and doesn't have the luxury of having a boss who knows the time it takes?
Valérie Gideon: That's very difficult.
Benoît Trottier: Does it happen?
Valérie Gideon: I think it did recently... Fisheries and Oceans organized a workshop to bring several departments together at the level of director or analyst, and at the policy level. We often heard about the fact that the departments that have fewer regular interactions with Indigenous communities; it's more difficult for them. For sure, knowing how can I also initiate a consultation, it isn't obvious. I think that having better coordination across the departments, like an interdepartmental centre of expertise that could be at the Privy Council, the School or elsewhere, that could be very useful.
This isn't a question of creating an approach that will be harmonized across all the departments; that's impossible. The issues that Fisheries and Oceans is facing with regard to Indigenous health isn't at all, at all, the same thing. It's not necessarily the same representatives who would necessarily be at the table either. But having people, at least, who could provide their expertise, even if they were retired public servants who would like to offer coaching, Indigenous experts who could be on contract, that could be very useful because we often reinvent the same processes. There is time wasted within some departments because it takes time before they can really establish their own abilities, their expertise, their knowledge. Also, we still have a shortage, I would say, not enough Indigenous public servants in executive positions across the public service.
This doesn't mean that you have to be Indigenous to understand the issues, but it would certainly help in terms of improving cultural competency throughout the departments, not just at the executive level. Definitely, there's a shortage of Indigenous representatives in the public service who are in the position to be decision makers, and so I think that's something that needs work. However, the Privy Council just established a centre of expertise, knowledge and inclusiveness specifically in the Indigenous field. There are 2 or 3 people in the new centre; it's pretty small, but I think it will help. If we can continue to consider solutions that are a little bit more innovative, it will help.
Certainly if I were an EC-6 in a department where I was looking internally and I could not find any, there are always networks that exist. There's the Circle of Indigenous Champions and Chairs networks across the departments that meet regularly. Most departments also have Champions of Indigenous issues. There are always resources. If it's an EC-6 who works in the region, usually the regional offices know each other and there are also the networks of federal councils that exist in the regions where usually there are ways to connect with people who could have the expertise. There's a way to go into the community, especially with federal colleagues who go into the community for other reasons and who already have pre-existing relationships. This may also be a good way to have an opening. We have often offered to bring representatives from other departments into the community with us, to organize visits with them or even organize presentations to our regional partnership committees, so they can at least get an introduction that's more familiar or structured.
Benoît Trottier: To help them get to know each other.
Valérie Gideon: To help them get to know each other. Not to represent their perspectives or initiatives, but really just to have an approach that can be integrated.
Benoît Trottier: Often, we talk about consultation fatigue and we touched on the subject indirectly, a little bit, earlier, but if there's a better way to solidify how that happens in the communities when there are representatives from regional, municipal, provincial, territorial or federal organizations, who visit us one after the other. How can we make their lives easier, other than offering them secretariat services?
From a purely bureaucratic point of view, do you think that we are involuntarily complicating their lives? How can this be simpler for them?
Valérie Gideon: What disappoints me sometimes is that I see federal initiatives that are announced, and there has not been any reflection on ensuring that there would be financial resources available to support Indigenous organizations in engagement or consultation. When we announce federal, provincial or territorial initiatives, and we consult the provincial and territorial governments, it's not the same thing. They still have a degree of capacity even though we hear that a government like the one in Prince Edward Island, for example, does not have a large capacity either, we also hear that from them too. In general, not a lot of attention is paid to this. Even if in the Memorandum to Cabinet, there is something written like, "Indigenous peoples will be consulted," there are no resources set aside to ensure that we can invest in their ability. Already, this is disrespectful.
It's disrespectful because we know that there's a lack of capacity and a lack of funding in Indigenous organizations. And it's their role to coordinate the feedback or input that could be offered by the communities. It's their role. They have a mandate to carry out in this field. It's the same thing with national Indigenous organizations, which have a mandate to be able to say, "ok, this is the process that will be used," to ensure that the Inuit, for example, through Inuit Nunangat, have the opportunity to participate in this initiative. We must provide them with resources. It's impossible to think that we can have a truly respectful and effective approach without offering any resources. If we're in a situation where it's absolutely impossible, when an announcement was made and there aren't any resources available, that's when it's about really trying, I think, to work with the partnership tables that could already exist, whether it's with another department or even in your own department, rather than trying to create additional meetings and engagement processes where it becomes a burden for the representatives. If we're able to align ourselves....
For sure, the permanent bilateral tables that have been established by the prime minister in the last few years have helped, certainly with, I would say, the Inuit representatives and the Métis nation because it helped to better coordinate efforts and to prioritize. The Métis were able to say, "Here are our priorities;" the Inuit were able to say, "Here are our priorities." The departments that were involved got together to respond to these priorities. It was really great. It was coordinated, but also it was that the priorities of the peoples were really the driving force. It was that force that brought together all the departments involved, to where they were in a position where they ought to react to what was the federal agenda. It was really effective. I hope that it will continue, sure, or that there will be a similar process that will continue.
In the mid-2000s, we had a Privy Council‑led approach. The Privy Council had worked with several departments to coordinate the negotiation of certain political agreements. I was with the Assembly of First Nations at the time; I wasn't with the federal government. I found it very effective. We'd go to meetings that were well organized by the Privy Council, we had several departments involved in the file and we would negotiate at the table, all at once, with several departments. Afterward, together at the interdepartmental level, they'd organize: "How are we going to fund this? How are we....Will there be impacts here and there on other departments that we should consider?" But when I was at the Assembly, I didn't need to meet with 10 different departments. I knew that if I connected with a certain assistant deputy minister and Privy Council representative, she would be able to share my analysis from a First Nations perspective with all the departments. That allowed me to go see the Assembly of First Nations' executive table and brief them on my conversations with the Privy Council, and also share the information with First Nations technicians across the entire country. I could attend an assembly of chiefs, regardless of region, and share the same message, knowing that this message had already been communicated to dozens of departments. It was very effective.
Benoît Trottier: Less back-and-forth as well, I'd imagine. And more direct links for verbal communication?
Valérie Gideon: Yes.
Benoît Trottier: Is verbal communication important, compared to written communication? Does it have an impact, an effect?
Valérie Gideon: The physical, in‑person presence is still a very important component of a successful relationship. You certainly can't physically attend every meeting, but it's important. People will remember experiences more than they'll remember memos they've read. If an individual is present, if they can feel a personal and professional engagement, if they can feel the individual's authenticity, if they can start a dialogue, I still think it's the more effective strategy. Once you've made the upfront investment, as we say, at the forefront, you have made that investment people will know you. From then on, you can start to have more exchanges that are indirect. But in the beginning, it's an investment.
Benoît Trottier: Regarding results, we were talking about successful versus less successful consultations. Without bringing up unpleasant history or bad memories for you, what does a consultation that works look like, and what kind of positive impact can it have on the people in the community, compared with a less positive methodological approach that gives less positive results and a negative impact on people in the community? To what extent do these consultations affect communities?
Valérie Gideon: I can give you an example: a number of years ago, we had planned a meeting regarding a public announcement to be made on a very important investment for First Nations in Northern Ontario. For several years, they'd been hoping to get...they had developed their own particular strategy and were looking for funding to continue the process. We ended up getting the attention of a minister who was very interested in making the announcement, so travelling up North to make the announcement, as was protocol. Even if the announcement was for all First Nations, it was really an announcement that had to be made in the North. It was important, in terms of protocol, for the minister to meet the First Nations representatives of this region in Northern Ontario. It's a region of Ontario where there are still many traditions followed by First Nations; the people there are generally traditional. The Grand Chief had been in the position for a long time and followed the traditional protocols. We, of course, told the minister that we had an hour and a half, or an hour, I can't remember which, with the minister. We did our best to prepare information for the minister, to tell him, "Here are items that can be brought up, here's the territory, here are the cultural protocols."
When we arrived, there were a lot of people who wanted to participate on the First Nations side, who were on the initial list provided by the minister's office. I'd say that it would be the same for a deputy minister, an assistant deputy minister, anyone, really. People with less experience will expect, "we organize the meeting, then we'll follow the script, it's all choreographed for me. I'll go in, say the key words, I'll leave and it will and be done." That's not what happened. The Grand Chief started with an opening prayer and opening remarks in his traditional language. He then wanted to make sure every First Nations representative, because it's very important for them, to go around the table. You'll often see that in First Nations contexts, Inuit as well; they'll go around the table to give everyone a chance (to speak). There's no hierarchy in this environment. Everyone has the chance to say a few words to the minister.
It took some time. A few people, a few representatives, called out questions for the minister that were more difficult than those we wrote in the briefing note. The minister saw this, knowing that the announcement was coming up, started to become a bit impatient, knowing that the media was waiting, and he lost patience. He stood up and raised his voice. He used a very harsh tone with the representatives. He left to go make his announcement. The problem was that certain representatives at the table were supposed to be standing beside the minister during the announcement. It was a question of, "What are we going to do? Are we going to join the minister for the announcement?" Considering that First Nations across the province had given the mandate for the announcement years ago and were waiting for it... It was extraordinary. First Nations representatives from the territory went and participated in the announcement anyway.
But afterward, even the minister said, "Well, I think I should apologize. I may have lost my patience." We said, "Yes, apologies are important, but that it will also be necessary to... go back up there, meet with the representatives again and give them time to complete their round table. It's not about just sending a letter or making a call afterward, it's an important, real gesture of reconciliation, going back and giving them the time. Listening and really understanding that it's a matter of building a good relationship with them. And that's what was done. This is all just to say that, and it could have happened, it's not just ministers, it could be anyone. If you go up there and lose your patience, you are not flexible in your approach, you have already laid it out in your head, what will your result be? It's what you're looking for, you're falling prey to biases, you're bringing all sorts of your own perceptions into the room. It's not a relationship that will be respectful.
We talk about cultural security, but it's cultural humility that's really important.
Benoît Trottier: Because in government, I may be wrong here and I recognize that I'm biased, we're coming from a cultural environment that's kind of organized like a pyramid, and we go to the communities where it's more like a circle. It's not in the plane, going from Ottawa to Fort McKay, if you read a Globe and Mail article on a different topic....There are reminders to make, an adaptation to create. You might land and then find that the people aren't there. Does that happen?
Valérie Gideon: Oh yes, absolutely. Or they'll be several hours late because they want to make sure everyone is there, or they had to take a call from a member of the community, or they want to give you a visit or tour of the community, instead of holding the meeting straightaway.
They want to get to know you. They want to share stories; they want to show you their homes; they want to show you the new community centre; they want you to meet some families, the Elders; to shake your hand. Sometimes, they prefer to share a meal before getting down to business. Sometimes business is done in 20 minutes at the end of the day, after you spent the whole day there.
When you leave, most people will realize the incredible generosity and personal and professional enrichment they've had. I've seen many public servants who didn't have much experience with Indigenous communities, feel such a deep sense of humility following a visit that they become emotional, they show emotion. It stays with them for years and years and years. People I've brought with me when I travelled to communities, for 2, sometimes 3 days at a time, even representatives of the Office of the Auditor General, I may add, and then I don't see again for almost 10 years. They see me at a meeting and say to me, "Valérie, I think about my visit to the communities every day." It affected not only their approach to their work on Indigenous files, but also affected their perception of Canada and their responsibilities as Canadians, not just as public servants. That's how these experiences enrich people. It's necessary to remember that there are lots of parallels between the federal government's Values and Ethics Code (for the Public Sector) and the traditional values of Indigenous peoples. For example, when we look at the round table, it's really the value of democracy. We believe, of course, we serve a democratic government; it's important we have that value in mind. But the pyramid model we have in the public service isn't necessarily the democratic model. The democratic aspect is more at the level of the minister, Parliament, everyone we work for. But for Indigenous peoples, the value of democracy informs every level of the community; it doesn't just apply to the level of the representative elected by the population.
Benoît Trottier: The values and paradigms presented in Beyond2020 are unusually, there are unusually clear links to be made with Indigenous teachings. There's some copy -paste: "speak truth to power," tell the truth, stop making your life difficult, state things directly. We often have the tendency to think that because the adjective "traditional" is used with Indigenous values and teachings, they are necessarily archaic, whereas they're more current than ever, I think.
Valérie Gideon: Absolutely. Even the way they express ancestral teachings in certain fields. Not everyone has the same teachings or values, of course. The Algonquin, for example, when they talk about love, when they talk about courage, those aren't words we use in the public service to express our values; but when you look at the associated teachings, you see that there are very, very important parallels. We actually made a quick video on YouTube to demonstrate the direct link between certain values in the Treasury Board's Value and Ethics Code and the ancestral teachings of the Algonquin people. We put up posters around our office; you can see them. It inspires people because in a way it's more personal, it's less bureaucratic as a language.
Benoît Trottier: Has your experience in the communities affected how you exercise leadership? Has the circular model had an influence on you to the point where you have become a different type of boss?
Valérie Gideon: Absolutely, absolutely. What's important is that there has been a very significant change of environment and approach, within the public service as a whole I'd say, during the past 20 or 30 years. I think it's a shift that favours a better harmonization with an approach that's in line with cultural humility. The simple fact of recognizing the importance of diversity, of being inclusive in our approach, being more flexible, being less hierarchical, being more open to public dialogue and also doing more public surveys to find out how well we're serving Canadians. All these things align with what we discussed regarding the approach to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. It's just that there are unique factors, more specific, when we consider how to advance the agenda of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Benoît Trottier: Do you think that future generations, those that will follow us, will make this task easier, this understanding of those values within the federal organization, within organizations? These are open people, people who want to be informed, people to whom we want to give responsibilities. Hierarchy is perhaps a little less important.
Valérie Gideon: I agree with you. The only thing I would mention, is that we're becoming more and more dependent on technology, on social media. There's also some sort of culture around getting things done quickly: expectations according to which people must be available after hours and on weekends on their cell phones. These trends are a little less in harmony with the approach that aims to establish long-term relationships, being patient, listening. It's the only thing, the only dynamic, I would say, that we need to pay attention to because Indigenous communities, many Indigenous communities have not really had a similar opportunity to access new technologies. This is that new, either. They don't necessarily have access to the Internet in the same way as people who live in Toronto do. We have to be careful not to have too much of a dependence on communication, on technology in terms of communication, but also to be sure that people understand that we can't make decisions in 2 weeks. Indigenous people or representatives will not necessarily be available on Saturdays at 7:00 in the evening. When you work in an Indigenous community, there are many Indigenous communities that spend a lot of time on their traditional lands where they practise their traditions, be it hunting, fishing and all that. So they aren't available for several weeks. That's okay.
When I worked, at one time, in [Innu] communities in Northern Quebec, we had to get organized. I worked in the nursing station at that time, we sometimes held meetings at 5:30 in the morning because the community leaders were going to go duck hunting, they would leave. So, we got up in the morning, then we went there at 5:30 am; it didn't bother me at all, because they were leaving.
Benoît Trottier: You adapt.
Valérie Gideon: You have to adapt. This is more difficult for people to understand. Even for public servants 20 years ago, there wasn't necessarily an expectation that you would work all weekend, then spend your evenings with your BlackBerry or your Samsung. That approach, we have to be mindful of it.
Benoît Trottier: May I ask a more personal question? Do you feel torn, from a cultural perspective, in terms of your traditional values, and where you come from? Or is it easy for you to balance your life between your BlackBerry and your traditions?
Valérie Gideon: It's been a learning process, but as we get older, we get more wise. I would say that yes, I can achieve a healthy balance, but of course I'm privileged because I'm working in an environment where we're really immersed in issues that involve relations with Indigenous communities. It allows me to really have great support in my environment. My letter of offer for my job was in Mi'kmaq from my deputy minister. We're in a unique department. Of course, if I had a position in a department where there were fewer representatives of Indigenous employees and less cultural knowledge and competencies, maybe I would find it more difficult. It also allows me, as a member of the department, to promote practices that will be in greater harmony with the needs and traditional practices of Indigenous employees.
Benoît Trottier: Thank you. I have a last one, just to close the circle. I'm the director, I'm not really a director, I'm inventing a character and this is my first experience in the communities. My assistant deputy minister sent me on-site. I did my work, I did my homework, I got to know the community. Once on site, I visited a few families, I took part in some ceremonies. I think I got significant results, not only for my organization, but this will have a positive impact on the community. We often talk about maintaining the relationship. Afterwards, what happens when I return to Ottawa? On Monday morning, what do I do so the relationship continues?
Valérie Gideon: It depends, of course, on the file and your responsibilities. But I would say that, in my case, usually Indigenous communities will contact you to ask for help. Of course, it's a good thing to be proactive and then to see, well, you call them or communicate with them every few months: "How are you? Do you see the results of our meeting? Are things working out for you?" That's very important. But, what's important, if they call you asking for help, whether it's your file or responsibility or not, is to make things easier for them and help them communicate with the right person or, to be really sure, if it's a matter of providing them with information so that they have more details, that you actually respond. All of a sudden, it's your priority, that they know that you're taking it seriously, that it's a priority for you, that you're going to even go beyond your role, your regular responsibilities, to be of assistance to them. This is really important.
Benoît Trottier: You've got their back!
Valérie Gideon: Yes, absolutely. It's a good sign because if they contact you, it means that they trust you. It means that they think you'll help them because they won't be wasting their time. They also remember you, because they see a lot of people in their communities; there are a lot of comings and goings. If they know your name and have kept your business card, for me, these are the best compliments I've received from the communities. They've called me and said, "I'm calling you because I want you to help me. " They call me because they want me to help them. This is the best thing that could happen to me at work. It's really gratifying.
Benoît Trottier: They remember you and not your title?
Valérie Gideon: Ha the title! That's not important. It's important when it's the minister or when there's a very political issue, but in general, the communities don't necessarily know, first of all the difference, as long as you don't emphasize it. What is important is that when you get there, you don't waste their time. If they're looking for a decision and you are not able to make a decision, it's very important not to simply say, "I'm gonna take that back," I'll get back to you. Instead, it's, "I'll share the information with the person who can make the decision. I'll get back to you" at a certain time." If you don't have a decision by that time, when you call them, you explain why you weren't able to get a decision, you keep them informed. It's very important to keep up this approach so that it doesn't become an excuse. This is the reality: we don't have decision-making authority over many things in the public service, but it's really a matter of being very clear and honest from the get-go. Then to make a commitment to try to get an answer, then to set a deadline for all this.
Benoît Trottier: Thank you very much Valérie. This is much appreciated.
Valérie Gideon: No problem. It's my pleasure.
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Annie Leblond: This podcast is a production of the Canada School of Public Service.
To learn more about the School's offerings in its Indigenous Learning Series, please visit our website at csps-efpc.gc.ca. This is Annie Leblond, and on behalf of the School, I thank you for listening.
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