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Found in translation

August 27, 2013
Stephanie Harrington

Leadership Conference presenter and alumna Tammie Wylie is a bridge between cultures.

Tammie Wylie was pulled between two worlds as a child.

Born in Nanaimo to a Coast Salish mother and Danish father, Wylie had to learn to negotiate the divide between mainstream Western culture and her First Nations heritage.

“When I was young, it was difficult. When I was with aboriginal people I didn’t quite fit in. As a white kid, if I didn’t identify as aboriginal it was easier for me,” she says. “But when I was 21 I realised I could move through both worlds, that I could be a bridge. That’s what I’ve been doing with my work, being a translator between two cultures.”

Wylie will combine her personal experience, as well as a 25-year career with the Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Nanaimo, to talk about innovative approaches to aboriginal training and education at Leadership Conference 2013: Advancing Leadership Practice and Possibility.

Organized by RRU’s School of Leadership Studies, the three-day event, from Oct 3 to 5, will highlight new and emerging thinking in leadership. Keynote speakers include best-selling author Barry Posner whose book, The Leadership Challenge, co-authored with Jim Kouzes, has sold more than two million copies worldwide. RRU alumna Bonnie Blakley, Saskatoon Health Region’s vice president of people and partnerships, and Éliane Ubalijoro, professor at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development, round out the list of keynotes.

Conference chair and RRU Associate Prof. Niels Agger-Gupta says the inaugural conference showcases scholars and practitioners, and gives alumni, who are organizational leaders and scholars in their own right, the chance to share their stories since graduating.

“This conference will create a venue to bring alumni and others interested in leadership together to talk about leadership innovation. We are excited Barry Posner is coming. He will be a fantastic keynote and a name most alumni and people in the leadership field will recognise,” Agger-Gupta says.

Wylie, who graduated from Royal Roads with a Master of Arts in Leadership and runs the consultancy Mother Earth Whispers, will tell the conference that employers and people doing business with First Nations need to make time to build relationships to succeed.

“If we don’t have the relationship, we don’t have a foundation. I also say to industry, if you aren’t willing to invest in social issues it’s never going to change,” she says. “If you’re going to sign an agreement it has to be a blended responsibility.”

Wylie and co-presenter Sue Howard, also a Royal Roads Master of Arts in Leadership alumna, will help workshop participants understand cultural differences and communicate sensitivity. By taking aboriginal teachings into consideration, Wylie says, leaders and managers can create more harmonious work environments.

“There are four main posts of the longhouse, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. We can only live up to our fullest potential as a human being if all these parts are in balance. But in Western society, the intellectual component is most important,” she says. “We want to raise people’s emotional intelligence, not just mental intelligence. It’s good for everybody, not just aboriginal people.”

For Wylie, whose wide-ranging skills include organizational development, addictions and trauma counseling, as well as child and youth care, completing a master’s at Royal Roads helped validate what she had learned through indigenous teaching.

“It gave me another language and helped me articulate that in my writing in a way I hadn’t been able to do before, a body, mind and spirit approach to organizational development,” she says.

And as First Nations communities continue to grow, Wylie says ignoring cultural differences, instead of building bridges between them, will be at employers’ peril.

“First Nations are the fastest growing population in Canada and if employers don’t start making changes in the education and training of aboriginal people it’s going to be a shaky future for the workforce.”