Western Dialogue and Indigenous Wisdom

When describing the worldviews and approaches that underpin dialogue practices, it is essential to honour the ways in which there are similarities with many Indigenous wisdom traditions and cultural practices. For example, the Okanagan process of En’owkin is, as described by Jeanette Armstrong, “a decision-making process of the group mind at its best. The word they [the elders] use means something like “our completeness.” It creates complete solidarity in a group moving in the direction suggested, at the same time opening the door to a collaborative imagination and innovation much more likely to produce the best answer” (Armstrong, 2009).

As Armstrong writes, “The point of the process is not to persuade the community that you are right, as in a debate; rather, the point is to bring you, as an individual, to understand as much as possible the reasons for opposite opinions. Your responsibility is to see the views of others, their concerns and their reasons, which will help you to choose willingly and intelligently the steps that will create a solution.” (Armstrong, 2009).

Similarly, Whyte’s description of “kin relationships” has a parallel with approaches of non-Indigenous scholars and group process practitioners such as Juanita Brown, William Isaacs, Peter Block and others. They also speak to the link between the methods we use to gather, both formally and informally, and the solutions or future we create. “Our primary task as leaders is… to host conversations that embody and nurture an alternative future. We can do this by focusing on the structure of our gatherings, working to get the questions right, and listening deeply” (Golub, 2018).

For non-Indigenous practitioners, it’s important to know that it is not possible to ‘Indigenize’ an approach (Erfan and Hemphill, 2013), but it is important to recognize that many of the methods, which are often popularized by non-Indigenous practitioners, are not ‘new,’ but have parallels to ancient ways of working that have supported communities for millennia.


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