Our group of nine people descended to the core of the building, and—with a sense of anticipation—gathered around a small circular table. This felt perfectly intimate, as everyone responded to the invitation to share who they are, where they live, and a statement describing the underlying values that guide their practice. The energy was immediately trusting, generous, and good humoured. To “set the table” my introduction included thoughts to connect Protocols and Transmission of Knowledge, and to inspire a conversation within which we were all learners AND experts of our own experience.
Transmission of knowledge includes deeper understandings and “ways” that at once guide, emerge from, AND inform the practice. Making a drum is not just making a drum. It also connects to our original languages, stories, songs, dances, identity, and governance models. Like all of our traditional practices, the drum carries protocols about respect, gratitude, working together, and social and spiritual responsibilities. For Indigenous people, the impacts of colonization have disrupted our lifeways, and the majority of us are living our way back home. Protocols are not for oppressing each other, but rather, to provide a “container” woven from values and “ways of being.” There is no singular rule book, but there are guiding principles that provide uncomplicated, common sense:
Relationships – Honouring and remembering our relationships with others in our orbit—all beings, ancestors, homeland, and where we live, now and in the future.
Respect – Literally, looking again. Rather than making assumptions, listening more and allowing those relationships to infiltrate our beings. Having a good heart, cherishing and being kind to one another.
Responsibility – The ability to respond to situations and challenges in a good way by remembering relationships—all beings past, present and future, and being grateful for the gifts these relationships bring.
Reciprocity – Maintaining a balance of giving and receiving with humility and a sense of generosity. It is important to give, but also to allow others to give, to recognize that we need each other, and to have gratitude.
Our conversation launched from this place with ease and trust. Everyone had something to share, question and explore. A few essential ideas emerged:
When we collaborate, present, or otherwise intersect outside our own communities, it becomes necessary to think about, and articulate our ways and protocols more overtly while educating and negotiating with colleagues.
When working with a group, it’s worth taking time and energy to arrive at an agreement to shared protocols. This is how we can bring together the best from all, and achieve the best results. It’s not always easy to have these conversations.
Recognize the specific situation, context, or domain within which you’re working—public, shared, secular, or sacred space? Are you working in the domain of a specific community or culture?
Although Indigenous people have brought awareness of protocols to the fore, this is relevant to everyone even if they name their protocols “policies,” “expectations,” or “principles.”
Although the exchange was rich, everyone wished for more time.
Cathi Charles Wherry
Since studying visual arts at Camosun College (’91) and University of Victoria (’94) Cathi Charles Wherry has worked as an artist, curator, administrator, and advocate for Indigenous artists and arts. Grounded in the Anishinaabemowin carried in her memory and bones, since 1996 she has served as Art Programs Manager at First Peoples’ Cultural Council, an Indigenous directed, British Columbia organization that supports the vitality of Indigenous languages, arts, and cultures. Cathi shares this wonderful life with her partner Andy Paul in WSANEC.