SFU Dialogue and Engagement certificate program invites uncomfortable conversations

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      Kris Archie describes herself as a mother, sister, auntie, and a Secwepemc and Seme7 woman from the Tsq’escen First Nation. She’s also the recently appointed executive director of the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. It’s a registered charity that aims to build stronger and healthier First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nations by building bridges between Indigenous communities and philanthropic organizations.

      Archie credits a certificate in for boosting her skills and understanding of different perspectives, which helped her succeed in her last position as senior manager of the Vancouver Foundation’s Fostering Change initiative.

      That job involved engaging both young people who have been through foster care and the broader community to embrace changes to the system to give those youths a better chance of succeeding in life.

      “With everything we were learning, I felt that there was a clear, direct application to my work,” Archie told the Straight by phone. “This is not all just theory. The second piece is it solidified for me the importance of dialogue to action. And it solidified for me the role that we can play in increasing civic engagement and leadership development in communities through asking questions that matter.”

      To obtain a certificate, a student must complete 10 courses and a practicum that cover theoretical aspects of dialogue and engagement, as well as offering practical experience. They study part-time at SFU’s Vancouver campus and must complete the program and the practicum within two years.

      “I did the certificate because I actually just wanted a credential that would value the existing work I had been doing,” Archie explained. “In addition to that, they had incredibly strong faculty.”

      Archie had been consulting for years and already had a great deal of respect for one faculty member, facilitation consultant Chris Corrigan, before enrolling. Archie also spoke very highly of faculty member Peter Boothroyd, a professor emeritus in UBC’s school of community and regional planning, whom she described as a “masterful kind of teacher”.

      “They weren’t afraid of posing and/or inviting uncomfortable conversations either about our process as consultants, about the way we work with power dynamics, and/or the requirement of having to confront or own discomfort or ego or concern and worry about our work,” Archie recalled.

      She also appreciated an Indigenous instructor, Rain Daniels, for emphasizing that dialogue often involves interacting with people with very different world views. According to Archie, this helped students recognize the importance of intercultural fluency and how equity can be increased through the ways that they engage with people.

      It’s particularly valuable nowadays as Canada is in the process of implementing 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

      “There is an openness and a desire for coming to know our whole actual history—as uncomfortable as that can be when we have for so long believed in this narrative of Canada being this happy-go-lucky, everyone-is-welcome kind of place,” she said.

      However, she suggested that coming to terms with the reality is going to enable Canada and its communities to become more equitable. She also thinks the country will benefit as more people from marginalized communities become leaders of public institutions.

      “It will also influence the narrative that we hold as British Columbians, as Canadians, about who we are,” Archie stated. “So long as the people in positions of power maintain the dominant narrative of white-male dominance in those spaces, the longer we will continue to lose out on the beauty and the diversity of our province and our country.”