Drawing on collective wisdom at the Fourth National AAROM Meeting

Two days of dynamic collaboration, cultural sharing and a field trip to remember. That is what participants of the Fourth National AAROM Meeting went home with after last month’s meeting in Hupacasath ḥaahuułi (chiefly territory).

Over 80 representatives from 33 organizations participating in AAROM (Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management) met for discussions at the House of Gathering (and via Zoom) from April 16-17.

The AAROM program is a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) funding stream that supports Indigenous groups from Canada’s three coasts as they build and maintain capacity in fisheries, aquatic resource and oceans management.

“For participants, DFO and Indigenous, gathering nationally creates opportunities for partners to renew and build connections, friendships and relationships that can help address common challenges and inspire innovation,” said Clayton Coppaway, Capacity Development Team Lead based at the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq.

This was Uu-a-thluk’s first time hosting the national AAROM meeting. Past gatherings have been organized by the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island and the Akaitcho Territory Government and Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

The two-day gathering opened in a good way with a welcome from Brandi Lauder, Chief Councillor for Hupacasath First Nation. Ahousaht elder wickaninnish, Cliff Atleo, shared a prayer and explained the importance of the ḥuupukʷanum, the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth governance toolbox.

A special lunchtime performance by Haahuupayak Elementary School students, complete with elaborate masks, singing, dancing and drumming, mesmerized participants.

“I really enjoyed the cultural component,” said Murray Ross, Secwépemc Fisheries Commission Director.

“The Nuu-chah-nulth people haven’t lost their culture. The traditional governance approaches, the way they speak of the territory – the hahuułii – the use of language … it’s fantastic.”

Dawn Foxcroft, taaʔisumqa, and Kelly Foxcroft, čiiʔiłumqa, of White Raven Consulting and Tseshaht First Nation, guided participants through two days of productive dialogue as the event facilitators. Working with them was Chris Corrigan of Harvest Moon Consultants, a teacher and facilitator of strategic conversations.

Unlike the typical meeting facilitation style which favours a handful of speakers and PowerPoint presentations, White Raven utilized Open Space Technology. The approach is designed to be highly collaborative and inclusive, with participants creating portions of the agenda themselves.

“I found that everyone was brought into the circle and made to feel that they had something to contribute,” said Steven Purvis, Director, Indigenous Collaborative Programs for DFO.

“Having a stroll outside with a random partner and discussing mentors and their importance for your journey in life and work allowed me to listen actively and speak with mind and heart.”

In addition to encouraging people to take their breakout group discussions outdoors, the facilitators also called on two “wisdom catchers” each day to reflect on the day’s discussions.

Themes that emerged from the two days of talks included the urgency of capacity development in Indigenous communities, the necessity of dedicated communications roles in AAROM groups and the need to build bridges around science.

“For me, as the lead of the Capacity Development team, it’s clear that the time for action around capacity building is now,” said Coppaway.

Coppaway noted that the concept of the ḥuupukʷanum resonated deeply with him. He would like to develop a “capacity toolbox” inspired by the governance toolbox that nations and AAROM groups can use to build and maintain their organizational and technical capabilities.

Purvis specified that building better common understanding and practices between DFO science and AAROM is a priority.  Uu-a-thluk’s Acting Program Manager, Jim Lane, identified the importance of sharing experiences between groups.

“I learned there are similar international management issues for Atlantic and Pacific salmon,” said Lane, adding that being able to discuss issues for one coast may lead to ideas that could be used on all coasts.

Tavis Findlay, DFO Senior Program & Policy Advisor, Indigenous Programs, underscored Lane’s sentiment: “There is power in the collective.”

Day three of the gathering saw participants attend one of two field trips; a bus ride to explore Toquaht, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ and Tla-o-qui-aht hahahuułii (Ucluelet/ Tofino), or a boat ride to Bamfield aboard the MV Frances Barkley. The casual atmosphere of the trips provided an opportunity for conversations to continue and relationships to develop.

The Bamfield group was treated to multiple wildlife sightings including sea lions, bald eagles and at the very end of the journey, orcas. For about five minutes, conversations halted as the whales splashed around the Alberni Inlet, providing participants a magical bookend to an inspiring three days.

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