I want to share an experience I had this week that I had never encountered before, in all my years of training around the world. I was leading a workshop for 15 women – but on this occasion I was the one being led.
We stood in a circle, and held hands. A First Nations’ elder, Hubba, led us in a prayer in her native language.
Then we spread out around the room. Melinda, from the Dene First Nation in Canada’s Northwest Territories, had us face north. She told us to conjure up the image of a wild animal. And on the count of three, she told us, we had to roar like that animal.
Imagine the scene: a room packed with women letting out this mighty, animal roar. We roared to the north, we roared to the south, we roared to the east and we roared to the west.
And then we started the course, helping First Nations, Métis and Inuit women improve their presentation skills and public speaking confidence. It was part of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program at the Coady International Institute, based at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The goal of the four-month program, of which presentation skills training was one small part, was to help these women lead change in their communities.
The morning prayer and the animal roar were an amazing way to start the day. It made me realize I wasn’t there just to teach the women my TalkitOut™ Technique. I was there to learn from them.
I learned how to put up a Teepee, decorated by each of the women. You don’t take pictures while the poles and canvas of the teepee are being smudged with ceremonial smoke. And you never step over the poles as they’re lying on the ground. You walk around them. All part of respecting a culture too many of us know too little about.
I learned that these women had an incredibly strong bond through their culture. They expressed this openly everyday, not just in words and actions but by exuding an inner confidence and strength about who they were.
They were leaders. They knew it. I just gave them another tool to help them express their power.