What does it mean to be an Indigenous Thought Leader?
Forbes describes thought leadership as:
"an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise."
I have always been an out of the box thinker since I was old enough to speak my thoughts. I used to think this was my fundamental flaw by not being able to think like my peers. I struggled a lot with my self-esteem and sense of belonging growing up and still largely do today. I was quiet, immensely introverted, withdrawn, and distant from people in my class. This made things difficult for me when we had to work together in small groups on collaborative projects. I was always the last person to speak, another trait I use today in my professional practice. My sense was my friends and peers also interpreted this as a flaw as well. So, I have always been on the outskirts of the thought process with working groups. It has been my zone of creativity, critical thinking, and space where I can play with my own radical thoughts.
Over time, patience, practice, and self-reflection I have come to appreciate and value my odd and often awkward thought process as I apply it to work and all other areas of my life. When I say work I mean advocating for people and social change as this has been the foundation of my career. I don't only appreciate my once thought deficit style of thinking, I love it as one of my strengths and corporate superpowers. I have built a career on working on the restoration, reclamation, and resurgence of Indigenous rights, knowledge, culture, and peoples. This work entirely takes place within an ecosystem of colonial culture and ideology, that we see today manifested as western corporate culture. We see this ideology play out in systems of western education, healthcare, law, family services, and the private sector.
There is a quote by Audre Lorde that goes: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house". I often think about this when I am invited to speak or consult on systemic change for decolonization, reconciliation, or Indigenization. We truly cannot reconcile anything with the same western thought systems that birthed the colonial problem in the first place.
Albert Einstein also has this quote: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them". Yet, everywhere I go to work, I am finding that organizations are continuously falling in this pitfall of using the same strategies and thought processes to advance decolonial work with little to no progress. Mind ya, progress is slow on the journey to anything decolonization, reconciliation, and Indigenization.
This is why I identify myself as an Indigenous thought leader. I use radical thinking grounded on my knowledge of Indigenous values and beliefs to formulate a strategy or recommendation for my clients. It is by no means an easy task and not every Indigenous person can do this. There is a thing I like to call the "colonial vacuum" or "corporate vacuum" that sucks Indigenous professionals in assimilating into the corporate norms and we view that as progress. I see that as subtle assimilation and reward for conformity. So I often identify myself as a rogue agent in any organization I work for trying to dodge the corporate vacuum. I am also self-described as a corporate shit disturber (technical term) as I will continuously go against the grain trying to seek the best opportunity to embed change.
An example of Indigenous thought leadership I have used myself in my consultancy work is in advising organization on Indigenous-relations strategies. As working with Indigenous communities is now mandated into every sector of society there is a significant need to strategize how organizations will engage meaningfully with Indigenous communities. An organization was developing a 5-year strategic plan which is a corporate norm. My advice was to make this strategy more meaningful to the people you intent to serve (First Nations land-based nations) you need to think like First Nations. We do not think in 5 year terms. We think in 7 generations. Our nations are old, ancient, and will be here long after this institution is gone. You can honour reflect this by transforming your strategic plan into a 100 year pathway for reconciliation. This thinking led to a greater understanding of how we can frame reconciliation at the local level.