Grace in the Yukon: 1

photo by  Jeff Wallace

photo by Jeff Wallace

(This post is the first in what will be an ongoing series where I share some reflections after facilitating events. I hope it will illuminate some of my work for folks who are interested as well as be a good record of my own learning.)

Over the past week, I was lucky enough to visit Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory for work. Anyone who knows me knows that weather-wise, this was a bit of a stretch. I’m always cold, and spending a week in a place that starts out well below zero every morning is…well… a bit outside my comfort zone. But I bought a special new coat filled with down with lots of pockets and a big hood and and headed out with a sense of anticipation and excitement. As Scott, my partner, said, “This may be a once in a lifetime trip. You gotta just enjoy it.”


And I did!

First. The Yukon is really, really beautiful. So beautiful that we spent as much time outside as possible. (I know!) We took long hikes, we hung out at the bonfire of a local friend, and we walked to and from the conference venue every day. And while we missed seeing the Aurora Borealis, we did get to see the beginning of the Yukon Quest—a 1,0000 mile dogsled race.

It was also special as I got to work with dear friends, Caitlin Frost and Chris Corrigan. Chris, Caitlin, and I are long-term friends and colleagues through the Art of Hosting community and part of our continuing commitment to each other is to find ways to work together in different constellations, so it was really special to have the three of us together. What a treat to be together again pushing each other’s learning edges and hosting in such a beautiful place!

What brought Caitlin, Chris, and I—and another new friend and colleague, Wedlidi Speck—together was a really exciting event: the first ever Aboriginal Leadership Skills Development Conference. This conference was the brainchild of Pawa Haiyupis and resulted from two years of perseverance by a group of kickass women in the Yukon government. A collaboration between the Aboriginal Education Forum and the Office of Organizational Learning and Development, the conference invited Yukon Government employees who are Aboriginal and First Nations' Government employees who are Aboriginal to come together for the first time to develop their leadership capacity.

Since it was the first conference of its kind, none of us knew exactly what to expect but we were committed to learning together and responding to the folks in the room with us. The conference was a good combination of honoring and celebrating culture, participatory leadership experience and training, and a traditional conference format. Lots to navigate for sure, but it was the best kind of challenge. 

Below are some of my highlights from the conference.


The people

There is so much I can say here, but I want to highlight that this was pretty thrilling for all of us as we were literally doing something that had never been done before: bringing together governments’ employees who were aboriginal. Can you imagine the amount of goodwill in the space with people being together for the first time as a group? As they found themselves and each other? As they explored their own leadership? And from that goodwill, some really powerful learning and work was done.



Moy Sutherland, created an art piece that was the identifying graphic of the event. To kick off the conference, the planning team (remember those kick ass women mentioned above) gave everyone temporary tattoos of this art. It was beautiful and added to the sense of community in the room.

Elder wisdom and hugs

The first day, we heard from Stephen Kakfwi who talked about the challenge of forming a government—for the good of everyone—in his youth as he was finding his own identity and working to establish Dene nationhood. The second day had us hearing from another elder, Judy Gingell, about the years-long process of getting successful land claims. It was really important for me to hear right now: that whatever we develop has to be for everyone, even when the other feels like the enemy. And also that the road may be long but justice will prevail. These feel like lessons I need to learn over and over, and it’s good to have those who have gone before to remind me. Then, in an extra bit of love, one of the elders told me she wanted to give me an “elder hug” after my workshop. Listen. I didn’t even know that elder hugs were a thing, but they are, and I want more. 

Grace as medicine

During my workshop, we talked about the practice of grace: how we can be forgiving of ourselves and each other as we make mistakes working together across difference. (See more about grace here.) It’s one of those tender places, and when the group finds it together it is brilliant and powerful. But of course, grace is a word with heavy Christian connotations, and so we searched for other words to describe this practice. The one that seemed to land well was “medicine.” That perhaps, when we are practicing grace, we are practicing medicine with each other. 

Fry bread

A small thing, maybe. But I hadn’t ever had this warm dough fried in Heaven. It’s a game changer, friends. Game. Changer.

These were just some of many highlights of a really rich three days! Stay tuned...on Monday, I'll share Part 2 of this blog where I'll outline both the "challenges" and "take aways" from the event.  

In the meantime, I'd love to hear any of your reflections, curiosities, or questions.

Want to learn more about my work and the Art of Hosting? Join me for the upcoming Art of Hosting webinar series I’m doing with Tim Merry beginning Feb 16, 2017.

This post was originally published at Tuesday Ryan-Hart's site.

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