Canoeing the Harricana

Last July, I travelled to James Bay Territory in Northern Quebec and learned some important life and business lessons. I joined an organized canoe trip with a group of twenty men and women, mostly French speaking, who travelled from various parts of France and Quebec to journey on the Harricana River with Grandfather T8aminik Rankin. T8aminik was born on James Bay Territory (north-west of Quebec), in a family that had succeeded in preserving their ancestor’s nomadic way of life. At the age of 7, he was designated to take over from his father as hereditary chief.

Traditionally, the role of a leader must necessarily be accompanied by that of a medicine man. Therefore, since childhood, he followed a long path of teachings and initiations from elders from his own community, and from various guides recognized over Canada, including William Commanda, to whom he was the right-hand man for years. He now dedicates his life to the role to which he has been chosen: teacher and spiritual leader.

This week was transformative in terms of learning experiences of survival, listening skills and leadership. I shared a tent, meals, tears and laughter with people who’d never experienced wilderness or seen a canoe, they had so much to teach us. There were profound moments of reflection on this expedition, one being the Water Ceremony, my first. But my greatest lesson came before we even put the canoes in the water. Travelling from Val D’or to the departure location with T8aminik and his life partner Marie-Josée Tardif, we had stopped to get supplies.  As we were waiting for Marie-Josée to return, he apologized for having to make a phone call. He picked up his cell phone and said: “This is T8aminik,” and I could hear the joyful reply through the phone: “I simply want to make sure we are still welcomed on your ancestral land, I have 20 people joining Marie-Josée and I on our canoe trip this week and I want you to know that we will respect you land, we will make it our home for a few days and we will honour your family during our time on your land.” The woman replied, “T8aminik, you are honouring us by your presence and the presence of your friends. Our island will be your home and, my ancestors will be there to protect you and your new family. Megwitch my friend, enjoy and be blessed.”

This conversation alone provided more education on business ethics, relationship and respect I could have ever imagined. Isn’t that what our Indigenous Nations did when they welcomed the colonies to their ancestral land? What if we found a way of reconnecting and rebuilding trust by simply picking up the phone to ask: Did I hear you correctly? Are we still going in the right direction? Are we still in agreement? This would make a huge impact on all business relationships.

I returned home to Saskatchewan with a backpack full of memories and a much greater appreciation for Indigenous knowledge with the understanding that I know so little.