At the Walrus Talks event in Nanaimo this week, the time had come to talk of many things, and to talk about many kinds of leadership.
Vancouver Island University hosted the 90th Walrus Talks on Tuesday at the Malaspina Theatre. The Walrus magazine lined up seven guest speakers to talk about leadership, the evening’s theme.
Speakers included Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council; George Hanson, president of the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance; Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories; Katharina Rout, translator and honorary research associate at VIU; Scotty Taylor, Guthrie Therapeutic Community alumnus; Ruby Barclay, peer support navigator for VIU’s tuition waiver program; and Aliçia Raimundo, mental health advocate.
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Speakers addressed the theme from all different angles. Sayers talked about her work on a climate change advisory panel and a difficult decision to step away when she could no longer support government decisions on resource projects.
“You have to live up to what you promised and what you said, or you lose the credibility of the people that put you in that place,” Sayers said.
Hanson said the scales are tipped too far toward the rights of the individual at the expense of the well-being and sustainability of the community.
Leadership, he said, “looks like any and all efforts to build collaboration with open acknowledgement that together we are better.”
A few speakers told very personal stories, such as Kakfwi, who spoke of physical and emotional abuse he faced in a residential school, where he was called a devil child. It was an elder who told him that he was of “the fire carrier people … the ones who carry the fire” and that stuck with him.
“There’s always a light you take forward to pierce the darkness, to create hope, to show the way, to lead,” he said.
Rout said “small actions of non-experts can have far-reaching consequences” and suggested that bringing about world peace starts with trying to make a difference on a small scale.
“Pebbles thrown into the water can have short-term and long-term effects and we can all throw pebbles,” she said.
Taylor talked about moving forward, away from the kinds of choices he made in the past that put him in prison. He has found that leaders are those who help, inspire and support others in reaching their potential and finding their purpose.
“Good leaders don’t make good followers – I believe good leaders make more good leaders,” Taylor said.
Barclay said leadership has meant many different things to her at different points in her life, and asked those in the audience to think about when they realized they had leadership qualities.
She said leadership isn’t about rising as an individual, it’s about rising alongside other leaders.
“Do you remember when I asked you to remember when you realized your potential?” she asked. “When did you realize someone else’s?”
Raimundo talked about struggling with mental illness and how the concept of hope saved her life and helped her find her voice and become a leader. Anyone who sees injustice or a system that isn’t working can take leadership, she said.
“By seeing that, you are the right person to fix it,” Raimundo said. “Not [after] three degrees, not with 10 more years of work experience. You are, right now, enough to create that change.”