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sqilxw wisdom

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

This week’s #teachingstuesday is being offered by Kelsie Kilawna (Marchand), a sqilxw (syilx/Indigenous) woman who was born and raised in nq'mapqs (the head of Okanagan Lake). Kelsie’s teaching is related to the importance of listening.

“The Elders in our syilx nation have taught me one of the most important things about communicating: listen more than you talk.

When something that you know nothing about arises that's your first cue that you are now a listener in the conversation, you are not to have an opinion. Having an opinion on things is something we train our Youth in their puberty training to not do, and it's to teach them the discipline of being a listener. Having opinions is foreign and often rooted in colonialism, someone always has an opinion on what's best for us even when they have no relation to it.

I often witness Elders go quiet when a topic comes up where they lack lived experience. They usually say, "I don't know anything about that, so I can't speak on it", then instantly they stop talking and become listeners. I really value this, this is an example of what self-location looks like.

There is so much power in the discipline of listening, the beauty of syilx teachings is we are more heart-centered as a collective when we speak from our strength of knowing rather than to speak on things we have never experienced. This is how we show we value each person for their diverse lived experiences, we honour their life journey and the knowledge they bring to the people.

I teach my children to observe this practice and embody it in every place they can so they can rest in knowing that they don't need to know everything.”

When I think back to the ways in which I’ve carried myself at gatherings, particularly early in my career, it makes the heat rise up the back of my neck. I’m a talker, and when I experience silence in a circle, it brings me great discomfort – so I feel like I am easing that discomfort by keeping the conversation flowing.

I have a very specific memory from 2014 -- I had just started working for a First Nations organization, and I was participating in with my new colleagues at my first team meeting. I recall my co-worker, a thoughtful, First Nations woman, who had been working in the field for over thirty years. During the meeting, I noticed that she was extremely quiet, and I dutifully kept talking and contributing when moments of silence were ebbing by around the conference room table. Eventually, this woman was asked if she had anything she would like to contribute to the dialogue. My co-worker had the most contemplative expression, eyes softly cast down, and made a “hmmmm” noise as she considered her words. Seconds passed, probably ten, as I squirmed in my seat. Then she started speaking so quietly and thoughtfully, with incredible wisdom and experience. Her contributions were valuable, important, and necessary.

As I reflect on my past experiences, it makes me embarrassed to realize that I may have been unintentionally dominating spaces by not allowing the quiet needed for other speakers to share. Being a chatty person is still who I am, but I do my best to carry these teachings close and be mindful to consider my position when I am deciding what I should contribute.

In learning,

Kim at Culturally Committed

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