Navigating the now

How intuition, humility, humour and love guide my approach to business education

As we observe the many layers of past, present, and future embedded within National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, Dr Dara Kelly, Assistant Professor, Indigenous Business, reflects on how Indigenous values help inform pathways to a fairer and more equitable society and business world.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day (and every day!), intuition, humility, humour and love guide my approach to business education

National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated each year on June 21. It has been formalized in the Canadian calendar since 1996, but its roots are far more ancient in Indigenous philosophies, the celebration coinciding with the summer solstice. This reflects the deep connection Indigenous communities have with the seasonal cycles, and is a reminder of the longevity of the Indigenous perspective; that our day-to-day reality is part of an ancient history and the predictable, recurring cycles of more-than-human worlds will continue irrespective of our existence.

The connection to the seasons is also a reminder that seasons change, and times change with them. Indigenous people have undergone a deeply challenging period. The horrors perpetrated on Indigenous communities should now be well understood by all Canadians; the reports by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, as well as the most recent discovery of unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, provide very clear evidence of what has happened.

The Beedie School of Business is also changing. While we are not yet able to claim to draw on decolonizing practices and Indigenization in a fulsome way, we are taking steps toward doing so and there is a genuine commitment to make progress in that direction. We have made significant changes to the Indigenous Business Leadership Executive Master in Business Administration (IBL EMBA), the first MBA program dedicated to supporting Indigenous peoples and communities by honouring our worldviews and creating space for them within the classroom. The IBL EMBA is now an independent program in its own right with a newly formed Indigenous governance committee. Indigenous business content is increasingly included across SFU Beedie programs beyond the IBL and we are undergoing significant internal review to develop a long-term strategy for ensuring this remains a priority for the school.

As part of that strategy, our Indigenous relationships locally will be critical as we explore options to offer land-based learning and teaching off-campus in Indigenous spaces, such as a longhouse. SFU announced last year that it will create its own First People’s Gathering House, opening in 2023, and it is my intention to use that space as much as possible. I look forward to the opportunity to work alongside xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples to activate the principles of hospitality and stewardship in that house. Decolonizing and Indigenizing an institution like a university, which is founded on settler ideologies yet overlaid on unceded Indigenous territories, is not straightforward. It will take time, but there is gathering support and recognition of the need for change.

Businesses have an important role to play if we wish to create a more sustainable and more equitable world. I believe we can do that by reimagining the purpose of businesses, informed by Indigenous worldviews centring on a love of the land, family and culture. As long as a business’s success is measured only by shareholder profits and quarterly results – inherently short-term metrics – we will never prioritize truly sustainable practices that support and benefit people equally. There are now more than 100 alumni of the IBL EMBA program, and they form an inspiring and growing community of leaders who have the potential to drive change and create a more sustainable business ecosystem that is inclusive of Indigenous wisdom.

You do not need to look far to see the damaging impact of western ideologies on the land and people. It is also clear the damage falls disproportionally on Indigenous communities, and Indigenous women in particular. However, if I have learned anything from my family and global community of Indigenous scholars, healing unfolds in ways that are so far beyond what the mind can comprehend. I choose often to be studious in the realm of intuition, humility, humour and love.