The Power of Listening

Russell Auger is an Elder with more than 40 years of experience working with Indigenous youth and communities across North America. After previously working with Spirit of Our Youth for 9 years, we are happy to welcome Russell back to WJS as our Indigenous Cultural Advisor.

Indigenous culture follows an oral tradition; creation stories, historical accounts, traditional ecological knowledge, language, and culture stories have been kept alive in this manner for thousands of years. These stories have been passed from generation to generation without ever being transcribed. Therefore, the importance of storytelling can’t be underestimated.

A large part of what Russell does, and will be doing for WJS, is convening conversation and with it, storytelling. In a recent phone call with Russell, he spoke of a how a lack of cultural understanding can impact communication between indigenous and non-indigenous groups.

Russell recounted an occasion when an elderly indigenous man visited the Doctor for a checkup. As you might expect, the physician asked, “how are you feeling today?” as they attached a blood pressure cuff to the man’s arm. Unfortunately, the indigenous man’s story of how he became sick was interrupted with further questions from the Doctor.

The elderly man confided in Russell that he was frustrated and unable to connect with the Doctor as his story was not listened to in its entirety. If we are to work with Indigenous groups, we need to understand our part, as the listener, in a conversation. When being told a story, try not to interrupt with questions, questions can imply disbelief, which can be seen an insult. When being told a story, be sure the storyteller has finished speaking before saying anything.

Russell will be convening conversations for and with WJS over the next few months, he emphasizes the importance of face to face meetings. Thanks to him, we remember the importance of listening and being open to the process of understanding how to work proactively with indigenous communities in the vast communities we serve.