“Having the opportunity to tell future-oriented stories, instead of our usual backward-looking story, was an incredible experience.”
In 1971, the Chiefs of First Nations in Manitoba signed Wahbung: Our Tomorrows, a position paper that represented a fundamental step toward self-determination of First Nations people in Manitoba. The document outlined an agenda for action, including First Nations’ inherent right to design and have full authority over their health, education, and child and family services systems, informed by First Nations worldviews, laws, and approaches.
Nearly 50 years after this seminal document was created, the First Nations of Manitoba continue to face a host of interconnected and growing challenges, including a level of wellbeing that is worse than in 1971. Outcomes and inequities are worsening in health, education, economic wellbeing, and child welfare, all against the backdrop of growing threats to First Nations self-determination, culture, and language. Faced with these growing challenges, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), in partnership with three other local indigenous organisations, and the University of Manitoba, with support from Reos Partners created a shared vision and pathway towards Mino Pimatisiwin (“the good life” in Cree) in the initiative called Wahbung: Our Tomorrows Imagined. This initiative seeks to respond to the unacceptable current reality by re-energizing the movement towards the desired future articulated by Wahbung: Our Tomorrows.
Beginning in 2019, with First Nations’ leadership, guidance from spiritual teachings, and coaching by Reos Partners, an all-First Nations scenario team worked together to create four scenarios about how the next fifty years could unfold for First Nations in Manitoba. The team included Elders, Knowledge Keepers, youth, and First Nations leaders in health, education, community development, and child welfare representing both rural and urban experiences.
Based on those scenarios, the Wahbung: Our Tomorrows Imagined team produced “Wahbung: Our Tomorrows Imagined, Vision for the Next 50 Years”, which articulates a vision for the wellbeing of Manitoba’s First Nations: “Healthy, happy, and self-determining children, families, communities, and Nations.
The November 2019 launch of this pathway marked the transition from the vision-building process, led by AMC and its partners with Reos Partners’ support, to a more formal negotiation process about the future of health care systems for the First Nations of Manitoba. Moving forward, the First Nations of Manitoba will work with their federal and provincial government partners to realize this vision. The next step will be to craft strategies for removing the policy and legislative obstacles that stand in the way.
Wahbung: Our Tomorrows Imagined is a collaborative initiative between the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Southern Chiefs Organization, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, The University of Manitoba, and Reos Partners. These organizations formed the Wahbung: Our Tomorrows Imagined facilitation team, which supported the process for the broader scenario team of exceptional First Nations leaders to create the scenarios and vision for Mino Pimatisiwin.
There are 63 First Nations in Manitoba and 5 distinct Indigenous linguistic groups. This diversity made it challenging to articulate a shared vision and agree on the path forward for the future of Manitoba First Nations. Together, the facilitation team and the scenario team discussed their views on the following questions:
- Perspectives: How do we see from our different perspectives the complex current reality of our lives?
- Scenarios: How could – not will, not should – our lives unfold over the decades ahead?
- Options: How could we deal with the unpredictable but influenceable situation of First Nations wellbeing in Manitoba?
- Vision: What must we do to build a good life?
Together, the First Nations leadership of Wahbung and Reos Partners co-created a methodology that leveraged the strengths of both First Nations knowledge and cultural systems with Reos’ scenario methodology. Through this “braided” approach, the scenario team created four scenarios for how the future could unfold for Manitoba First Nations.
The four scenarios describe how the wellbeing of the First Nations of Manitoba could unfold over the next 50 years across seven social determinants of health:
- Language, Culture, and Spirituality
- Land and Environment
- Social Services
- Health Systems
- Employment, Economic Development, and Income, and
Today’s status quo conditions and trends in First Nations wellbeing continue into the future. Canada increasingly shifts from a “mosaic” to a “melting pot” that is dominated by Western culture, which erases First Nations distinctiveness and autonomy. Big oil maintains its strong influence globally and in Canada. As the dominant Settler society bulldozes and absorbs minorities, the few First Nations whose choices fit well within the dominant system thrive, but most are increasingly marginalized.
Global forces – including climate change, technology, and globalization – lead to massive changes in how all cultures are practiced, how all services are delivered, and how all societal systems function. Economies and living environments are heavily disrupted by environmental crises and rapid growth of automation, artificial intelligence, and internet connectivity. First Nations people are affected by the same changes, leading to a redrawn picture of First Nations wellbeing. Cultural mixing in a highly connected environment leads to First Nations culture being expressed in completely different ways while some of the old ways are lost. The change is rapid. There is tension between those wanting to reinvent cultural practices and those wanting to preserve the old ways.
All My Relations
First Nations and the Canadian Government build a more fruitful relationship through negotiations in good faith. They follow the worldview of interconnectedness expressed through the words, “all my relations”, or Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ, a Lakota word meaning “we are all related”. First Nations co-exist with settlers in a negotiated relationship of mutual respect for the jurisdiction of First Nations and Canadian laws. This negotiated relationship leads to greater autonomy over services and better wellness for First Nations people, but still operates within a framework defined by the Canadian Government. Treaties are ultimately respected and implemented. The Canadian Government retains overall control of the funding and institutions that underpin First Nations services and status. Capitalism is maintained as the driving economic system, but with more progressive social and tax policies resulting in decreasing income inequality across Canada.
Sun, Grass, and Waters
First Nations gain the space and opportunities to assert their sovereignties and to reclaim their relationship with the land, water, air, and animals. The words “Sun, Grass, and Waters” become widely accepted as the basis for this new reality, meaning the freedom to truly follow the First Nations way of life, with the Sun representing Creation, the Grass representing Mother Earth and Turtle Island, and Water representing all life. The Canadian economy shifts away from oil, creating economic opportunities for First Nations in clean energy. The coming 50 years bring a stream of shifts toward First Nations self-determination. Initially, First Nations priorities drive the agendas for the services that First Nations receive, eventually leading to the full restoration and realization of First Nations constitutions
based on Natural Law. The transition period is difficult and benefits are not equally distributed between Nations. Tensions arise as Nations have different opportunities and make different choices, but First Nations use the traditions and ceremonies to maintain relationships and share resources.
The feedback on these scenarios has been that they are proving to be relevant, challenging, plausible, and clear. They have enabled Manitoba First Nations leaders to agree on a vision and a strategy for creating Mino Pimatisiwin. They are also providing a foundation for important negotiations with the federal and provincial governments about legislation and policy that affects First Nations. Beyond this, most of the scenario team and the consulting First Nations leaders have concluded that Dreamcatcher and especially Dominion are dangerous and must be fought against, while All My Relations and especially Sun, Grass, and Waters are promising and must be fought for.”
“Having the elders and ceremony was important and much appreciated to help do this work in a good way. I had the opportunity to have really important and impactful conversations with a wide range of experts that was both personally beneficial and will help guide the important work that will follow.”
“We are united in trying to move forward. Differences seem to melt away when we look to the future. The fulsome discussion allowed for me to see things in a different light and a fresh perspective, allowing me to be better equipped to be part of the solution.”
“We forget the good that binds us. This good is effortless. The dark part that is our challenges takes all our efforts. It’s exhausting. This process enlightened me into remembering the good of our ancestors”.
“This Wahbung process gives you a very different perspective on what you want your future to be, what you want to achieve every day. When I come to Wahbung, it shows me these different opportunities and what would happen if I didn’t break down the barriers. It shows me what it will look like if I didn’t fight and what it could look like if I keep fighting.”