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Having an impact and shaping the future of Kahnawake

Daniel J. Rowe The Eastern Door

Jessica Lazare (middle) is a young mother learning Kanien’kéha and hoping to help her community change for the better by engaging with the collective impact process and providing her input.

Jessica Lazare is 24 years old and in her first year at the Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats Adult Immersion Program. She wanted to be a bigger part of her community, and was one of three young people among the three-dozen community members in attendance at the Host Hotel Tuesday, at the steering group gathering for the ongoing Collective Impact process.

“The reason I wanted to get involved was because of the initiative,” said Lazare. “I read what they wanted to do and what they want to do in the community, and to me, my community is really important. I have two kids of my own, they’re both under five, and I want to create a better community for them.”

Lazare has attended all the meetings, including the large two-day session last May at the Moose involving around 160 people.

Tuesday’s meeting involved deciding what the steering group will look like, and how it will form and move forward in the coming months and years.

“This is a very messy process,” said facilitator Patricia Deer. “You can do a lot of planning around it, and, in the end, what the people decide is really going to steer everything.”

The first part of Tuesday’s meeting involved looking at what the size of the steering committee should be, how long the meetings will be, what days, and how often they will meet.

For the second section of the night, participants split into groups and looked at different areas of concern in the community such as economy, language and culture, and education and learning.

“We had them answer the following: what question do you have about this theme that will help you determine the priorities of the community?” said Deer. “There’s a lot of information that they have to go through and become familiar with.”

Typically, Deer said, similar studies take about five to six months to narrow down priorities. A representative from the Tamarack Institute was in attendance giving feedback on what similar processes in different communities have looked like in the past.

The Tamarack Institute is an organization that works with governments and communities to advance positive community change. It charts five core conditions in its framework, but each situation is different.

Tamarack’s five conditions are: developing a common agenda; using shared measures to understand progress; building on mutually reinforcing activities, engaging in continual communications, and providing the backbone for moving forward, according to the Tamarack website.

Tuesday’s meetings follow those last year that came up with the bigger picture concerns that led to the process.

“We had our main meeting, which was really great, we had 160 people come to that over two days, and there they looked at the future strengths and aspirations of the community,” said Deer. “The next steps now are to get a steering group into place.”

An upcoming meeting will take place in approximately four weeks. Representatives from the steering group will be on K103’s Partyline Talk Show February 1 to talk about the process.

“The steering group’s role is to look at all the data, including the initial challenges that started this that Tewatohnhi’saktha had identified, keeping in mind the vision statement and overall feel of the community, and trying to come to the priorities that we should be focusing on,” said Deer.

What, in education for example, should the steering group focus on? What parts of the economy need help? These are questions the steering group will eventually look at in the coming years.

“We could probably come up with about 70 action items or more, but we have to find a way to narrow it down and that’s what today is about,” said Deer.

The steering group will take the grander hopes and find ways to make them work in real time.

“You need some administrative body to keep it going and that’s what we are,” said Deer. “We’re here to ensure that it keeps going.”

For Lazare, she is eager to engage with the community’s history and bring traditional practices and knowledge into the present day to help change Kahnawake for the better.

“I’m teaching my son about it, he doesn’t even want me to kill a mouse,” said Lazare with a laugh.

“He’s growing up very traditionalized. I’m bringing him to the longhouse and teaching him our values and how to respect people, and how we always need to be kind to each other. That’s how I want our community to be. I see a lot of negativity. I see that our community is in a need for change, and with the collective impact, they’re ready to change.”

Lazare said the process has been slow but good. Taking time to ensure everything is on a solid footing is essential.

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