Wahkotowin: Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

Erin Halonen is an Educator and the former First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Curriculum Consultant in the Curriculum Implementation and Resources Branch, Alberta Education. Her passion for Education for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ways of Knowing was born through her lived experience with the local Cree First Nations community. Embedded in her work is deep sense of agency to urge the provincial education system to move forward in reconciliatory understanding and action.  

Seneca Quote

As I make my transition from Alberta Education back into the field, I have some parting thoughts to share as I reflect on the creation of the Wahkotowin blog, and next steps forward.

Wahkotowin is a Cree word which “denotes the interconnected nature of relationships, communities, and natural systems. Its literal meaning is “kinship”.” The Wahkotowin blog evolved from the Team Charter creation and discussions about relationship. More specifically, we decided to determine how we as individuals, would support relationships within our team. The team also expressed interest in learning more about Indigenous worldview. Using the knowledge about Indigenous worldview that I gained through lived experience in Cree First Nations community, I have shared the work of the evolving team charter, and managed the Wahkotowin blog with the goal to bridge the understanding of Indigenous and western worldviews.

The Wahkotowin blog just celebrated its one year anniversary! It has been a labour of love. My journey to Indigenous Allyship and passion towards Education for Reconciliation evolved as I dove into learning everything I could about Cree culture. For a decade I taught in a public school providing educational services for students from two Cree First Nations, and realized that in order to impact their educational success, I would have to learn everything I could about them. I happily attended every cultural ceremony and event that I was invited to within the Indigenous communities, and listened to many stories.  Through a sincere approach that built relationship, and implementing culturally sound research based practice I supported students to find educational success.

Mentor / Mentee relationships are reciprocal

Mentoring and Relationship

A few years ago, I completed a Mentorship and Collaboration MEd course. The essential understanding of the course was that the quintessential mentor / mentee relationship is reciprocal in nature. The mentor and the mentee learn from and with each other. Interestingly enough reciprocity is a key understanding that one needs to develop in order to understand Wahkotowin.

As I connected myself to the Indigenous communities, I hadn’t anticipated the impact they would have on ME! What impacted my personal and professional growth the most was the teachings of Wahkotowin.   Many lifelong relationships were formed. I stay connected to the communities, even now, in any way that I can. Covid has been making that a challenge. This summer will mark the first in several years that I will not attend Pow Wows across the nations.

My intention, transitioning into government work, was to use my knowledge to impact a broader scope of change. The blog gave me a voice to support the important work of reconciliation from my vision of understanding as it had developed with the help of many Indigenous Elders and mentors.

Reciprocity: Head Heart Alignment

Balancing Mental and Emotional Intelligence

As I transition out, I hope the thread of relationship remains strong. The focus for the year is building resiliency and agility. When I hear about building resiliency, I like to remind people we are much stronger together than we are separately. Wahkotowin calls us to remember teachings of reciprocity. To treat each other the way we would like to be treated, remembering that the actions we take towards others and the environment reverberates back to us and generations to come. Wahkotowin calls us to support each other in emotionally intelligent ways, and reminds us that we are only as strong as the support that we offer to each other when needed. Indigenous teachings would call this head heart alignment, or balancing mental and emotional intelligence.

Moving Forward

My favourite part about working for government, was the wonderful people I met and worked with.  Many of these relationships are reciprocal and I am sure will be lifelong. I look forward to continuing my professional journey in the field. I’ll be returning to my alma mater, my home town school. The possibility of giving back to the community that raised me is exciting!   I will be doing some teaching and continuing to champion Indigenous Education and Education for Reconciliation across the province.  

I have enjoyed the many great conversations about Reconciliation. For those who have interest in continuing to follow my work please consider following my personal blog: www.thepolestarpost.com.

Be well!

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