Training & development cultural lessons from Sioux Lookout

Watching out for too-near hippos at night and too-curious monkeys by day, I’ve been fortunate to do my training work all over the globe.  From -72 Celsius/-96 Fahrenheit to +44 Celsius/111 Fahrenheit I’ve run the gamut of intriguing work places and spaces.

Recently I found myself in a tiny plane, hop skip and a jumping tiny towns until we landed in Sioux Lookout.  I was there to give a two day workshop on being a leader in a multicultural community.  As Sioux is a hub for 29 First Nations I asked my client if I could speak to an Elder before the training to check in on what was culturally appropriate.

That led me to the delightful Garnet.  I liked his warm, friendly tone right away and the noisy background over the phone when we spoke (his granddaughter was soon off to a sewing lesson and his dog was making itself known).   Garnet kindly let me know that having Elders open and close each day would be expected, as would a gift of tobacco from myself.

Off I went in search of tobacco and eventually that’s how I came to be loosing myself in the hypnotic drumming the Elders did for each opening and closing of our days.  Experience it yourself – listen to some drumming done by Elders in Sioux Lookout.

I’d always thought (an unexamined assumption) that the singing that goes along with the drumming was in a local language.  Not so in this case.

Mervin, the Elder pictured above, taught us that the spirit of the drum is communicating with the drummer’s spirit, that the language is a language the spirits understand.  He went on to say that you become a drum keeper through a series of dreams and that drums play certain roles depending on the song e.g. healing, fun, play etc.

Training & development cultural lessons?

  • if you’re headed into what for you, is a new culture/cultures, find someone you can talk to ahead of time to find out what some of the cultural practices are
  • check out beforehand what’s appropriate – what are the cultural practices around opening and closings for example?
  • check out while you’re there what’s appropriate – is it okay to take pictures, to record sound, to record audio?  In my case it was okay to take pictures and record audio but not do a visual recording of the drumming.
  • keep your head up and your eyes, ears and heart open – you just never know what will happen in a different cultural context.  It’s a wonderfully rich setting to challenge yourself as a trainer.

Stay tuned for more upcoming posts on cultural issues to take into account when doing training.



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