My story

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Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake First Nation). Based in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada, I managed the implementation of a community health worker pilot project on 4 reserves. This was one of them.

I’m Kelly Henderson. I’m a culture broker.

I’m a former aid worker and teacher. I spent a dozen years overseas, the last several managing people and projects in recovering war zones in Africa and South Asia.

I know what it’s like to work with parties in conflict.

Like, we-wanna-kill-each-other type conflict.

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A public education mural about landmines in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. The Tamil-majority area was a former LTTE (Tamil Tiger) stronghold and scene of a decisive battle in the 26-year civil war. I lived and worked there in 2011 managing teams doing a final land survey to support landmine location, clearance and community resettlement.

My experience has taught me that culture is merely a reference point through which humans relate to each other. My job is to guide leaders through cultural discovery to come to a place of better, more meaningful intercultural partnerships.

I succeeded internationally because I learned to listen, and let go of preconceptions and plans and fixed outcomes (sort of–I kept the goal in mind, but was flexible in how we got there). I let the field, as aid workers call the space they work in, drive the projects. I did not resist when the work itself–which always resided in a cultural context–told me to change directions.

My cultural experience, by the numbers:

8: number of countries I’ve lived and worked in (South Korea, Taiwan, Oman, France, United Kingdom, Central African Republic(CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC), Sri Lanka)

4:  number of countries I have conducted academic research (CAR, Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia)

2:  number of languages I speak (English & French)

14+:  number of languages colleagues and peers have translated for me while on the job (Korean, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Arabic, Sango, Tsiluba, Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili, Sinalese, Tamil, Cree, Oji-Cree, Ojibway, + myriad dialects)

2:  number of passports held

35+:  number of passport stamps

Change comes faster when you don’t resist it. When you allow yourself to merely be the guide, or shepherd, of change, paying attention to the cues that present themselves to you, change arrives of its own free will, and quite happily, I might add. It makes for a really great day at work.

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A phenomenal team also makes for a great day at work. Mbuji Mayi, DRC, 2010

Resisting uncertainty or forcing that big change gets you lots of (bad) stress, and too much disheartening failure–and a lot of people pretty angry with you. It makes for a really bad day at work.

My mission is to make for fewer bad days at work, through sustainable cultural partnership.

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Lunch in the field with the Merlin team, Kaga Bandoro, Central African Republic, May 2009

Since I got back to Canada in 2012, I’ve applied my passion for making the world a better place and that ability to work in very complex and politically charged environments by working with Indigenous organizations, developing and managing community-led projects. I’ve since switched over to consulting, both with Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations and communities.

Along the way I was humbled to learn just how much I do not know about Indigenous-Settler history and relationships, but just how clearly that history impacts the efforts to get stuff done and move forward in progress today. I have also learned just how little the non-Indigenous world seems to know about our shared history. I believe if we knew more, we’d do better.

I write the How to be a Better Settler series to answer the “know more, do better” conundrum. I provide non-Indigenous organizations with the tools and guidance to create better partnerships with Indigenous people. I support development and implementation of Reconciliation Action Plans so that non-Indigenous organizations can overcome the barriers to meaningful relationships with Indigenous people.

To work with me, fill in the form below.

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