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Adddressing Interpersonal Boundary Issues in Aboriginal Communities

June 12, 2015

Although we all deal with boundary issues, there are larger underlying issues in Aboriginal communities when seeking to address interpersonal boundaries.

WP Financial is a service-oriented company that focuses on supporting the benefits and pension needs of Aboriginal communities. As part of their giving back, the principals of the company, Geordie Watson and Ilija Parojcic, convene an annual conference providing professional development to their clients who are the Human Resource management and staff that serve their communities. I had the pleasure of presenting the final workshop on the first day of their conference. My presentation was about boundaries; at home, work and community.

As is the case for all my workshops, the process begins by asking the attendees what they would like addressed; what is important for them to come away with.This is asked at the beginning of the workshop to attune myself to the attendees particular learning needs. The goal is to provide relevant and practical information and strategies.

At this workshop there were about 80 Aboriginal attendees, predominantly women representing First Nations communities from across Ontario. These are a few of the issues they raised:

  1. How to address the boundaries between the elected Band Council and administration when administrative matters are turned political, including hiring decisions;
  2. How to handle “red-flagged” employees, where red-flagged was explained to mean employees with a history of difficult to abusive behaviors;
  3. How to manage employees who gossip between themselves about co-workers, creating conflict between them;
  4. How to work with employees who are family when we have to go home and see them there or in the community;
  5. How to handle the adult bully;
  6. How to handle the worker who isn’t responsible and doesn’t follow through with their assignment.
Getting ready to leave for dinner with everyone after a great workshop.

Getting ready to leave for dinner with everyone after a great workshop.

I offered to address everything asked if it was agreeable that this would require a breadth of information at the expense of a depth of concentration on any one issue.  This was accepted.

The workshop was then attuned, concentrating on how to manage human behavior non-judgmentally but informationally and how to set expectations and hold people accountable to those expectations through positive feedback.

Also addressed were issues identified  in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC). Many of the hardships of interpersonal relationships are influenced by the Aboriginal experience of the residential school system and atrocities to which many were subjected. In this context and appreciating this history, it must be understood that some of the boundary issues faced would take years if not a generation or two to fully address. This is consistent with the TRC report.

It is difficult for people to not get discouraged when mired in the day-to-day struggles when not realizing the intensity and extent of those struggles are in part the artifact of years of systemic oppression and abuse. I advised of how to work towards incremental change on behalf of groups of people over generations as well as how to facilitate improved behavior in the moment.

Placing some issues in a transgenerational perspective helped alleviated upset or anxiety. There are issues that are bigger than the moment and require a vision of faith into the future beyond what one could see in ones own lifetime. Where a person could contribute to that better future by altering the trajectory in the present helps gives meaning to life now. It is beneficial to realize that one’s actions can impact subsequent generations.

Every so often and having provided literally hundreds and hundreds of workshops, there comes those few that really stand out where we touch one another. This was one such workshop.

We laughed. We were serious. We addressed troublesome issues; and we were real.

After the workshop I was invited to the group’s dinner where we carried on conversations started in the presentation.

My gratitude to Geordie Watson and Ilija Parojcic of WP Financial for their invitation to participate in their conference. It was wonderful being invited, accepted and being of service.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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