I used to work in a business where I wore suits. I can recall going into my first elder’s meeting wearing a suit, and I probably came across as intimidating, as not one of them, not part of the group. I have learned that even my business attire needs to adapt to my audience’s expectations. If I’m going to meet with government officials, I’ll dress up more. If I’m going to meet with elders and have a meal with them, I don’t go in a suit. I want to open doors and make them feel that I’m one of them, I’m not different from them. My style of dress allows the conversation to take place. If I have to speak on Indigenous issues, I’ll wear my cedar hat or my jewelry. For me, that shares my culture and helps me promote my community. I can tell them where the necklace is from and promote people in my community.
So, it’s catering to what the audience is expecting, but it doesn’t have to be tokenistic. I’m not showing up in regalia, for example, since that’s not the place for regalia. You want to meet the audience’s expectations in a sincere and authentic way. I see it as an opportunity to teach that person. An example is that someone will call me for an event and say that they want drummers and singers to come. They want to participate in reconciliation and the first thing they think is: drummers and singers. But, I’ll ask, “What are you actually doing to put reconciliation into action? If drummers and singers come, what actions are going to come out of that? What’s next?” It starts the dialogue that there are other ways we can participate and put that into action. We’ll talk about the event and brainstorm how we can make it a sincere event. For me, that’s through business and partnering and working together to extend it beyond one speaking engagement.
We’ve had some discussions about authenticity in our community. We’ve been going through some business planning in our restaurant and thinking about how we represent ourselves as an Indigenous business while still being authentic. We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessarily about the pictures on the wall or what’s on the menu, but the overall values you incorporate. If we have a value for sustainability, our menu should reflect that. If we have a value for family, then how we treat our employees should reflect that. It’s how we carry ourselves day in and day out that make us authentic, not because we’re selling salmon or bannock, or that there’s art on the wall.
We believe that when it comes to meeting people’s expectations, we have to start with our own values or we’re going to be disappointed. Even in the case of tourism, most of us have travelled to a place where we’ve experienced something that feels inauthentic, like you’re being sold something. So, we start with our values. In business in general, those businesses who are going to last are those who are authentic and have strong values. That should come across in everything you do.