Some effective communication sound bytes in the Canadiana realm

Some on and offline reads and events that have stoked interest and been worthy of my attention of late, including a nod to Pow Wow Etiquette, musings that perhaps PR practitioners could benefit from an oath of obligation (similar to U of T medical research graduates), movies that motivate, Winnipeg revisited, the (sort-of) retirement of the creator/visionary of Centennial College’s post-graduate Corporate Communications program, plus two recent articles from The Walrus that pack a wallop of thought.

1. Canada’s National Aboriginal Day was June 21, 2008, following hot on the heels of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statement of apology to our First Nations People. In my local ‘hood, the day was marked by the 13th annual community festival, Traditional Pow Wow, which is hosted by Na-Me-Res (Native Men’s Residence). As per Minister Michael Bryant’s entry in the program book, “The annual festivities put on by Na-Me Res provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate and learn more about the unique cultures and traditions of Ontario’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.” The festival included dancing, singing, socializing, crafts, food (I sampled a Buffalo Cloud, corn soup and strawberry tea), all in honour of First Nations culture.

I was very interested in the amount of communication invested in the program booklet, including What is a Pow Wow?, the work of Na-Me-Res, and (in particular), the section on Pow Wow Etiquette.

These were the edicts I found the most useful:

The Pow Wow is a sacred celebration and there are certain things that are expected of both visitors and participants. These are guidelines provide for your information only. When at our event, please listen to our Master of Ceremonies who will guide in the proper pow wow etiquette for the day.

1. The Pow Wow is a sacred place. The Circle is blessed before the festivities begin. It remains sacred until the Pow Wow is over.

5. Respect Honour, Veterans and Flag Songs. Be sure to stand until these songs are finished. Remove all hats or head coverings unless they are adorned with an eagle’s feather.

7. NEVER use your finger to point. Many Native cultures consider the pointed finger to be a sign of rudeness. If you must indicate a certain direction, nod your head.

11. A dancer’s clothing is called an “outfit” or “regalia,” NEVER a costume. NEVER touch a dancer’s regalia without permission. It is often made up of sacred objects and family heirlooms.

16. Some dancers are subject to eligibility rules. Snake, buffalo and trot dances have particular steps and routines. Veteran dances are usually restricted to Combat Veterans, Veterans or, at times, family members of Veterans. If unsure, check before the dance begins.

18. NEVER sit at a drum without permission. Drums are sacred.

22. NEVER pick up a feather that has been dropped, either by you or someone else. Be sure to notify the Master of Ceremonies, a Veteran or the Head Veteran or Head Dancer. When a feather falls, the Pow Wow is immediately stopped until its power is restored. Stand with an uncovered head and NEVER take photographs while the Veterans perform this traditional dance.

It was a privilege that this event was held nearby, and I’m very glad that the public relations initiatives of the event organizers included taking the time to detail expected behaviours. For me the most important takeaways were to make sure to nod (rather than point), not referring to ceremonial regalia as “costumes,” and recognizing the sacred value placed on certain objects in a distinct culture. When participating as a guest, it’s our obligation to determine and respect the rules.

2. A recent article in the Globe and Mail, Scientists get their own Hippocratic oath, details how “Graduate students beginning careers in medical research pledge to conduct themselves in an ethical fashion.” (The article continues to inspire comments here. What do you think, if students graduating from degree programs in public relations (or new members to national PR associations) had to physically recite an oath of obligation, would we operate in a more ethical fashion as practitioners? Or would it be a mere gesture, with about the same usefulness as promising to adhere to a printed code of ethics?

3. Recently I was invited by Elizabeth Lewis to attend a networking event conceived/hosted by Dennie Theodore (“Collector, Convenor, Conversor, Confessor, Connector, Converger”), which brought together a fascinating (and eclectic) group of individuals, employed in various areas/sectors of communication. I had the opportunity to meet many people (several who had worked with Heather Conway in the past, either at TD Bank or Alliance Atlantis), but I spent the longest time chatting with Emmanuel Lopez, particularly after we discovered our mutual passion for films. (We both adored Iron Man for different reasons—him because it focuses on a super hero, me because it stars the delectable and now-sober Robert Downie, Jr.) Anyhow, I recommend you check out Emmanuel’s Movies that motivate tips (blog), for some original and thoughtful commentary. (Do films serve as a motivator for you? If not movies, what provides you with a charge?)

4. Winnipeg earns a special place in Canada, as it is about as central as you can get in this enormous country. Well, except when it comes to sensibilities and creative energies. Distilled to its essence, Winnipeg and its inhabitants are about as left as centre as a city can get. Maybe it’s those beastly cold winters and searingly hot and humid, mosquito-infested summers that feed the ingenious spirit. I’ve only visited Winnipeg a couple of times, but the recent post by Martin Waxman on his my(PR)palette blog, seems to have captured the place to a T…err, W. Yup, he’s a homeboy from the ‘Peg.

5. A salute to Gary Schlee upon his retirement! Gary was the creator and visionary for Centennial College’s post-graduate Corporate Communications program—the first such program in Ontario. Hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals working in the Canadian corporate communication field have benefited from the program, Gary’s tutelage and mentorship, as well as his friendship. Gary may be gone from Centennial, but his legacy will live on, through a student scholarship bearing his name that will be bestowed on the individual who exhibits the greatest writing abilities—a skill that Gary values immensely. Now we are waiting to see what Gary’s next adventure will be, as he has far too much in the way of abilities, interests and energy to really retire. Perhaps some of his recent or past students would care to weigh in?

6. Finally, my favourite (much-honoured) mag (Canadian or otherwise), The Walrus, continues to offer up consistent, boffo reading. The March 2008 issue boasted Georgie Binks article, The Big Log Off, which explores the question about what happens to our online profile and intellectual property when we die. Many companies have archival features and succession planning for the online content creators…but have you done anything to “preserve” your personal, online legacy? If yes, what?

On my airplane ride out (“Come from Away,”) to the recent CPRS conference in Halifax I made a point of reading Too Few Hilliers, from the April 2008 issue, as General Rick Hillier was scheduled to be the final keynote speaker (and was one of the main incentives for my attendance). Although his inspiring talk didn’t cover any of the political intrigues behind him becoming (possibly) Canada’s most effective chief of the defence staff (CDS) of the Canadian Forces (CF) ever, this article by Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang demonstrates how a power vacuum can provide tremendous opportunities for a well-versed, charismatic, inclusive and articulate leader and communicator, in making a major impact not only on administration, but official policy. In fact, following the close of his address, General Hillier was provided with a major award (in its inaugural offering) from the Canadian Public Relations Society, the President’s Award for Outstanding Public Relations and Communications Management. I don’t think anyone in that big ballroom room could think of a more deserving candidate. Can you?

Update: The Toronto Star provides an interview with departing co-founder/editor of The Walrus, Ken Alexander, The time has come, Walrus editor says.

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5 Replies to “Some effective communication sound bytes in the Canadiana realm

  1. Thank you for the kind words, Judy (and Brandon). Teaching future communicators is a wonderful way to spend time. Leaving it is bittersweet. However, after nearly three decades at Centennial, I’m looking forward to trying some things back on the practitioner side. Of course, whatever that is will have to wait until the end of the summer — some habits are to break.

  2. As a recent grad of Centennial’s program I’d like to further extend that salute. Gary was instrumental in shifting my writing and editing ability to the professional level. The man is a pioneer in social media for PR and was the driving force behind my interest in the tool as a marketing communications and branding instrument.
    Gary still has plenty to offer. I look forward to the opportunity to cross paths in the professional world. Cheers, Gary!

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