Reflections on the NWT Evaluation Symposium

Reflections on the NWT Evaluation Symposium

As a long-term program evaluator for the NWT Literacy Council, I was thrilled to be able to attend the NWT Evaluation Symposium with four of the Council’s staff members. The symposium took place last week in Yellowknife and at Aurora Village on Chief Drygeese Territory. As a non-Indigenous person who works with literacy organizations in the three territories, the topic was very near and dear to my heart.

The two-day symposium was co-hosted by the Alberta and Northwest Territories Chapter, Canadian Evaluation Society and Dedats’eetsaa: Tłı̨chǫ Research and Training Institute. The symposium, which focused on decolonizing evaluation and Indigenous approaches to evaluation, brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, evaluators, community members, leaders, and youth. Participants were from the NWT, across Canada, the USA, New Zealand, and Australia. It was the first meeting of its kind in the NWT.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Nicole Bowman, spoke about evaluation as a way for Indigenous people to reclaim their voices. She introduced us to the Culturally Responsive Indigenous Evaluation Model (CRIE), a holistic approach to evaluation with four directional doors. Several concepts Dr. Bowman discussed that resonated with me were: the need to “re-write, re-right” evaluation at a systems level; what counts as evidence should not be dominated by colonial perspectives and tools; the need for evaluation to be culturally responsive; and, that evaluation should respond to the needs of communities. These themes were repeated throughout the sessions.

I heard that non-Indigenous evaluators should co-create the evaluation model with Indigenous peoples, and use appropriate and alternative data collection tools. I heard about the importance of understanding the place you are in and building relationships. It’s important that evaluators create readable reports, and consider oral reports and the use of pictures. In other words, work in a true partnership.

I heard that communities, not just funders, should identify the outcomes to be examined in evaluations. There should be a focus on stories not just data. Policies around evaluation must be in line with Indigenous values, language, and culture. The goal is for Indigenous people to control and create their own evaluations.

The Tłı̨chǫ Government hosted the second day of the symposium at Aurora Village, just outside of Yellowknife. I found out through stories from the Elders how their Tłı̨chǫ ancestors lived on the land without any of the modern conveniences we have today. I heard about the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s research project, Boots on the Ground, where elders mentor young people as “researchers in training” to understand the caribou migration patterns and life as it was lived by their ancestors. I also learned about Tłı̨chǫ self-government and the goals of the Tłı̨chǫ Nation from Dr. John B. Zoe, Tłı̨chǫ advisor, and former CEO.

Although we are already on the road to incorporating many of the elements of what was discussed at the symposium, there is so much more we can do in our evaluations related to literacy and essential skills in Indigenous contexts. I left thinking about ways to take action within the current structures and realities I work with. I am grateful for the new ideas and understandings I received at the symposium. I look forward to using them in my evaluation work.

— Our guest blogger, Sue Folinsbee, is the founder of Tri En Communications.

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