I am constantly amazed by the questions our small but mighty team at the Purdy Crawford Chair receive every day. Some of them are much easier to answer than others, but whether we can answer them easily or not, when asked we learn as much from you as you do from us. Now, we never claim to be the authority on everything Aboriginal or even everything that happens in the Aboriginal business environments from coast to coast to coast, but we’re certainly interested in learning, creating, and sharing with communities, students, industry, and quite frankly anyone who’s interested. At this point, I’d like to share with you, some of the things I’ve learned from all the questions so far, both those that we’ve asked and those asked of us.
Perhaps the most common questions we’re asked are “What is the Purdy Crawford Chair? What do you do? Why is a program with National Scope being managed from Cape Breton?” I could go on for hours answering each of these but the short answers are:
The Purdy Crawford Chair, named in honour of an advisory committee member who is very passionate about economic development in which Aboriginal communities are equal partners. As partners they engage and lead change in collaborative and respectful ways. Our work is focused in four broad topic areas: Research; Curriculum; Recruitment; and Mentorship.
We do research with students, academics, and community members and share what we learn as broadly as possible. Aboriginal communities are not appropriately represented in business curriculum and course materials, even though they are leading some of the most interesting, unique, and innovative economic development projects and new business ventures. Recruitment is sometimes misunderstood, because it doesn’t just involve our team going out and selling the BBA or MBA at CBU. Our team want Aboriginal people across the country to understand the benefits of understanding the business environments and to learn more. For those who do choose to go into business at post-secondary, we want them to succeed. Once they make that choice, we also want to help them achieve success by providing mentorship and support structures.
Why Cape Breton and not somewhere more geographically, politically, or socially centralized? I can only speculate, but I suspect it has something to do with Mi’kmaw culture as well as Cape Breton’s local culture. Cape Breton University has a history of doing things differently and in partnership with the local Mi’kmaw communities, so I think it makes sense that this project exists here. I think there’s also something to be said about the approach. My father used to say, “It can’t hurt to ask; the worst they can do is say no.” The team who spearhead this project seem to feel the same way, but they also seem to know a secret about how to ask and how to compromise when the answer is “Maybe” or “only if…” Even when the answer to a request happens to be a flat out “No!” If you pay attention to the following phrase, "because…," it likely holds precious information about what alternatives may be considered next time and what will be future deal breakers. As an employee and band member of Membertou, I have seen this approach succeed time and time again. So for now, I encourage friends to ask as many questions as possible, and really listen to the whole response because there’s always something to be learned.
Mary Beth Doucette