Bernie Mitchell, a man, and Tara Everett, a woman are standing next to one another smiling, in front of a sign reading "Cass Business School/University fo London

Tara Everett, founder of Canoe Coworking, has come to London to speak at ourInclusion & Diversity In Coworkingevent on March 14, 2019.

Canoe Coworking in Manitoba, Canada, honours the indigenous traditions of its founder by offering a place to gather rooted in history, to encourage economic growth, community strength and to honor the path walked before while looking to the future.

Join us for this, our fifth event in a series where we dive into strategy, purpose, impact and the case for change.

If you can’t attend, do be sure to spread the word and share this blog post.

Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

I’m starting Manitoba’s first indigenous co working space.  As an indigenous person, what I see is that our people have systematically faced the effects of colonization and changes to our ways of life. It’s created these generational problems, anything from a history of abuse, to economic disadvantage, lack of education, being displaced from our lands, and our traditions or languages. And it really resonated with me as a person that we could do more and we can do more, and we need to do more. And I came into coworking kind of almost de facto looking for a community like minded to myself, where we can work collaboratively together to make the world a better place. And it just really fit with my mantra, and I felt the mantra of my people,

Is there some resonance you saw between coworking and the community you grew up in?

Yeah, so when I hear about co working and its origin story, I kind of chuckle because the reality is, is that I believe that indigenous people were the first co workers because we didn’t have a currency of physical money exchange. And so when we talk about collaboration, or sharing resources, trading in good and healthy ways, that’s exactly what my people have been doing in my area of the woods. We go back as far as 6000 years, if not further. So when you look at coworking, and we’re bringing it into the now, our people have been doing that for such a long time. And instead of being embraced, they were they were looked down and frowned upon for their way of being. And now we’re bringing it back to the forefront as a healthier and more holistic and better for everybody involved way of being.

So what can coworking learn from your heritage?

I think, just seeing that there’s people doing it in a much more broad way than the way we traditionally think of coworking. What we call social enterprise has always been huge within indigenous business. So when you look at coworking, there’s a holistic aspect embracing the idea of making sure that people are cared for as a whole person. It’s not just a workplace, it’s a community, it’s making sure, for example, that there’s healthy food options available. And that’s always been important in our community. And there’s a cultural and spiritual aspect to it.

I read a book, the Cluetrain Manifesto, written at the end of the 20th century, and one of the things they talk about is that the Internet is just one big conversation between human beings.  They paint the picture that it is like a market place in in London, which we then became the stock exchange of how people are in there building relationships. And it’s only when, you know, transactions went into it. And when everything became a transaction about business rather than a relationship that it went a bit weird.

Yeah, I think that’s an important part of how business really evolved into trading, you know, goods and services for money, but we seem to forget that there’s more than money at play. So how do we do it in a way that’s respectful to ourselves or to nature, especially with things like natural resource development, and how we can use the gift that we have of technology or the ability to reach so many more people than we ever would have before? How do we use that in the right way?  

Can you give us an example?

Yeah, I mean,this event we’re doing in London came about because it is it because of that. There was a coworking industry comic book put out, and I love webcomics. I love graphic design. So I was really excited to read it. And about halfway through the book, I came across a depiction of how coworking was “being really taken up” in Europe and in North America. And there was a depiction of indigenous people with headdresses and tipis on computers.  Well, headdresses are very sacred items. And so are tipis to an extent within the indigenous cultures of the North Americas.

There are so many depictions of this worldwide, where people don’t realize that it’s, I don’t want to say it’s an insult, but it’s, it’s ignorance. And it’s not well thought out. It’s not connecting to the people who own that, that knowledge, that’s their knowledge. And that’s their traditions. So to use it out of context, and such a worldwide kind of placement to me really kind of set off some bells. And being that I’m one of the few indigenous people in the Coworking sphere that I’m aware of. I stepped up and I decided to talk about it. And then this event came from it. And I was blown away. I was expecting a web a web conference or something.

But here you are in the bathtub.

And here I am in the bathtub.

So can you think of a way to talk about it so we can understand what struck you about it?  

Ok. Let’s make an English example. You put the Queen’s crown on to somebody that is not anywhere near royalty. And there’s no understanding of the significance of the crown.   I mean, headdresses are not crowns, they’re earned over a lifetime of dedication and hard work to the people that they serve. Chiefs will wear them, a great number of them. However, honored members of society can earn a headdress, but it is an earned thing. And it’s very, very ceremonial, it’s very spiritual and very culturally significant

So it would be like me walking around with the T shirt you get as a Navy Seal when you finish Hell Week. But I haven’t.

Right. Exactly.

I haven’t entered that tribe, if you like, of people that have completed it.

Yeah, that’s exactly it. So you’re depicting something that is very, very highly regarded. And suddenly, it’s turned into — it is not necessarily that it’s a cartoon, that’s not the issue. It’s the fact that the writers or the people depicting it weren’t, didn’t collaborate or communicate with an indigenous community beforehand, to kind of say, hey, Is this okay? Like, does this make sense? We want to be respectful of the way you guys want your portrayal.

You know it’s sort of interesting, because my wife saw it immediately, the problem with the comic book, and I didn’t, and she said, of course you didn’t, because you’re a white European.  So how are we supposed to know? And I’m not saying it’s okay. It’s all but.

I think there’s a fundamental part of every human that that will you get kind of the tingles when you know, something quite isn’t sitting, right? You look at examples like Coachella where they were having headdresses little feather headdresses, and the backlash was enormous, because of the fact that they were in traditional territories, there’s quite a few communities out there. And they were told outright, like, this isn’t acceptable, but nobody picked up on it beforehand. And I think part of that was that there was no connection and no forethought, thinking, Oh, this is a traditional culturally significant piece of clothing to these indigenous peoples, maybe we should ask them their opinion, or their permission?, because these are sacred items to us.

A young Indigenous woman, Tara Everett, is smiling at the camera, standing in a three quarter angle showing her left arm and full face in a formal picture.  She has short, brown hair, dark eyes, and dimples. She is wearing a black shirt with short sleeves which shows a tattoo of a bear, grass, and flowers on her left bicep.

So I have been thinking about the way indigenous people are depicted in the media and in particular in comic books, and the way things are represented, particularly cowboys and Indians, and it’s been I think consumerized, does that make sense?

I think, for the last few generations, yes. Absolutely. Indigenous people have never really commercialized our own culture, because you can’t commercialize your own culture. It’s hard to do.  Yeah, it started with cowboys and Indians, you know, the old going out west and the way history was taught for many years was, oh, we killed killed hundreds of Indians, because they were protesting, and the reality is that they were protesting the theft of their own land.

And they are always depicted as the bad guys.

Yup.  And that’s, that’s common in in political spheres nowadays, too. So great example is in Canada right now, there’s a lot of protests happening with pipelines. And the indigenous people are standing their ground and saying, you know, we don’t want our natural resources taken. We don’t want our drinking water ruined.  And even though there’s a duty to consult the indigenous people within Canada. It’s the understanding that this is their land. And yet they being depicted poorly for wanting their communities to be healthy. Anywhere else in the world? People would be like, yeah, like, we want clean drinking water.

You look at these massive multi million dollar marketing campaigns about clean drinking water in  third world countries. And I know for a fact that my own home community still relies on a septic truck to drive around to pick up waste. And people will go for days without running water, if they have a sewage line at all.

This is happening in our backyard. And it’s forgotten, it’s overlooked.

So what would you like for people to come to the event with?

I think just having an open an open mindset and questions or comments, maybe things that they’ve seen that they’ve themselves wonder is that is that appropriate? Or what are things that they can do.  The event is I think going to be pretty informal and casual and thankfully I am, too. But I think the most important part is people are coming and ready to not hear, but listen. There’s a big difference between them to me, and being able to listen and critically think about what was learned, and then put that into practice in a day to day life.

And what would you like people to take away from it? We have been having the inclusion and diversity and accessibility conversation, but I always feel this is where — everyone kind of agrees with it. But no one really wants to do anything about it.

I think the first step is to recognize where there might be a point of friction or something that’s not quite right. And really start to question why and go into the question, why isn’t this sitting right with me? Or how do I act on this to find out that information, whether or not that’s right, that’s an important thing to just start growing and learning. I choose to try and educate people before I you know, go in and say, No, this isn’t right.

In terms of Coworking, I mean, we’re an incredibly diverse and inclusive community I like to think, so how can we reflect that not only for indigenous people, but for people around the world where we might not necessarily understand their customs or their significance? And how are we more aware and respectful of that?

Do you feel it’s inclusive?  I mean I think it is seen as very much a white person’s industry, even though it might be the representation, that it just seems to be that.

Yeah, I think it’s the representation — to a lot of people as co working is very, you know, tech forward thinking, you know, high end. And the reality is, is that we’re just a community of people working on our own projects, but together and helping one another out.  I think if there was a better understanding that this is a safe and welcoming space for all with events like this, then we’ll be able to appeal more to a broader demographic of people.

I know I used to think, coworking was a startup thing for startup people, and I was not that.

I think it’s our perception. And we have to always learn to challenge our preconceived and established conceptions. You can go into so many different spaces, and they’re all run differently, or they have a different focus, you just need to find the right community to to work together with.  That’s trial and error that’s reaching out to people that have been in the industry for a while, that’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and what you need in a space and in a community.

So sure that’s what the coworker or the prospective coworker needs to do.  But do you think there are things coworking spaces can do in their communications, in their approach, to make that clearer?

My background involves policies and procedures so I think the best way of doing it is just sharing that there’s a message and an open inclusivity. And if there is a focus on one area or the other, just being open with their own story. So example, you know, XYZ focuses on tech startup entrepreneurship, or in my case, I focus on indigenous clientele. But I am inclusive to all people that want to work with indigenous people.

And that’s not being, you know, elite or anything, it’s just the reality that everyone works differently and in different spaces. So I think just knowing and being comfortable with asking questions, just asking it in a respectful and good minded way. I always say the intent is what draws me to people. And if somebody comes and asks me even the weirdest questions, if they’re doing it out of a place of genuine curiosity, and knowledge, and they want to learn that’s going to be a lot different than somebody coming to me and asking me for assistance in order to take advantage of let’s say, a funding program or a business opportunity where there isn’t going to be a benefit to my to my community, it’s just going to be a scheme to get access to programs.

I want you to give us your best closing remark, no pressure

I like to say to people, define your own success. And if that’s, you know, working with others, or bringing it together and also pulling from the communities instead of pushing us another.  One thing I see is a lot of pressure with the pull versus push strategy — I learned this working with people trying to find work, a lot of programs are based on people really pushing their ideas as to what others need to succeed. Whereas we need to ask the communities or the individuals involved, What do you want? How do you define success? And how are you wanting to reach it?  If they don’t know then that’s our role to then be able to connect them to the people that might make that reality.

Contact The European Coworking Assembly, Bathtub 2 Boardroom or visit https://attending.io/events/tara for more details, questions, or comments on the Inclusion event..

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