Finding Common Ground through Cultural Innovation

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Feb 05, 2020
by Carla Zahra
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Finding Common Ground through Cultural Innovation

YCI Canada fellows explore their commonalities and differences during a Haida Gwaii research-residency Members of YCI Canada Hub gather in Haida Gwaii

When one Young Cultural Innovator invited fellow delegates to gather on his home territory in Haida Gwaii, an archipelago of 150 islands off British Columbia’s West Coast in Canada, it opened up a new dimension of fostering relationships for cultural collaboration. Supported by Salzburg Global Seminar and the Canada Council for the Arts, the visit enabled members of the YCI Canada Hub to explore their shared and diverse experiences, focusing on understanding and supporting Indigenous sovereignty in their works as individuals and as a group. 

The research-residency took place between September 22 and September 28, 2019, in Skidegate, a Haida community in Haida Gwaii. The seven participants were all delegates from the Canada Hub of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI). These participants included Patrick Shannon (Nang K’uulas), Nikki Shaffeeullah, and J.S. Ryu, who took part in the 2017 program of the YCI Forum, and Alyssa Fearon, Brian McBay, Lindsey Mae Willie and Jenna Winter from the 2018 program of the YCI Forum. 

Through a series of in-depth conversations, the participants found common ground discussing the history of colonialism and their shared experience of anti-colonial work within the cultural sector. Together, they explored topics such as colonization, Indigenous sovereignty, and land title. Apart from seeking ways of supporting equal pay policies for arts workers in Canada, members of this YCI Hub also spoke about how each of their organizations could thrive in a complex environment by advocating for better policies that would serve historically underrepresented communities. This inspired fruitful conversations about what work can be achieved through collaboration as a Hub. 

Upon arriving in Skidegate, Patrick Shannon gave an overview of Haida Gwaii’s recent history, including its colonization and subsequent work towards decolonization. The role of the Haida Nation as a leading example in Indigenous self-governance, settler-Indigenous relationships, language preservation and repatriation of “objects” became evident to those that were not previously aware of it. On their second day, Lindsey Mae Willie presented a summary of the impacts of the imposition of the Indian Act on First Nations in Canada, in particular to her own people, the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw. 

“We also learned that the immense geography in Canada can oversimplify the relationships between regions at times, thereby complicating our work as a national ‘Hub.’ Though we all live in ‘Canada’, we each represent very different regions and communities, from isolated landscapes to large urban centers and from isolated islands to spaces of extractive global capital,” reports the group, in their collaborative summary of the project. 

Through the research-residency program, the YCI delegates also collaborated with individuals and organizations based in Haida Gwaii, including the Haida Heritage Centre, the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP), students in Haida Gwaii, the Haida Youth Assembly, the Gidgalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary School and individuals who helped organize the film screening of “Yah’Guudang / Respect for All Living Beings” in Masset. 

The YCI Canada Hub is currently exploring several possible projects that stemmed from their meeting in Haida Gwaii and are planning their next meeting in 2020. 


The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators empowers rising talents in the creative sector to drive social, economic and urban change. Launched in 2014, it is building a global network of 500 competitively-selected changemakers in “hub” communities who design collaborative projects, build skills, gain mentors, and connect to upcoming innovators in their cities and countries.