National Character Conference pushes attendees to ponder hard questions

Newly-developed Abbotsford event nets 250 participants

Wab Kinew

Wab Kinew

The National Character Conference has encouraged Mayor Henry Braun to think hard about serious matters.

When attending a morning keynote session today with Aboriginal speaker and academic Wab Kinew, it struck Braun to reexamine how the city relates to area First Nations groups.

“Our relationship, with the city and First Nations, hasn’t always been stellar,” Braun said. “We have a pretty good working relationship, but it isn’t as much as it could be…We do have some things to work out.”

He wants to contact leaders and discuss top-of-mind issues like economic development and service agreements. And he hopes to connect with Kinew after the conference to hear more of his story.

A member of the Onigaming First Nation from northwestern Ontario, Kinew’s advocacy for Aboriginal issues has taken him to meet famous figures like Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama — which he shared with an engaged crowd of nearly 250 conference attendees.

He encouraged them to demonstrate compassion and humility in leadership, traits his culture values highly.

(Photo below: Students from Rick Hansen Secondary perform a Bhangra dance number for conference attendees.)

Students from Rick Hansen Secondary perform a Bhangra dance number for the crowd at the National Character Conference.

“When somebody does you wrong, it’s no comment on your character,” Kinew said.

Through discussions of his own story, he showed the importance of representation — when a person in a disadvantaged group sees somebody like them in an important position, it encourages them to dream big too.

“I believed there was a limit to how far I could go,” he said, remembering a belief he used to hold before seeing leaders like Obama overcome racism and similar hurdles to find success.

The National Character Conference is a first-of-its-kind, Canada-wide event hoping to promote leadership, positive values, and community involvement. An outgrowth of the Character Abbotsford society, organizers hope the event will grow into a Canada-wide movement.

They’re working to build a universal language of values —respect, responsibility, integrity, empathy, courage and service — that is nonetheless able to engage with complex and challenging real-world issues.

Gerry Goertzen, who is part of the conference planning team, said the event is already succeeding.

“It was a great start,” Goertzen said. “I hope this movement gains momentum and traction across Canada.”

The National Character Conference is taking place at Abbotsford Senior Secondary today and tomorrow. For more information, visit the National Character Conference website.