By Amy Robertson
Kris Archie, a Secwepemc and Seme7 woman from the Ts’qescen First Nation, is passionate about community work with heart—she wants nothing more than to facilitate positive change. SFU Continuing Studies’ Dialogue and Civic Engagement Certificate has helped her make her contributions even stronger.
Archie is the project manager for the Vancouver Foundation’s youth homelessness initiative, called Fostering Change. The name is inspired by the fact that 40% of B.C.’s homeless population has spent time in government care. Foster children stop receiving support at only 19, placing them at risk. Archie hopes to change this trend.
Even before joining the foundation, Archie spent years doing community engagement work. Her passion comes from lived experience: She was in foster care as a teen, and as a young adult, she became a foster parent to her brother and sister.
‘All children have a right to be heard’
“The experiences I had of how people are treated in government care helped me recognize that there’s something flawed with the system, and largely it’s that people who are affected by decisions made at a policy level aren’t having any say in what that means for their day-to-day lives,” she says. “That’s what got me into this work. All children have a right to be heard and to be involved with decisions that affect them.”
For Archie, involving her heart in the work is vital. “If this work doesn't matter to me, then I feel like I don’t have any place in it. I think there is a time and a place for neutrality, and this is not it.”
Her mentor, Chris Corrigan, affirmed this “working with heart” way of being, and introduced her to SFU’s dialogue program, in which he teaches. Archie loved what it added to her work, including the ability to apply new skills and tools immediately, the opportunity to join a community of practice, the affirmation and professionalization of skills that she was already practicing naturally, and tools for engaging in complex planning processes.
Using the arts for social change
She also learned to support and integrate arts-based engagement into her work. She later applied this to a project called the 19th Birthday Party, which local artists designed. People were invited to sit at a pop-up installation of a dinner table decorated with party hats and confetti. Under each plate was a video screen that told a story about a young person aging out of the foster system on his or her 19th birthday.
“It had such an impact on people that we’ve now commissioned a mobile installation for use in future community engagement and dialogue work,” she says. “It’s a real gift to see how deeply impacted people are by artistic expressions of people’s lived experiences.”
During Archie’s practicum project, on which she worked with Peter Boothroyd, one of SFU’s instructors, Archie focused on her youth engagement work at the Vancouver Foundation. She says one of the most valuable things she learned was the importance of integrating her expertise with her employer’s past experience and wisdom.
“I had to slow down and begin from understanding where they were at with their practice of youth and community engagement, then build approaches to the work that honoured what they were already doing.”
Listening and community conversations are vital
Moving forward, Archie hopes to continue to apply the wisdom she developed during the program as she works to ensure that youth leaving foster care have the same resources and opportunities as their peers who are parented beyond the age of 19. “A key component to the work is raising awareness and minimizing negative stereotypes about foster kids and the foster-care system through engaging people in community conversations,” she says.
Archie speaks about the importance of deep listening in facilitating this kind of change. It’s a concept that SFU’s program affirmed and that echoes her lived experience.
“If we go into a process with the answer already in mind, and leave a process with the same answer, then we’re not actually listening,” she says. “And if we don’t practice how to incorporate diverse voices in identifying solutions, we’re missing out. We’re going to do things without full consideration of who else needs to be involved and what other wisdom exists.”