Binesiwag selected for 2-year global storytelling fellowship

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Binesiwag Center for Wellness announced that Chief Executive Officer, Lori Flinders-McMillan, and Motivational Speaker, Carrianne Agawa, were selected for the 2-year Storytelling Fellowship with the Collective Change Lab (CCL), a global movement that fosters just and equitable systems.

The global collective is comprised of change-makers from across the world who are all working on diverse issues. Binesiwag joins the collective with intentions of continuing the local work from their collective called Waasa Inaabidaa, whose focus is on storytelling to create systems change in the opioid crisis for Indigenous people.

“I feel ecstatic, I feel curious, I feel nervous,” said Flinders-McMillan. “I’m also simultaneously doing a doctorate and running a company. It’s a lot but I’m up for the challenge. And I also feel really humbled and grateful for the opportunity.”

At 5 a.m. in morning on Nov. 13, the first official day of the 2-year fellowship began. Participants originated from Spain, Africa, the United States, Canada, and more, said Flinders-McMillan, who expressed gratitude for modern technology which made it all possible.

The first meeting laid a roadmap for the next two years, she said. Participants introduced themselves and told the story of what led up to that moment in time.

For Flinders-McMillan, it all began a few years ago. There was a rush of opioid overdoses in many First Nations communities in Southern Treaty 3 which made the drug crisis more poignant than ever. Flinders-McMillan also lost a loved one who called her “auntie.”

“When I watched what my family went through after their overdose, I was really motivated to do whatever I could, whatever it would take, to try and help them to try and help [address] this wicked problem that so many of our communities are dealing with,” she said.

“The team at Binesiwag recognized that we needed to think outside of the box. But we weren’t really sure, like, we’re all innovators in our own way, however, we needed some help.”

Flinders-McMillan reached out to a colleague named Melanie Goodchild, who works on the Systems Storytelling Project for CCL. Their connection began when they worked together in the past on an Indigenous advisory board for an NGO, Flinders-McMillan said.

“She’s one of the most brilliant people I have ever met and I knew she was involved in doing her PhD around systems change” she said. “I asked her if she would consider helping the team at Binesiwag, learn about systems innovation and systems and systems change, and what exactly that could mean for the opioid crisis.”

Funding to begin a collective called Waasa Inaabidaa was secured around early 2022.

The collective brought together artists and storytellers who use storytelling as a tool for social change.

“That’s First Nations people, we’re storytellers,” Flinders-McMillan said. “It’s through our oral tradition that our ceremonies and our cultures and our songs and our legends and our spiritual sacred, customary laws have been kept alive. So storytelling is really the oldest method of social change that we’ve had, and has got us through through a lot of colonization has thrown at us, and that resiliency piece is found woven through those stories.”

Shortly after, Binesiwag received the opportunity to take part in a global storytelling collective with CCL, representing their local collective Waasa Inaabidaa. Interviews and proposal submissions were completed for the competitive application process.

Two and a half weeks before the official fellowship start date, Flinders-McMillan learned she was a successful candidate.

Some people in the collective focus on ecology, others focus on journalism, and some focus on the opioid crisis. Although the issues are all different and seemingly unrelated, through stories, commonalities can be revealed. For example, Flinders-McMillan said someone from Columbia spoke about segregation, which could in many ways intersect with issues that arise in the opioid crisis.

“It’s where our intention intersects,” Flinders-McMillan said to explain how diverse people and issues across the world can come together to create change. “And then through those intersections and commonalities, that space in between [is] where solutions may be found—not necessarily solutions, but pivot points may be found.”

When asked what the end result will look like after the 2-year fellowship, Flinders-McMillan says “social change” would be her simplified answer.

“It’s a learning process. Because it’s a practice as much as a product. And so all along the journey, I don’t know if there’ll be one particular outcome,” she said.

Flinders-McMillan says she is excited to work with Agawa on the fellowship and believes they will have a beautiful partnership founded on understanding. She describes Agawa as a brilliant artist, ceremony person, play therapist, and notes that Agawa is an Indigenous woman from Whitefish River First Nation, the land of the birch trees.

“There’s so many people out there who are doing such good work for our global wellness,” Flinders-McMillan said. “And this is like a sampling of a hopeful future.”