A Conversation with Indians – About Nuclear Waste

I’m on my way to Canada to talk with the Indian Tribes there – called “First Nations” – about the nuclear industry’s plans to build a deep geologic repository for radioactive wastes. My job is to talk to them about having a productive conversation in the face of a serious challenge: the waste site is on the short list of candidate locations, and it’s near their tribal lands.

I’ve only got Four Conversations to work with:

  1. Initiative conversation – put an idea out for something to work toward;
  2. Understanding conversation – have a dialogue about how it could be done and who would be involved;
  3. Performance conversation – make requests and promises to establish agreements about what will be done, by whom, and when; and
  4. Closure conversation – complete anything that is left over from the past to make space for what’s coming next.

I’m going to start with Closure, on the hunch that there just might be some issues and concerns that have arisen over the past 50 years of Uranium mining in the area that might need to be completed in order to give the new waste repository a fair hearing. Yep, I’m betting there are a few of those.

Pre-Conference – So some of us will have a Closure Conversation to identify all the outstanding issues from the past, and all the associated worries about having a new Waste Repository nearby. I plan to make a list on a big chart while we talk in order to help them see and clarify their thoughts. Then we want to turn that list into a set of questions to ask and ideas to introduce to the Conference audience, perhaps paving the way to talk about the future independent of the past.

Conference Day One – This is the First Nations Day where the Tribal Elders, the community leaders, and the First Nation youth will speak and listen. I’m expecting their presentations and discussions to be about their historical reverence for the land and the importance of honoring their relationship with nature. There will be hunters and trappers speaking too.

Conference Day Two – This is the day I will be giving a short presentation about communication, followed by moderating three panels in which the First Nations and other residents of the province will be able to ask their questions and present their concerns and ideas to the people attending the Conference. There will not be a presentation by the nuclear waste industry people – they did that last year and things got “raucous” (that’s the word they used to describe it). This year they simply want to sort themselves out about this new possibility, and to be rational in the face of a potentially polarizing issue. Completing the past is a key part of preparing to talk with the industry about the idea of a repository.

I’ll let you know how it goes. One nice thing: the Tribal Elders start and end each day with a prayer. That would be a Closure Conversation too, and also perhaps creating an opening for a new future.

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