Agency. Action. Emergence.

Since joining CKX as Program Director in August I have been holding space for reflection, dialogue and learning on the role of CKX as a social change agency amidst a rapidly changing and evolving world. These are some of my initial thoughts that have stemmed from this time, as well as some of the ways in which we as an agency have begun to articulate and act upon our shared values in this period of transformation…


While complexity, change and chaos are ever-present forces in our world, there are moments in which we acutely feel their presence — periods in which one feels as though they are “living through history.” At these junctures, longstanding institutions, approaches and beliefs are reexamined and challenged — the status quo abruptly becomes untenable, and the emergence of new norms becomes feasible. These are moments of opportunity, but also moments of incredible uncertainty — how will we respond, who will we listen to, and what lessons will we glean from the stories shared?

The late 1960s were such a time of potential transformation. 1968 alone saw the sanitation workers’ strike, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ powerful salute at the Summer Olympics. Here in Canada, the period saw the decriminalization of homosexuality (1969), the release of “Citizens Plus” following the release of the infamous “White Paper” (1969-1970) and the October Crisis (1970).

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How will we respond, who will we listen to and what lessons will we gleam from the stories shared?

Now, 50 years later, we are in the midst of another such juncture. Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo Movement and Indigenous water protectors from Standing Rock to Burnaby Mountain have shed a powerful and inescapable light on the injustices of our era. We are confronting a rapidly warming planet, decaying democratic norms, and widening inequality — trends which have enabled the reemergence of autocratic leadership.

As I reflect upon these realities and look back upon a period of parallels in the 1960s, I am struck both by immediate gains and the missed opportunities for long-term systemic change. By the turn of the decade the White Paper had been repealed, and by the mid-1970s North and South Korea had entered a period of reunification. Yet these tangible victories belied larger, deeper truths. For Indigenous peoples, the White Paper symbolized the continued paternalistic, oppressive and destructive impacts of colonization exerted by the crown (and later, the federal government) — its repeal did not fundamentally alter this reality. The protests that swept the United States in the late 1960s were about more than opposition to a single war - they were also about the disproportionate impact of conscription upon minority groups, the human and financial costs of imperialistic pursuits abroad and the disregard of international human rights.

The collective response of existing power structures to these truths was procedural — actions (primarily political undertaken within the limits of the pre-existing frameworks of longstanding institutions. Thus, the “11 men in suits” of the Meech Lake Accord process exemplified the continued exclusion of Indigenous leadership in matters of constitutional consequence, the response to communism’s ideological successor in the form of the War on Terror both the longest and one of the costliest wars in American history. Systemic structural change was elusive, as the underlying ideology remained unchanged.

Today we have the opportunity to respond differently to similar societal upheaval - to move from a place of reactivity to intentionality, to explore more deeply our relationships with all beings and our accountability to them, and to truly transform the models and frameworks which shape our world. We have no choice but examine more deeply the underlying forces at play in our world, as we are witnessing the very real limits and consequences of our continual quest for growth at the expense of the lands and waters and those who we share this world with. Which begs the question: how do we show up differently, altering the lens through which we see the world? How do we create the conditions for truly transformative change?

The Impacts to Our Work

These audacious questions have been an undercurrent to my journey to date as Program Director at CKX. Though we are but one part of a much larger system, we have a responsibility to bring our full and best selves to our work, particularly at this time of marked complexity and change.

My explorations have been inspired by the work of adrienne maree brown on the idea of emergent strategy - “the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies.” As an agency whose position and privilege can influence a broader network of shift disturbers, how can we model new norms for social change work? And how can we employ our pillars of reflective practice, deep learning and knowledge exchange to support deeper societal shifts through a refocusing upon relationships rather than merely outcomes?

These are questions we are beginning to explore as an agency and within the broader social change movement, but I want to highlight two themes we are reflecting upon as we work to actualize some of these ideas:

Who is at the Table?

CKX has a responsibility to ensure that its spaces are rooted in decolonized approaches and a shared commitment to the redistribution of power and privilege traditionally reserved for an exclusive group of networked and resourced changemakers. Simply put, across a landmass of ten provinces, three territories and over 630 Indigenous Nations, we simply cannot turn to a small handful of voices to speak for all the communities we seek to serve through our work. The stubbornness and stickiness of the status quo is due in part to who is at the table (and not at the table), and how the perspectives they bring shape how the work is approached - a recent American study found that upwards of 80% of senior leaders in the nonprofit sector were white, limiting the perspectives represented at the strategic planning level of many organizations.

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How do we honour “nothing about us without us” in how we convene gatherings of diverse shift disturbers? How do we use our platforms and programming to elevate a wide range of voices, consciously stepping back when needed to listen, learn and grow?

Over the past month, the work of Dorian O. Burton & Brian C.B. Barnes, Aaron Tanaka and Anand Giridharadas, among others, have helped to ground me in the types of questions that inspire me to reimagine what is possible as a social change agency.

How do we honour “nothing about us without us” in how we convene gatherings of diverse shift disturbers? How do we use our platforms and programming to elevate a wide range of voices, consciously stepping back when needed to listen, learn and grow? We will soon be launching a series of program offerings which we hope will create the conditions for us to explore these themes more deeply.


Living Our Values

This fall we will also share Living Our Values, an articulation of our commitments to the communities we serve and the ways in which we intend to tangibly put into practice the values we hold. We have chosen our partnership and procurement strategy as a first step for CKX in this work, a space in which we are able to elevate and accelerate the work of values-aligned individuals and organizations.

I’m excited to continue to explore these themes through my role as Program Director at CKX, and am indebted to those that have provided support, guidance and insights around this work so far. And I look forward to hearing from others in the community as to how we can continue to push ourselves to do more (and do it thoughtfully) in the months ahead.

If you are interested in being a part of these conversations I encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter below, or reach out to me at alexander@ckx.org.

Alexander Dirksen