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Potluck Dialogues: 100 Conversations for Our Shared Future

Hosting Guidelines
Potluck Dialogues are part of the Circle Alberta: Creating Shared Memories For Our Shared Futures initiative. This initiative aims to facilitate dialogue that will foster communities of trust and respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal People in Alberta in order to motivate collective change and realization of human rights. The Potluck Dialogues piece is one of three levels of engagement which also include Film and Discussion Nights to facilitate dialogue at the community level and a Provincial Gathering of community leaders in November of 2012 to facilitate dialogue at the provincial level. For more information on the initiative, please visit or

What are Potluck Dialogues?

Potluck Dialogues are get-togethers filled with both gifts of hospitality and conversation with the goal of relationship building between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Peoples in Alberta. Relationship building in communities, in the workplace and even during dinner conversations can be an area where we can have an impact that matters in both the short and long term - an impact that moves toward the empowerment of people and respect for the dignity of all. Through these dialogues, communities can be built and engaged in order to develop relationships based on mutual respect and trust. After all, the sharing of a meal is a sacred space where ripples of change can occur. Memories are a part of both our individual and collective stories. When we take time to share aspects about us or our histories, we create the space for the deepening of relationships, trust and understanding. In traditional environments, storytelling and sharing memories were used for many reasons - to teach values, beliefs, morals, history, and life skills. Today sharing memories together gives us the opportunity to not only learn more about the other, but understand our collective similarities and differences while developing respect and dignity for the other.

What kind of potluck should I choose?

A potluck is a gathering of people where each person or group of people contributes a dish of food to be shared among the group. A variety of potlucks can be used for these potluck dialogues. Potlucks simplify the meal planning and distribute the costs among the participants. The only traditional rule is that each dish be large enough to be shared among a good portion of the anticipated guests. In some cases each participant agrees ahead of time to bring a single course, and the result is a multi-course meal. Guests may bring in any form of food, ranging from the main course to desserts. It can even be a breakfast dialogue!

How many guests should I invite?

Each host, if coordinating your potluck and dinner dialogue with a co-host, should invite four to five guests each. Eight to ten people is a good size to start with. It's a small enough number to fit inside someone's home or around a table, it gives everybody a chance to voice their thoughts and stories, and

if one or two members can't make it, there are still enough people left to form a good dialogue. We would suggest no more than twelve guests. Be sure to consider that your guests may have partners that they would like to bring or even children. In this case, as a host, you need to determine what your preference is for each of these. For partners, when you invite your guests you can ask them if they would like to bring their partner to ensure that you can reduce your invites if they choose to do so. For children, it is valuable for children to experience these community building events. Aboriginal traditions normally include children as important contributors to the community. Make the decision on what you can manage and what you prefer, and then discuss this with those you know have children.

What should you expect as Host?

Potluck Dialogues are meant to be an enjoyable and relaxing experience for both the hosts and the visitors. You should expect that the visitors will have a genuine interest in learning more about you, the other guests, and any topics discussed. The Potluck Dialogues are meant to be informal but do require some thought and preparation to help the event be as seamless and stress free as possible. Overall, as a host we simply ask that you allow your visitors to experience the hospitality and gifts of a potluck in your home and enjoy conversation. Typically, hosts are expected to be responsible for the clean-up duties as well as to supply plates and cutlery. You will want to arrange for the potluck to ensure that your guests bring a variety of dishes to enjoy. Ideally, Potluck Dialogues will be co-hosted, and therefore the expectations of the host are shared. One location should be chosen, with the remaining tasks of preparation shared, such as menu planning, reminder calls, and clean-up. (If you would like to co-host but do not have anyone to host with, please contact the John Humphrey Centre and we will pair you up (780) 453-2638 or As a host you will need to (please see the check list provided at the end of this document): 1. Working with your co-host or on your own, develop a list of invitees that represent an equal mix of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal guests. 2. A hard copy or email invitation is available from the John Humphrey Centre as well as online which you can send to all your invitees. Consider how best to send the invitations - you may want to send them by email or hard copy in advance (we suggest approximately two to four weeks in advance) followed by a phone call. You may also just want to start with a phone call and then send the details in an email. Be sure to give your guests ample time to plan. After your guests have received the invitation, it would be worthwhile to contact them by telephone to further explain the format for the occasion and to confirm their attendance. It will most likely be the first time your guests attend such an event. They may therefore have some questions and nervousness. Please ensure your guests that this event is meant to be a relaxing, informal evening and that there is very little expectation beyond the sharing of food and memories. 3. Upon confirmation of attendance, send all your confirmed guests a joint email thanking them for coming and giving them a brief rundown on what to expect. This email can confirm the location details and link to a google map, the time, as well as letting them know that if they are bringing a potluck item they should let you know in advance.

4. With your co-host, discuss what role each of you want to play during the event. We would suggest having one person responsible for organizing the food, one for welcoming guests, and perhaps identify another guest to assist with helping spur informal conversations before the formal discussions occur. If you are not co-hosting, perhaps identify two guests who can come early to help you prepare and play these roles. Plan to have your co-host arrive early so you can prepare together and have a short meeting to go over roles and responsibilities. 5. Enjoy the evening! You as the host will play the key facilitation role during the evening. We have developed the processes you can follow below to help you through the evening. 6. At the end of the evening, thank your guests for coming and hand them each a comment card as well as take away card provided by the John Humphrey Centre so they can provide feedback, offer to host a dialogue themselves, or just stay in touch. 7. Once everyone has left, be sure to take a few minutes to debrief with your co-host, take a few notes and feel free to share any thoughts you have with the John Humphrey Centre. We encourage you to contribute a short post of your experience on (If you would like your post to remain anonymous please contact us). Improvement of process or plans only comes through feedback!

What kind of timeline should the evening entail?

How you pace the evening will be essentially at your discretion. The activity, including food and dialogue, will most likely take approximately 2 to 3 hours. As a general guideline, we suggest the following general timeline: Arrival and welcome of guests Sharing of light refreshments and informal conversation (one hour) Welcome and Introduction Icebreaker activity Dinner Service coupled with formal Dialogue and Circle sharing Distribution of comment cards (provided to the host) and farewell Host evaluation/blog post We found that starting the event at approximately 5:30 pm allowed an appropriate amount of time for people to settle in and then to serve dinner at 6:30 pm, especially if you are hosting on a Saturday evening, this gives you as the host time to prepare.

What is the format for the dialogue portion of the evening?

The dialogue portion of the evening will be when guests have a chance to further get to know one another and share. Although these dialogues are meant to be informal, the following outline will allow you, as host, to ensure that the conversation moves smoothly and naturally. Welcome guests and introduction This is when you, as host, have the opportunity to give an overview of the dialogue, its purpose, and answer any questions. During the introduction, you can ask guests to share one thing about themselves as well as one hope they have for the evening (or fear). Possible Ice breaker activities OBJECTS IN A BAG - OPTION ONE: In advance of the dialogue, collect 6-8 objects to use as part of this dialogue icebreaker activity which will assist in sparking conversation and dialogue. Place a variety of objects in a bag. At the start of the dialogue, following

welcome and introductions, each person will pull out an object from a bag and share the memory that the object provokes for them. These objects should be simple household items such as a utensil, a toy, a book or magazine, etc. They will then place the object back in the bag and pass the bag on to the next person. You can also have them select from the bag without looking; this would require giving that person a few seconds to come up with a response and may be more nerve wrecking. OBJECTS IN A BAG - OPTION TWO: As mentioned previously, collect 6-8 objects and place them in a bag. On a volunteer basis, ask guests to choose an object from the bag and answer the following question(s): What does this object mean to you? What memory does this spark for you? WHATS IN A NAME? As a simple icebreaker, as people introduce themselves, have them tell the story to their name. Where did it come from? Does it mean anything specific? USING FILM TO SPARK THE CONVERSATION: Consider using a short film to start your evening. For example, you and your guests could watch Im Not the Indian You Had in Mind and as with the Objects in a Bag activity, everyone could take a turn sharing a memories, experiences or stories that this film evokes. (Note: This 7 minute film can be accessed here - You may choose to identify another short clip on youtube for example which you feel will spark conversation. Be sure to keep your film to no more than ten minutes. Dinner Circle Please feel free to dive deeper into guests description of their memory by using the following questions as probing questions: Tell us more about... [a certain aspect of their story]. How does or did that object/film make you feel? Does anyone else have a similar memory (or different) with the same object? Utilize the Circle process to enable all voices to be heard and let guests know they can feel free to pass. By maintaining the circle, you ensure respect and reciprocity. Try to help make connections between people and their stories to help the conversation along. Conclusion of the dialogue In a circle format (allowing everyone to gather in a circle and share one at a time around a circle), ask participants to share any thoughts/feelings about the dialogue. Hand out the comment cards for participants to fill out.

Notes on Facilitating Dialogue

Conversations can be difficult but setting ground rules will help your guests feel comfortable to share their stories, memories, and emotions with each other and to have a deep conversation. Importantly, everyone participating in the conversation needs to understand that to create a safe dialogue space for all and to be able to participate in open-minded conversation, we need to understand that we can only speak from our own experiences and, therefore, need to reserve judgement. Setting ground rules together is a good idea because it makes creating a safe space for dialogue a collective experience and assures that everyone is on the same page. Some ground rules are provided at the end of this toolkit. The dinner table can be used as a space for circle dialogue while after dinner, guests can leave the table to have more intimate one on one conversations. A circle dialogue is a discussion group where

interested participants get together to talk about a particular topic. Such circles have a deep and sacred place in many cultures around the world and in particular in First Nations cultures in Canada. A circle represents equality and interconnection. Everyone has both a right to speak from personal experience from the heart - and a responsibility to listen in a circle.

Host Evaluation/Blog Post

After the evening has ended, as hosts, please take the time to reflect on your experience and the dialogue by considering the following questions: i. How did it go? ii. What worked for the evening? Is there anything that didnt work? iii. What impacted you? iv. What do you think impacted your guests the most? v. Is there anything you would do differently next time? Your reflections may be posted as a discussion on the Circle Alberta Social Networking Site Posting your reflection on this Site will allow you to contribute to a larger, province-wide conversation on fostering relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples based on mutual respect and trust. Your discussion will also allow others who are committed to this work to engage with your thoughts and ideas and to learn from your experiences. Because your reflections on the Potluck Dialogue you hosted will be posted on a public forum, we ask that you do not use names or information that may compromise peoples anonymity. To post your discussion, please go to, click on Forum and add a discussion to the
100 Conversations for our Shared Future category. Please use the following name format, Potluck Dialogue: [DATE]

Ground Rules for Dialogue

You don't have to agree. Listen with the expectation of learning; that is, assume that the speaker has something new and of value to contribute to your comprehension and then stretch your mind to find out what that is. None of us has the whole truth. Seek to comprehend the many facets of meaning that emerge from the group. Appreciate how the diversity of perceptions enriches the quality of the dialogue. In your responses do not problem solve, argue, analyze, rescue, nitpick or give advice. Rather, try to understand how the diverse views connect with each other. Pay attention to your listening. Listen for the "voice of the heart" as well as the mind--yours and others. Tune into the language, rhythms and sounds. Listen as you would to hear the themes played by various instruments in an orchestra and how they relate to each other. That's what makes the music. In Dialogue, that's what makes the collective meaning. Free yourself up from a rigid mindset. Stand back and respond, rather than reacting automatically or defensively. Balance advocacy (making a statement) with inquiry (seeking clarifications and understanding). In advocating do not impose your opinion, rather simply offer it as such. In inquiry seek clarification and a deeper level of understanding, not the exposure of weakness. Communicate your reasoning process, i.e. talk about your assumptions and how you arrived at what you believe. Seek out the data on which assumptions are based, your own and others. Bring tacit (hidden) assumptions to the surface of consciousness. Suspend, rather than identify with, your judgements. Hold these away from your core self, to be witnessed or observed by yourself and made visible to others. There's no need for questions to be answered right away. If the question relates directly to someone, they can pick it up when they next take a turn. This differs from usual conversations, but think of questions as inquiries that you're putting into a shared space.

Organize Your Potluck Dialogue

2-4 Weeks Before Questions to consider to help you plan your event: Why are you hosting a Potluck Dialogue? What are your goals for the Dialogue? What kind of Potluck do you want to have (e.g., breakfast, lunch, dinner, just desserts & coffee)? Do you want to host alone or co-host (contact the Centre if you are looking for a co-host)? Once youve committed to hosting a Potluck Dialogue, do the following: Choose a date, time and location Make a guest list that represent an equal mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal guests Decide whether you want to call before or after you send out the invitations through email or mail Send your invitations! 1 Week Before Send email reminders with event details (eg., location, time) Call guests to explain the format of the occasion and confirm and finalize attendance Confirm what dish each guest will be bringing and what you (and your co-host) will be contributing If showing a film, test your equipment Discuss with your co-host what role each of you want to play If co-hosting, identify (and call) a guest who can help spur informal conversation If not co-hosting, identify (and call) two guests who can assist you with food prep and informal conversation

2 Days Before: Gather Your Materials Comment cards Take away cards Objects for icebreaker Print out Ground Rules for Dialogue Computer or DVD to show video Any additional cutlery, plates, or chairs you might need

After Your Potluck Dialogue Debrief with your co-host immediately after (feel free to take notes) Write a blog post for describing your experiences Follow-up with your guests, via phone or email, to thank them for participating Invite your guests to submit a short blog post of their experiences Return the Comment Cards to the John Humphrey Centre Call or email us to tell us how your Potluck Dialogue went

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