“The humble voice. That’s where the value is.” Lorne Ternes interview by Luticia Miller

July 31st, 2020 | Sandra Sutter

July 16, 2020

Lorne Ternes is a practicing Lawyer admitted to the Law Society of Alberta.  He has a rich history in land and resource development law, negotiations for First Nation Commercial and Industrial projects, dispute resolution, and has served as a Constitutional and Aboriginal Law expert legal officer for the Government of Alberta.  He is much distinguished, and has received numerous awards for his outstanding achievements, including the Award of Excellence bestowed by the Premier of Alberta in 2010.  In addition to his legal profession, he is an educator and lecturer with the University of Alberta, including the faculties of Business, Law and Native Studies. He also teaches Interest Based Negotiations at the Banff Centre.

As a current Board Member with CFAR, how would you describe your role and involvement with the organization?

I have been involved with CFAR as a Member for some time, and a board member for a few years now.  In that, I attend board meetings, organize, plan meetings and events.  My involvement includes stimulating interest among people I know, and others, and spreading the word and work of the organization.

Outside of CFAR, can you share with us what occupies you in work and beyond? 

I have spent 30 years in the legal field on Indigenous Issues, Canadian Inter-Governmental Issues, Land Claims, Conflict Resolution, and Indigenous Relations.  My Clients span Provincial Government, Federal Government, Municipalities, Metis communities, Tribal Organizations, Indigenous Communities, First Nation Governments, and Resource Development companies. In addition, I teach negotiations at the Banff Centre, and with the University of Alberta. Recently, I’ve been making efforts to slow down and spend more time with my wife and sons.

Between your Legal work, educating, and your family, where do you find the energy and drive to contribute to communities and organizations like CFAR in such an effective capacity?

From conversations with Chiefs, Councillors, Community Members and Elders, I get my focus.  It’s important to allow yourself to be listening and be open to be influenced.  And my energy I get from helping communities help themselves, and in making things a little better than they were before.  I get a buzz out of helping and being involved.  We need people to be involved.  And in their involvement, whether passionate or not, to be relentless.

You do a lot of work in negotiations and dispute resolution – you must be a fantastic communicator!  What lessons or tips would you be willing to share with us so we could all be better at avoiding conflict?

What really helps a lot in parties resolving questions in a healthy way, is understanding what you really want, what you are frightened of, what the possibilities might be, what are the primary motivations for entering discussions.  Then understand what the other parties involved are afraid of, what do they lose sleep over, what do they want to create, and what are their interests.  It’s important to be tuned to these balances and dig out these primary drivers.  You might not be happy [about it], but that interest or desire or fear is legitimate in that communities’ view, and you have to respect it.  The resolution may not reflect what you initially thought you wanted, but it may respect the relationship and still achieve what you need.

Self-awareness and respect in listening is key.  Valuing what the other parties are saying and building the trust through respectful relationships and communications.  That way everyone can be more transparent about what they are really trying to avoid, or are frightened of, or what they hope for, and be comfortable enough in an uncomfortable situation to find solutions for all parties.

As the work of CFAR is about facilitating an understanding of different perspectives, can you share from your work as a Lawyer specializing in Indigenous land rights, what you see as the most important considerations when bringing together Indigenous and Non-Indigenous parties? 

I spent 4 years with the Alberta Energy Regulator as a commissioner and held the AER in high regard and thought I could contribute in getting a lot of effective things done.  Prior to serving as a commissioner (or decision-maker) I  spent a lot of time as a advocate, or a respondent for clients in the natural resource context. I hadn’t spent time as a decision maker.  What I learned sitting on a panel as a decision-maker is the importance of listening with an open and clear mind.  I learnt that just because the person you are listening to is not pleasant, is loud, ill prepared, or unclear, doesn’t mean their points aren’t valid.  Try to sift out the noise and identify what’s important to this person.  Turn off the judgment as best as you are able.  It is the humble simple people who are the most valuable. If you listen to their truths, you find that the humble voice:  that’s where the value is.

That is a big part of what CFAR is about.  CFAR provides a safe space for comfortable and uncomfortable conversations.  CFAR is a place where you can expect to be influenced and hope to influence others.

My final question to you, as we cautiously emerge from the COVID hunker-down, do you have any observations on how this experience has changed us, or how we should proceed?

I think it’s important not to lose the momentum we had before, this is a great opportunity for federal and provincial money to be invested in communities; to take a look at investing in Northern and Indigenous communities and to see how we can really take advantage in these uncomfortable times.  We can get a double bang for our buck, investing in creating secure food sources, secure and renewable energy, and stimulating the economy.   Right now we should be assessing what went well with COVID, what was “iffy” or questionable and what would we do differently if a COVID-like situation happens again.

Interview by Luticia Miller, CFAR Member