Communicating Across Cultures at Red Dog Operations

Dr. Oleksa conducting training


As guests of the Northwest Arctic region of Alaska and its Indigenous Peoples, it is important for Teck Red Dog Operations (RDO) to provide training to our people that aligns with our values and helps them engage with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

“Most of our workforce is Indigenous, and the Iñupiat culture is very different from Western culture” says Kristina McCall, Personnel Officer at RDO. “We do things a bit differently. We want to be the best place to work, and we want people to feel good working here. We want people to be able to communicate openly and freely.” 

For the last two years RDO has offered a training program called “Communicating Across Cultures.” The program focuses on what defines culture and understanding how, given cultural differences, miscommunication can occur. It is facilitated by Dr. Michael Oleksa (also known as Father Michael), a leader in the development of cross-cultural communication in Alaska. Dr. Oleksa has worked in Alaska for more than 50 years and has served as a village priest, university professor and consultant on intercultural relations and communications. He has authored several books on Alaska Native cultures and history and has written an acclaimed four-part PBS television series called Communicating Across Cultures.

The training program was born out of the miscommunication Dr. Oleksa witnessed between people of different cultural groups. This miscommunication was not deliberate, but it would sometimes cause unwanted negative outcomes with diverse groups of people trying to work together. His training focuses on these interactions and includes the way we see the world and the story into which we are all born.

“One of the things Father Michael says is when miscommunication happens, the person with less power suffers the consequences,” says Kristina. “For example, in an interview setting, the candidate may show up as humble and softspoken, and depending on how that’s interpreted, can affect whether they get a job. So having Father Michael come in and talk to people raises awareness about the cultural differences between us so that we can have a better understanding of one another.”

Over 220 employees and contractors have received the training. Kristina says the reaction has been very positive. “I’ve heard great comments from participants who now recognize things like the difference between how close some people stand to one another, or how loud their voices are, whereas others stand back and speak more softly. They never considered that as a cultural difference before but now they more aware and are connecting with each other and with Father Michael’s teachings.”

For some employees, working for RDO is their first time being in Alaska. The Communicating Across Cultures training provides them an opportunity to learn about the Indigenous way of life. This type of training helps create a stronger work culture and improve team dynamics, helping RDO live our Values of being Respectful and Inclusive: everyone matters and we’re better together.

Learn more about our approach to Relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

First published on March 14, 2023