This video contains language that some viewers may find offensive
On a blank chalkboard, youth from Manawan rewrite the stories of their lives.
This is the second in a six part series of short films on the theme of reconciliation. These films are produced by young Indigenous filmmakers with the help of Wapikoni Mobile. For over ten years, Wapikoni Mobile has been working with Aboriginal youth in Canada to encourage expression through music and film. Their mobile studios, sometimes referred to as “youth centres on wheels”, have travelled to some of the most remote First Nations communities in the country, providing workshops and mentoring to young participants.
Jérémy delivers a message of hope by talking about the things that give him the will to live.
This is the first in a six part series of short films on the theme of reconciliation. These films are produced by young Indigenous filmmakers with the help of Wapikoni Mobile. For over ten years, Wapikoni Mobile has been working with Aboriginal youth in Canada to encourage expression through music and film. Their mobile studios, sometimes referred to as “youth centres on wheels”, have travelled to some of the most remote First Nations communities in the country, providing workshops and mentoring to young participants.
Andrea Reimer has been a catalyst in the historical initiatives and actions that the City of Vancouver has undertaken to advance Reconciliation.
The City of Vancouver was the first municipality in Canada to proclaim a ‘Year of Reconciliation’ that began on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2013. This proclamation acknowledges the harms that were done to Indigenous people, including the residential school system, and created a space for meaningful reconciliation gatherings, apologies, dialogues, public education and artistic initiatives to take place.
Throughout this year of reconciliation, the City of Vancouver worked closely with Reconciliation Canada, the City’s Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and hundreds of community partners. For Andrea, “the year of reconciliation had a transformative impact on the people that were directly touched by coming to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events, the canoe gathering, the library activities, the lunch and learns, or the walk for reconciliation. You could almost see them turning and shifting their perspectives and directions.”
Andrea recalls a very emotional moment at a community reconciliation event where a young Indigenous woman gave her a hug after the event and said: “I never knew I mattered to the City of Vancouver”. Andrea says this was one of those moments where she felt the world shifting: “For a thirteen or fourteen year old to know that she really matters is so important. She will go on to be a strong leader in her community, in my community, and she will inspire other strong leaders. That is the change that matters.”
For Andrea, as we go forward together, our process of reconciliation has to address the issues of economic disparity that still exists between Indigenous communities and the majority of Canadians. As economic reconciliation is essential, the City of Vancouver will work towards this goal by deepening and strengthening its relationships with the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh nations.
The concept of a Year of Reconciliation is very powerful but it has a formal end date to work that is only just beginning. How do we reconcile this? First, the City has formally acknowledged that we are on the unceded traditional territory of the three Host First Nations. This means acknowledging that there is an inherent right to economic prosperity for all. Second, Mayor and Council have approved the concept of designating Vancouver as a City of Reconciliation. Defining what this means will be a collective process that each one of us can participate in.
Andrea believes that Vancouver can play a leadership role in supporting other municipalities that are ready to embrace reconciliation: “You cannot legislate for someone to reconcile but you can create that space for reconciliation to happen so that we get to the place we need to be together”.
For Lillian Howard, reconciliation has both a personal and professional meaning. As a residential school survivor and Co-Chair of the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee (UAPAC), for Howard, reconciliation has been a long journey.
When Chief Robert Joseph presented the idea of Reconciliation Week to UAPAC, Howard became very involved.
A resolution was tabled, with the help of Councillor Andrea Reimer, to extend Reconciliation Week to the Year of Reconciliation. It also sought to officially name Vancouver as the City of Reconciliation and acknowledge the rights of indigenous peoples in the UN declaration.
To their delight, city council passed it unanimously.
“There has been a lot of relationship building between City Hall, local first nations and different organisations,” says Howard. “We were ready for Reconciliation Week, but had no idea what to expect.”
Howard was among Indigenous and community leaders who produced 13 doable items and 25 recommendations at the Reconciliation Summit, which initiated Vancouver’s Year of Reconciliation.
One of the first events of Reconciliation Week, the All Nations Canoe Gathering was particularly memorable for Howard. Canoe gatherings play an important role in Indigenous communities as healing journeys, to which Howard can attest.
“For the first time I felt like we were formally welcomed by the local first nations,” says Howard. “I feel like I can live here now with dignity and pride.”
Howard also shared her story as a residential school survivor at the Truth and Reconciliation Forum. “It was difficult, to remember the awful things,” she says. “But it allowed me to reconcile in my heart.”
The events helped her realise that reconciliation has to take place not just at a personal level, but a societal level – and it was the Walk for Reconciliation which demonstrated reconciliation’s positive societal impact.
“It was a monumental moment of support for the Aboriginal community,” she says. “Seeing people walking hand-in-hand in the rain is a moment I will never forget.”
After Reconciliation Week’s success, Howard partnered with several Vancouver community centres to share her residential school experience. Over several months, she was involved in teaching participants 10 reconciliation songs and created a button blanket project, which were shared – with great success—on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2014.
“The reconciliation process is really important,” says Howard. “It’s painful to share our stories, but absolutely important in order to feel at home.”
Mark Winston believes that building relationships is the first piece in creating a reconciled world. This philosophy guided the workshop series held at SFU’s Centre for Dialogue with Reconciliation Canada, for Vancouver’s Year of Reconciliation.
From January to March 2014, SFU held five different events to explore reconciliation and the real actions participants could take to promote it in their own communities.
For Winston, the SFU Reconciliation Dialogue Workshop, which had students exploring the idea of reconciliation, was particularly successful. Over two days, students, faculty and staff from SFU explored reconciliation within the university context.
The students generated many exciting ideas, such as a day of indigenization – in which every course has some Indigenous component—as well as more exposure to First Nation’s culture for students.
A similar workshop involved a number of Vancouver school districts, and saw over 150 high school students, their teachers and administrators participate. In small groups, they learned more about Indigenous peoples and their history and discussed projects to initiate in their own high school. Other events included a poetry event in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library and a workshop on pluralism and reconciliation between various groups in Canadian society who had experienced injustices.
SFU presented Chief Robert Joseph with the 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue for his work on promoting reconciliation in Canada. “Chief Robert Joseph’s honesty and humanity set the workshop’s tone,” says Winston. “We wanted to honor his contributions, but also to create a platform where the ideas of reconciliation could be further explored.”
Winston feels that the model of small diverse groups exploring reconciliation together was critical to the workshop’s success, because participants were able to learn from each other’s experiences in a comfortable, safe environment.
“The workshops allow participants to build relationships and understand which general principals of reconciliation might apply across the board, and across Canadian society,” says Winston.
Winston believes Canadians genuinely want to understand Indigenous history and reconcile past mistakes – and that it’s important to take the time to do so.
For Winston, reconciliation is all about people. “To me, reconciliation means understanding and listening. It means doing whatever we can to learn from injustices and correct them.”
“You can’t do a one hour event to create reconciliation; you have to take the time to reflect,” he says. “For students, who are figuring out their impact on society, it is critical to reflect, listen and explore reconciliation.”
For more information on the SFU Dialogue events with Reconciliation Canada:
In June 2014, Arlene Strom participated in a Reconciliation Canada Dialogue Workshop in Fort McMurray, Alberta. What she gained from that workshop experience was a deeper understanding of the continuing impacts of residential schools: “Working at Suncor and with Indigenous communities, I knew about the stories but being able to hear the personal experiences of people who were willing to share and be vulnerable really helps you to see and understand what it actually means on a multigenerational level.”
Arlene’s commitment at the end of the workshop was to share her insights and what she had learned with her colleagues at Suncor and with people in her community. She feels this is very important because many of our challenges arise when we have polarized views on different subject matters.
For Arlene “much of polarization comes from a lack of understanding”. Therefore, she shared her Reconciliation Canada dialogue experience with her colleagues through the employee newsletter and at meetings. More employees, including several executives, will soon have that firsthand experience of learning from resilient residential school survivors as Suncor will be holding a reconciliation dialogue workshop in September 2014.
Arlene is also part of an internal cross functional steering team that works on ensuring the commitments that Suncor has made to Indigenous communities are upheld. She shared her experience of the Reconciliation Canada workshop with this group of leaders and many of them will also participate in Suncor’s next reconciliation dialogue workshop.
But why is it important for a large energy corporation to take part in reconciliation initiatives?
As Canada’s largest energy corporation, working mainly in the oil sands sector in Northern Alberta but with operations across the country, Suncor’s activities have an impact on 150 Indigenous communities. Arlene points out that Suncor has an Aboriginal relations policy that guides and sets forth the principles with which it interacts with Indigenous communities and peoples in Canada. She emphasizes that: “Supporting and participating in the work that the people at Reconciliation Canada are doing is one way that we can help to live up to our policy”. It is one way of building “stronger partnerships, deepening our relationships and furthering our understanding in order to have more respectful relationships”. It is in this context that the Suncor Energy Foundation is a current partner of Reconciliation Canada. For Arlene,” reconciliation is a deeper partnership in which indigenous people and communities are full participants in decision making and benefit from Canada as much as everyone that lives here”.
Arlene hopes that the reconciliation actions that she and her colleagues are undertaking will spark an interest in others to develop an increasingly meaningful and constructive partnership with Canada’s Indigenous people.
Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning remembers receiving a phone call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) two years ago.
The TRC was looking to engage the Canadian Sikh community in the reconciliation process. Without a moment’s hesitation – or consultation with her fellow board members at the World Sikh Organization Canada (WSO) – Vinning responded, “Of course we will help.”
Knowing how important it was as a Sikh to stand up for the rights of their neighbours, she knew it was an important project.Luckily, the board felt the same.
With the goal of effectively connecting with the diverse Sikh community, WSO decided to produce a video.
Their short film “It Matters: The Legacy of Residential Schools” explores the concept of reconciliation with regards to the residential school system. It addresses the topic’s importance from several angles, including why it matters as Sikhs and as Canadians.
With nearly 10,000 views, featured in 2 film festivals, and utilized in a number of educational settings by other organizations, the film has been a huge success. When asked why the short film struck such a resonating chord in the hearts of a diverse cross-section of Canadians, Vinning thought it was the fact that each speaker in the video spoke from their hearts as they passionately and compassionately addressed this dark chapter in our Canadian history.
The experience has also taught Vinning a great deal about reconciliation and its value for all Canadians.
“Many survivors of Indian residential schools have tools and best practices that they have found useful as they shifted from victim to survivor to thriver. The process of reconciliation is creating a strong knowledge base to help others in their painful journeys of darkness. The unfortunate truth is that there are many Canadians who are survivors of rape and abuse and many Canadians who are survivors of genocides from around the world. And these survivors can benefit from the pooled wisdom of the survivors of Indian residential schools.”
The film’s success has impacted Vinning’s involvement in other reconciliation projects. One that she is particularly passionate about is a young adult program funded by the Inspirit Foundation called “Through Our Eyes”, which involves workshops put on in part with Reconciliation Canada.
The program engages young adults to explore their leadership and reconciliation skills. “It’s been a transformative experience for the young adults involved,” she says. “The tools they learn here can be applied to so many other areas of their lives.”
As a Sikh, Vinning is deeply moved by the process of reconciliation. There are many Sikh survivors in Canada who have lived through the Sikh genocide in India and are actively working to heal devastating wounds. Vinning sees inspiration for Sikh survivors in the wisdoms of her Indigenous sisters and brothers.
Sikhs from around the world were inspired when Reconciliation Canada chose to honour a Sikh survivor of the 1984 genocide at the Walk for Reconciliation. “For the first time in the world, a survivor of the Sikh genocide was recognised,” says Vinning. “This simple but profound act has inspired other Sikh survivors to start to break their shackles of silence. It is incredibly humbling to hear Sikh survivors who have kept their silence all these years talk about sharing their experiences with others. Thank you Reconciliation Canada for your bold and courageous leadership.”