Sep 19, 2014
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.”
For more information:
Tara attended a Reconciliation Dialogue Workshop in Victoria in January 2014. Inspired to take action at the end of this workshop, Tara committed to advancing Indigenous Art as a pillar of reconciliation in her Oak Bay community. She contacted resourceful artists, donors, politicians and educators. In a short time, together they have been able to appoint an arts laureate, place Indigenous art on the waterfront, and are now working to have a welcome pole to be part of their new high school. Tara is very hopeful about the future; she says “the connections and movement are now unstoppable!”
Indeed the connections are flourishing. The other action that Tara had committed to at the Reconciliation Dialogue Workshop was to work towards making sure that every school child learns about residential schools as a part of their core curriculum. Tara sent Peg Orcherton, the Chair of the Greater Victoria School Board, the excellent curriculum used in the Northwest Territories to teach high school students about the continuing impacts of residential schools. This initiative strengthened the school board’s active plans to further develop its Indigenous education content.
By April 2014, long-time advocate of this issue and school trustee, Edith Loring-Kuhanga’s motion on residential schools as a required high school course was approved by the B.C. School Trustees Association. However, this course will be taught in schools only if the B.C. Ministry of Education decides to implement this recommendation.
Tara believes it is crucial that Canadians learn early on about residential schools and other colonialist policies that have profoundly shaped Indigenous experiences. She says it’s a social justice issue: “we have had graduate students come to our Public Administration program that don’t know anything about residential schools. Some of these students are going to work in government and will be making decisions without fully understanding the issues”. We are more likely to address the unacceptable levels of poverty and violence and provide an environment where all people in our nation can flourish if we are making more informed decisions. Tara thinks that “we make better decisions when we really get the true story and we are all in the same page”. That is why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Reconciliation Canada Dialogue Workshops and this curriculum are so important.
Each reconciliation action matters. When “you just keep working towards what you believe in, little things can become big things so quickly. If you ever feel that something is too little to be bothered with, just do it!”
Tara’s reconciliation actions are having positive impacts because they are interconnected with the actions of many others in her community: Chief Robert Joseph and everyone that was part of the Reconciliation Dialogue Workshop, the graduate student that brought the Northwest Territories residential school curriculum to Tara’s attention, the many people in the B.C. School Board that are working towards reconciliation, and, of course, all of you who are reading this article! If you want the residential school experience to be a required course so that our youth have a better understanding of our shared history: contact your MLA or your school trustee. This story is alive; be part of it by sharing it with others.
For more information on why it is important to teach students about residential schools:
Linda Morris met the founders of Reconciliation Canada when they were just starting the organization.
Inspired by this first conversation, Linda and her team became instrumental in making Vancity a founding partner of Reconciliation Canada. When the financial institution announced its 750,000-dollar contribution, Morris says their social media was “humming” and great positive comments came back.
“I think our participation helped propel the story, and helped Reconciliation Canada find other partners because we were willing to take that big first step.”
For Morris, last year’s Walk for Reconciliation was a key moment: “People really wanted to take a stand by literally stepping out in the rain.” Indeed, in the pouring rain more than 70,000 people attended the walk on September 22, 2013. For Morris, “Reconciliation Canada and the events that took place, not only created an opportunity to look at something that happened in our society that had great negative impact on indigenous people but it also led other groups to think about their own hurts and their own need to heal.” Morris hopes that one day, we will all be walking in Ottawa and talking about reconciliation as a nation.
The fact that Vancity is taking part in and leading reconciliation initiatives has enabled its staff and members to learn more about the impacts of residential schools and to participate in reconciliation actions. It has also propelled Vancity to work more closely with indigenous communities locally to advance their economic inclusion and development. According to Morris, this stronger connection to Indigenous people is having a continuing positive impact in the way Vancity hires, identifies and develops projects, and evaluates lending opportunities.
We asked Morris how she thinks others can be inspired by her story. This is what she told us: “People say it’s hard to make a change. Yes, it is hard to do things that are very challenging, but from our chance meeting, an incredible series of events grew and more to come. I hope it inspires people to think big and not be limited. You have to be thinking: what’s my wildest idea? What could I accomplish? Don’t settle for second best but really push hard. And don’t be afraid to invite others to join you. You never know when you knock on a door what connection can lead to another connection. So don’t think small, think big and who knows what might be possible.”
For more information about Vancity’s Reconciliation initiatives:
Through Ecumenical Advocates, Jennette Stark found her own way to apply her skills and to action reconciliation. The group is comprised of representatives from the four Settlement Churches which ran residential schools (Catholic, Anglican, United, Presbyterian), as well as from several evangelical groups including Mennonites, Alliance, Pentecostals and Baptists. Ecumenical Advocates have met for several years to support the TRC process and played a significant role in the establishment of Reconciliation Canada.
Taken aback by the “wonderful diversity” of the group, Jennette recognized that she had the skills necessary to make an impact by taking part in the Walk for Reconciliation. This participation presented the Church and the Christian community with an opportunity to reflect on their role in the residential school system and how to move forward together. Jennette describes the process as “a very tentative dance we have to do. A tentative, respectful, dignified dance”.
St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church continues to be active in promoting reconciliation initiatives and inclusivity in their programming, “raising the consciousness within people” and bringing forward the notion that we all have a role to play in reconciliation.
On October 25, 2014, the church will be delivering the the Blanket Exercise, an initiative, developed by KAIROS, a Christian Ecumenical group, that explores the history of treaty-making and colonization in Canada. The exercise is designed as an interactive lesson and includes a script for adults and youths, and a script for younger teens and children.
To Jennette, groups like Ecumenical Advocates are particularly important. Across denominations, “we are more alike than we are different”.
“Through love, and love should be the predominant focused thing for all Christian faiths, we can get over some of our hangups about what makes us different. We can work together”.
For more information:
For Sarah Goodman, reconciliation is about having faith and believing in people, even in the uphill battles. It also goes hand-in-hand with her definition of leadership.
“Leadership is not about trying to own every idea, but asking ‘How can I help? How can we make this happen together?’”
So when Chief Robert and Karen Joseph approached Tides Canada with their vision for a Walk for Reconciliation, Goodman knew she just had to be a part of making it happen.
At the time, Goodman was the Senior Vice President of Tides Canada, one of the country’s leading charities working on social and environmental issues.
Goodman and her colleagues at Tides Canada felt passionately about Reconciliation Canada’s plans. But she admits with just a year to go, and no organizational structure or funding in place, the idea of 50,000 people walking for reconciliation was ambitious.
“It was probably the first time I leapt from heart instead of head,” she says. “There were moments where we thought, ‘this can’t be done, it’s too ambitious’. But it made perfect sense for what the organization felt was important for the country. So we got behind it.”
Goodman said everyone involved recognized that the walk was just one step in a long road to reconciliation.
“These issues are very complex and there are no simple answers,” said Goodman. “True reconciliation requires a deep commitment at an individual, organizational and societal level to do things differently; to hear and respect those with different views and experiences.”
While with Tides Canada, Goodman worked with Chief Robert and Karen Joseph to establish Reconciliation Canada as a joint initiative of Tides Canada and the Indian Residential School Survival Society (IRSSS).
Goodman was impressed with how quickly things came together. Not only did most of the organisations they approached agree to get involved, many – like Vancity and the City of Vancouver – brought their people, resources and passion for reconciliation with them.
“It really speaks both to the tenacity and the vision of Chief Robert and Karen Joseph, and their call for reconciliation,” Goodman says. “They were right in saying ‘this is the moment for reconciliation’ and it gives me great hope for the future.”
Norgate Community School is also called Xwemelch’stn, meaning Capilano River in the Squamish language. The school is located on the traditional, unceded territory of the Squamish Nation. The staff are grateful and recognize the fundamental relationship that they share with the Squamish Nation to help with reconciliation for all students.
Norgate Community School has reconciliation actions woven into its educational activities: Squamish elders perform ceremonies throughout the year, parents come to teach traditional songs and even a canoe has been carved in the school to teach the children how their multicultural group needs to paddle together to go forward. The school is located near the Squamish Nation’s reserve in North Vancouver and about sixty percent of the children are Indigenous.
Principal Upton was inspired to create an island of strength in the school after she read a children’s book entitled The Lost Island. This book tells the story of a powerful elder who has a vision of a desolate future in a big city where his people’s culture, strength and medicine will be lost. The elder prayed and placed his strength and wisdom onto an island near Vancouver for future generations to find it. This story propelled Upton and her colleagues to imagine a symbolic island of strength in their school. As homework, children were asked to look for a stone with their parents. The children then painted on the stone a word which represents their family’s strength which they could share with others. Pride, warrior, love, music, creativity and peacefulness were some of the words children wrote on their stone. This activity gave parents an opportunity to talk with their child about who they are, and where they come from. Upton believes that when you are connected to your own family heritage, you are also able to appreciate the culture and the heritage of others.
A special ceremony was held in the school where children presented their family’s strength to Squamish elders, teachers, school district dignitaries, Reconciliation Canada’s ambassador Chief Joseph, their families and schoolmates. The stones were then placed together in the courtyard to form the school’s island of strength. When students make a mistake and need take time to think about it, they go for a walk to the island of strength. Upton says “you can go look for your strength on the island or you understand that you need to borrow someone else’s strength such as honesty. By admitting and taking responsibility for mistakes, and borrowing from the strength of others, you grow. That’s how we work on reconciliation”. For Upton, reconciliation means “hopefulness for our children to understand that part of being human is learning from your mistakes and that strong people ask for help”.
Upton believes reconciliation in Canada is a shared story: it is about all of us. We have to know and understand our past to move forward. The challenge that Norgate Community School faces is that there is still a lot of racism and prejudice towards Indigenous people. For Upton, anytime there is racism, discrimination or hatred that is a time for all of us to stand up and make a difference. As a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, Upton’s family has also suffered from the wars in Europe and the internment camps in Canada. When elders and community members thank her for the reconciliation work she does in the school she says: “I do this for my grandparents as much as I do it for your grandparents because all of our kids are going to learn from this.”
Upton believes that schools are essential in developing a sense of shared humanity and reconciliation is a deep, meaningful work that every school can do in its own way. Upton says “it’s not about tolerance of other people; we need to care about each other.”
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Eleven year old Zachary Mullin learned some important life lessons while completing a recent school project.
While conducting research for a Heritage Fair project, Mullin had the opportunity to meet both Chief Robert Joseph and Robbie Waisman, a Holocaust survivor. He found both their characters and approach to reconciliation particularly inspiring.
“Chief Robert was a really warm, inspirational character. I asked him if there was anything that I could do to get involved with Reconciliation Canada,” says Mullin. “He said the best things I could do were to volunteer and spread awareness.”
Mullin took the advice to heart, and attended Reconciliation Canada event as an Outreach Volunteer over the summer.
“I think the biggest thing that I learned from doing this project is that it doesn’t matter how many things you go through in life, you can still be a great person. Chief Robert Joseph was really mistreated [while in the residential school system],” he says. “It shows that it doesn’t matter what your background is or who you are, you can still be a great person.”
Mullin’s project taught him a great deal about the importance of sharing stories and experiences for reconciliation. “Reconciliation means to me you have to recognise and listen to the survivors of events and hear their stories,” he says. “You need to spread awareness and make sure that everyone knows about it. Then you need to fix the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Learning about Reconciliation Canada, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have definitely changed the way I think every day,” he says. “It’s so important that we all care for each other. Just doing this project has amplified that feeling by like, times ten.”
Although Mullin has completed his project – and earned an excellent grade – his work with reconciliation is far from finished.
“I plan to keep on volunteering and spreading awareness because I think that it’s really important for people my age to learn about things like [reconciliation].” He says. “We are the next generation and it’s really up to us.”
For more information:
Beau’s eyes and calm voice light up when he tells the story of Raven, the trickster whose teachings are very important to the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
One morning Raven woke up frustrated and confused. He was lonely and did not have someone to talk to. So he flew to the beach and sat down on a piece of drift wood. He started talking to a rock. After some time Raven noticed that the rock wasn’t responding to him. He got very angry and started punching the rock. When he saw the blood trickling down the rock, Raven lifted up his fists in victory. That’s when he realized the blood was coming from his own fist! This was a defining moment for Raven; he realized that he was only hurting himself by venting and lashing out in anger. Raven appreciated the lesson he had just learned so he bowed and thanked the rock. He then flew off and had a wonderful day.
Beau says we often act like Raven when we are angry or frustrated but even when we feel like this we need to care for each other. That is why it is crucial to reconcile. For Beau, reconciliation means “to reconnect with the Creator, no matter what religion you follow; to reconnect with Mother Earth and our responsibility to protect it by living in harmony with our fellow beings; and most of all to reconnect with each other as human beings.”
Beau believes that reconciliation is about acknowledging and accepting the truth. There are many layers and issues. Beau says “one truth is that our oceans are in crisis: overfishing, marine pollution and climate change”. Another truth is that we are on unceded territory that was taken away from Indigenous peoples through deliberate actions by the government, including the use of infectious disease to “annihilate the population on the coast and solve the Indian problem”. The Haida nation population went from an estimated 14,000 to less than 600 by 1863. The high standard of living of that civilization was crushed. The survivors were forced into submission and became underprivileged. How do we reconcile with this painful history? Beau’s answer is “if people would start realizing the truth of the injustice and what we have endured, then we are that much closer to reconciliation. When the truth is recognized it has a healing power.”
When the Idle No More movement emerged, Beau performed the copper breaking ceremony in front of the British Columbia Parliament Building in Victoria and Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa “to bring attention to the social injustices and the attack on mother earth”. Copper is a symbol of truth, justice and balance. Breaking it is a reaction and a challenge; restoring it is reconciliation. Beau believes “it’s just not a First Nations issue anymore; it involves all of us together, all across the world”. Reconciliation is about truth and unity. He says “I am happy to carry the truth and reconciliation message, we are all in the same boat, we are all one: Namwayut. I am hopeful.”
For more information:
Mar 2, 2014
Part 1: Culture and Ancestry
In honour of the Jack P. Blaney Award presented to Chief Dr. Robert Joseph in January 2014, the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue produced a series of videos around the themes of culture and ancestry, residential schools, reconciliation and dialogue. More information about the award: www.sfu.ca/dialogue
View them all here:
Part 1: Culture and Ancestry: Chief Joseph discusses his childhood memories of Kwakwaka’wakw culture and explains why understanding the context of culture and ancestry is critical in the present day.
Part 2: Residential School Experience: Chief Joseph describes his experience at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School and how the trauma of the residential school system affected him as a young man.
Part 3: Reconciliation: Chief Joseph describes the concept of reconciliation and what this means for relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
Tribute Video: Celebrating Chief Joseph, recipient of SFU’s 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue for a lifetime of outstanding achievements promoting reconciliation among Canada’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
What is Dialogue? : Chief Joseph discusses his views about the importance of dialogue and improved mutual understanding
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