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.