October 8, 2013

by Patricia Marcoccia

Purple, black, blue, polka-dotted and striped — umbrellas of all colours, patterns and sizes covered Queen Elizabeth Plaza and the surrounding streets in downtown Vancouver Sept. 22, as more than 70,000 people participated in the Walk for Reconciliation under a ruthless downpour.

“The grit,” says Paul Lacerte, describing what struck him the most about the walk.  The executive director of BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and a member of the BC Partners for Social Impact (BCPSI) says he was moved by the number of people demonstrating their support and solidarity despite the harsh weather conditions.

“The determination that people have to be a part of this showed me that people know that it’s not going to be easy — the agenda is not easy. It was a signal that people will show up anyway,” he says.

Reconciliation Week began with the lighting of a sacred fire on Sept. 16. A week of truth-telling events culminated in the Walk for Reconciliation. Participants included aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens — even baby carriages and dogs were spotted in the crowd treading through the wet streets of downtown Vancouver.

The gathering served to acknowledge and cultivate healing of the wounds suffered by more than 150,000 aboriginal children who were forced into residential schools run by the federal government, and Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, United and Presbyterian churches between the 1870s and 1990s. Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused, and research indicates thatnearly 3,000 children died.

“So many of our elders are passing away without having faced up to what happened to them,” Paul says. “When they don’t heal through that trauma, it just gets passed down intergenerationally. And it’s a bit harder for the next generation to heal because the causal relationship is different — they’ve been traumatized by their parents and so they have to reconcile with their parents.

“Often people don’t understand where that behaviour pattern started — that abuse and neglect and poverty. It gets more complicated, so it’s a necessary process for our communities,” Paul says.

“The fuel that moves people forward is ceremony and culture. People were coming together with a shared desire to have more of a fair society, to reconcile our past and to understand it. To work together in a courageous way to make some change.”

Ahead of the walk, speakers underscored the importance of seeing reconciliation as a Canadian issue, not just an aboriginal one.

Dr. Bernice King addressed the crowd, echoing the need for shared responsibility and collective action. “That struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and you win it in every generation. There must be persistent, consistent determination to see a new Canada where all people are respected and included in the culture, the economic climate, in the forward moving process.”

Bernice, who is the daughter of slain American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, underscored the importance of economic empowerment as part of the way forward. She called for leadership action from all fronts in Canada — political and government, faith, educational and community.

Organizations and businesses joined in the communal act of solidarity and support organized by Reconciliation Canada, which is a charitable project established as a collaboration between theIndian Residential School Survivor’s Society and Tides Canada Initiatives SocietyUrban Systemsand other BCPSI members participated, including Vancity credit union, which is a founding partner of Reconciliation Canada.

“The BC Partners is exactly the kind of space we need to come together in,” Paul says. The multi-sector collaboration focuses on creating innovative ways to move through intractable systems, processes and issues.

“It’s sometimes unclear what we have to do, but we’re a coalition of the willing and there’s good intention, smart people and resources. Part of the reason why we don’t know what we’re doing yet is because if we knew, we would have already been doing it,” Paul says.

“We’re in a genesis now of, ‘What does reconciliation look like?’ ‘What does a better way of doing business look like?’ ‘What does a better way of treating each other look like?’”

The goal, Paul says, is to create an innovation space where the answers to these questions can bubble up to the surface.

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