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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.”

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