Continuing the Reconciliation Journey

On the first anniversary of the Walk for Reconciliation that saw 70,000 people marching through Vancouver’s rain-soaked streets, over 100 First Nations and local government leaders met in Whistler’s beautiful Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre to discuss moving beyond blame, shame and judgement, and towards social and economic reconciliation.

Chief Robert Joseph, Reconciliation Canada Ambassador, praised the full room of participants. “You are not afraid of our history, of our collective past,” he said, inviting delegates to consider reconciliation in its broadest context.

Panelists acknowledged that much remains to be done to bring light to the darkness of Canada’s history of institutionalized discrimination against its First Peoples, calling for ongoing efforts to bring together aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens.

“If we value diversity, equality and justice, we must stand up and be counted,” said Karen Joseph, Reconciliation Canada’s Executive Director. “This is not an aboriginal issue: this is a Canadian issue.”

This sentiment is shared by the majority of Canadians, two-thirds of whom believe that Canadians with no experience with Indian Residential Schools have a role to play in the work of reconciliation, said Ms. Joseph.

Local government delegates were encouraged to play their unique leadership role in the reconciliation journey by engaging their communities in honest and open conversations about our diverse histories and experiences, in order to build resilient and sustainable relationships.

The starting point is personal: to be truthful and authentic. “I had to start with me,” said Chief Joseph. “It is true with everyone: If we are going to really get on with reconciliation, we have to discover what it is within each of us that needs to be contested, to be reconciled.“

Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell described how he grew up angry, in the wake of the trauma of epidemics, the Indian act, reservations, and residential schools.  “We endured this distortion of respect and recognition of territory, invisible in our own land,” said Chief Campbell.  “It was difficult to use our lands and resources. Others have benefited at our expense.”

People need to know these difficult stories, he said, so that myths and misconceptions can be replaced by truth, forgiveness and reconciliation. The upgrade of the Sea to Sky Highway for the 2010 Olympics provided an opportunity. “The tens of thousands of people transiting these corridors have no knowledge of this history,” he said, “and our languages are in peril.” Trilingual highway signs feature place names in English, Skwxwū7mesh (Squamish) and Liĺwat7ul (Lil’wat) languages.

City of Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer spoke of the importance of bringing latent truths to light, such as formally acknowledging the three First Nations on whose traditional territories Vancouver is built. She praised UBCM’s spontaneous and unanimous proclamation of a Year of Reconciliation at last year’s convention.

Mary Pat Campbell, Manager of Stakeholder and Aboriginal Relations with Suncor spoke of starting new conversations within the company. “If you engage heads and hearts and hands, you starting acting differently, walking differently, talking differently.”

Reconciliation Canada is partnering with UBCM and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres to deliver 100 Reconciliation Dialogue Workshops to local communities.

The workshops will bring local leaders and community change-makers together to develop a shared understanding of our collective history, examine what reconciliation means and take positive steps to building vibrant communities.

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