By Anna Holtby
Some questions seem too big to answer. But sometimes you have to try.
Just as Taproot was getting started, one of our members posed such a question: “How can we (i.e. non-Indigenous Edmontonians) better connect with our aboriginal neighbours to learn more about their local stories?”
This seemed like a difficult question. But when we put it to the members in the summer, many were curious, too. Anna Holtby was interested in pursuing an answer. So off she went. Here's what she brought back:
And here’s the story behind that answer, along with some suggestions for how you can make your ripple.
Search engine open, my blinking cursor dared me to start on this big question. Thankfully, my typing fingers quickly took over, and almost instinctively tapped out two very familiar words: truth and reconciliation. I figured they had to fit into this conversation somehow.
I soon realized that “learning local Indigenous stories” is inseparable from, and in fact almost synonymous with, the process of truth and reconciliation. How do we hear local stories if we don’t first face the truth of history and Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples? How do we build genuine connection without reconciliation?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by the federal government in 2008, with a mandate to research and gather testimonies on Indian Residential Schools. From the 1870s through to the 1990s, over 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their parents and communities and placed in these government-funded, church-run schools, where speaking their languages and practicing their cultures were often forbidden. The final report of the TRC, released in 2015, documented both the history and ongoing impact of these experiences for both survivors and following generations.
Miranda Jimmy, a Cree Edmontonian, is an intergenerational survivor of residential schools. She shared her story publicly for the first time in March of 2014, when the TRC held its final national event here in Edmonton, where we live on Treaty 6 territory.
A year later, Jimmy, who is now running for city council, founded Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, or RISE, to continue the conversations started at the TRC event.
When I went to Jimmy, curiosity and questions in hand, the words truth and reconciliation still sounded comforting to me – like we were finally doing something to seek peace for the past and present, armed with honesty and best intentions. But as we spoke, words like discomfort, awkwardness, and guilt kept coming up. These words rolled into conversations about colonialism and assimilation.
It began to click. There is not a lack of accessibility to Indigenous stories, but rather, non-Indigenous people are often missing the necessary attitudes to pursue and invest in truth and reconciliation.
This journey is not about going through the motions or attending the right events. Truth and reconciliation requires internal questioning of our own identity, stereotypes, and histories, and developing the right attitudes to process those. Many lack the perseverance to blunder through the discomfort of this self-reflective process. In Jimmy’s words, “reconciliation is not about doing something. It’s about doing something differently.”
Listen again to Jimmy’s words. She does not speak for all Indigenous Edmontonians, and would never claim to. But it felt like her eloquent, honest words made a good frame for the challenge.
Here are some practical ways to take that opportunity to make a ripple towards real truth and reconciliation, or at least equip yourself to make a ripple. This list is not exhaustive, and these are not boxes to check. But it is a place to start searching, asking questions, listening, and thinking. As Jimmy said, “the real work of reconciliation is internal, it’s not external.”
Oct. 14, 2016 - Conversation@Noon: After the TRC: Writers from the University of Alberta’s Glass Buffalo Magazine share thoughts at this LitFest session on their experiences following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report.
Oct. 14, 2016 - Keep Talking: Stories Beyond the TRC: This LitFest event hosts both Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers as they share experiences following the publication of the full Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 94 Calls to Action.
Nov. 17, 2016 - Understanding Reconciliation: Indigenous 101: A RISE workshop on the terminology related to Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the historical trauma that has led to some of the present-day challenges.
Canadian Native Friendship Centre: Provides cultural, recreational and social programming, including classes focused on traditional arts, conversational Cree and powwow drum and dance classes.
Nehiyaw (Cree) Language Classes: A holistic approach to the language, using a star chart methodology that includes cultural and philosophical teaching in the language lessons.
*Make sure you ask permission to attend first.
In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation: A collection of essays edited by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail on healing and reconciliation, from Canadian Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers.
Exploring Reconciliation: Metcalfe-Chenail’s “Great Stuff” list of books, DVDs, CDs and other media items available from Edmonton Public Library.
#IndigenousReads: Your picks for the best Indigenous books: A list of recommended books by Indigenous authors from the listeners of CBC’s Unreserved.
Listening & Watching
Read the TRC Report: A series of videos of volunteers reading the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
New Fire: A CBC podcast focusing on conversations important to Aboriginal youth.
Stories from the Land: Using an audio documentary style and recorded live storytelling to share Indigenous histories, worldview, philosophy and culture from across Canada.
Media Indigena: An interactive, multimedia magazine dedicated to Indigenous news, views and creative expression.
Camsell: A short documentary about the Charles Camsell Hospital, where many Indigenous people were sent to be treated for tuberculosis in the mid-20th century.
8th Fire: A CBC documentary series focused on the journey to justice and harmony between Indigenous peoples and the settler community.
The Pass System: A collection of stories and first-hand experiences of the Pass System, a Canadian segregation law that only allowed an “Indian Agent” to give out passes to allow Indigenous people to leave reserves.
REDx Talks: A speaker series featuring elders, artists and activists discussing Indigenous issues from a perspective of resilience and empowerment.