An Election, Orange Shirts and A Circle

10291087_334803716702169_1642046151519549778_nToday is Orange Shirt Day. Only in its third year, this movement to honour those lost and those that survived residential school systems is being recognized across the country today in communities, schools and organizations from coast to coast to coast. We want to recognize Phyllis Webstad, who bravely shared her story at the St. Joseph’s Mission Reunion in 2013 of how upon being taken and sent to St. Joseph Mission Residential School, that on her first day, her brand new orange shirt was taken and replaced with the school uniform.   As she shared, “Since then the colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.” We hope today Ms. Webstad, who is very active and involved in moving forward Orange Shirt Day as a process of reconciliation will be witness to the the sea of orange across the land and knows that she matters, she is important and her courage and hard work has helped so many know that they too belong. We invite you to join us in supporting her efforts to create a website that will allow herself and others to share information about Orange Shirt Day and where communities across Canada and even beyond could register their events each year. Learn more by clicking here.

This along with many other equally powerful stories had come out during and since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) came to a close in June. Yet we have to ask where will these stories go in influencing and creating change to legislation, policy and the process of reconciliation and creating equity amongst indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians.

Last week there was a powerful article in the National Post, credited to Wab Kinew Et AL; penned by a group of changemakers in Canada, both indigenous and not. In short the article commented on the absence of meaningful discussion of the challenges facing indigenous people and their communities to date in the then, three leader debates for the federal election. They share that while there was a sense of hope coming out of the work of the TRC there has been a glaring omission of the issues facing indigenous people during this election.  Be sure to read the article here.

It’s hard not to agree as all we have heard to date been committed by parties has been talk without action plans. No one has been clearly stated  ‘this is actually how we are going to lessen the divide that exists between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians on housing, education, child welfare, health and economic development’. We haven’t heard ‘these are the priorities of the 94 TRC recommendations we will first focus on, then move to these and then continue to address these.” The larger ‘we’ needs to know this, indigenous and non indigenous voters alike. The significance of these issues along with what is morElection2015ally right must ensure that the experiences of indigenous peoples in Canada are talked about during this election and that concrete plans are shared with voters. What will you really do and how is the magic question for the leaders to be answering via their platforms.

So that said, we also couldn’t agree more with the authors and signatories to the National Post article. There is still time for voters to ask the parties, leaders and their local candidates where they stand on First Nations, Métis and Inuit issues. This weekend, in Kingston, Ontario where our indigenous community is both very diverse and active, the Kingston Aboriginal Community Information Network (KACIN) is hosting a Traditional Aboriginal Talking Circle on Election Issues. This group includes membership from more than 25 community and grass roots organizations serving and supporting our community members and in hosting this event they are ensuring that our issues are being heard locally during this election in a good way, a honourable way and a traditional way. I have been privileged to sit at their table and hear about the amazing work being done in our area to support the community. Each of those organizations and individuals are making a difference and their contribution is so very important.

As a member of our community I have been honoured to visit, talk with and help explore what this experience will look like and was humbled when asked to help moderate the Circle. Guided and supported by members of the Katarokwi Grandmothers Council and other community leaders a planning group developed a more traditional way of being together where we all have the opportunity to share and learn from each other. With less interest in a debate between candidates and a process that can easily be mired with negativity we are pleased that all four candidates from Kingston and the Islands have agreed to join us for this Talking Circle.   In the inside circle will sit our community members, the indigenous peoples who make up Kingston and the Islands along with our four invited guests. An outer circle will be made up of our non-indigenous friends who have our back and want to hear from candidates about their ideas and insights into indigenous issues facing our community here in Kingston and our many home communities across Canada. Through an online poll three key issues were identified that our community members wanted to hear candidates response to and each person in the inner circle will have the opportunity to offer questions as well. There is time for our community members to share on issues that are important to them and time for candidates to share the same. We will learn from each other through listening, being together and building relationships that, like Orange Shirt Day, can be that bridge that allows for Nation to Nation dialogue and respect.

If you are in Kingston please join us Sunday October 4th between 12:30 and 4:00 PM (the Circle is done at 3:00 PM though we are having a Feast to follow) at the Kingston Community Health Centre (263 Weller Ave) and join us as we continue to build the bridge that is so dearly needed amongst us all so we each are able benefit from what our world offers.  For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1643078172627845/

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Lastly, there is also another exciting activity the following day, Does Voting Matter?  where through the sharing of personal stories and experiences you will hear about voting (and why people do or don’t vote) as well as:

How to find out if you are on the voters list
How to get on the voters list
What you need to register
Find out where your polling station is

For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/748141741956578/

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