Reconciliation Takes Work: Here’s Your Assignment

Reconciliation.  This word and what it means today stirs up an emotional response from many, probably, as it should.  Many believe there is a path Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can walk together: sharing, learning and healing from the painful history that as Indigenous People in Canada, our ancestors, parents and ourselves, as Indigenous Peoples have experienced at the hands of settlers, new founded governments and the systems that were built by them.

I am often torn by the concept of reconciliation as a process to make right the criminal and horrendous history Indigenous Peoples have faced in the face of the development of Canada. Can we make right what was done in the past and more specifically, the intention of what was done in the past, which was the attempted genocide of Indigenous Peoples?

This is a challenging idea for many to understand and accept that Canada was built based on genocide of an entire Peoples but an excerpt from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, (ratified by Canada in 1952) and as a country we are a party to, the truth is there.

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Using the word history often is what causes me the most discomfort. For many Indigenous people, there is a continuation of the experiences and challenges both systemically and individually, rooted in racism and discrimination.  This isn’t just our past.  It is our today.  It’s in our legislation, policies and practice, some remaining from history, others newly created (and often challenged in court).  At the individual level it means living a life knowing, seeing and hearing what some Canadians think about Indigenous Peoples and our experiences.  It’s a Canadian Senator complaining, when talking about residential schools in Canada, saying, ‘the kindly and well-intentioned men and women…whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part’.  It’s a family in north-western Ontario waiting to hear if the death of their mother, sister, daughter and friend, 34 year old Barbara Kentner, who was struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving vehicle on January 29, 2017, and who ultimately died in June, will result in charges being laid. Thunder Bay Police and the Crown continue to review pathology reports (more than four months later) to determine if additional charges against 18-year-old Brayden Bushby will be added, (he has only been charged with aggravated assault to date).  It’s seeing people this month dressing up in ‘Indian Princess’, ‘Indian Brave’ or ‘Savage’ costumes. 

Take time to read the comments of an online newspaper or social media if you don’t believe it’s real.  In April of 2017, when 19-month-old Anthony Raine was found murdered outside the Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Edmonton, police shared the trauma he experienced. His father, and the father’s girlfriend, both face charges of second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death, failing to provide the necessities of life and assault.  This horrific crime had these comments in Global Regina – which is a reminder of how far we have still have to travel, as a country and as people.  Sadly, this is more common that not – these attitudes, beliefs and values and the freedom to share them publicly, with no or little shame.

This said, there are shifts.  Real shifts. Just last week, thanks to the courage of Chief Marcia Brown, who in 2009 was the lead plaintiff in what is known as the ‘60s Scoop case, the federal government announced they will pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to the survivors who were forcibly removed and placed with non-Indigenous families – and apologized, (which for many survivors in the media this past weekend was the most important component, the acknowledgement that they had been stripped of the opportunity for the connection to their culture, language and People) for what was a continuation of assimilation policies from the past.  This is another step, one at a time that will lead us along the path of reconciliation.

We see the shifts across Canada.  In a Montreal gift shop, among the t-shirts and key chains, includes a Native’ section of gifts.  When I first walked by the shop, I saw in the window,  and then later in the store, the Made In China neon feather headdresses aimed at children.  I asked about them and had a wonderful discussion with the sales clerk.  It was non-shaming and informative.  The clerk had no idea of the significance of the Headdress to First Nations (who use them) and the role it plays as medicine and honour.  We talked about her culture and things that were important to her grandparents.  She shared how various symbols, similar to the head dress, that were spiritual in nature and now being used by others now, often as ‘stylish’ tattoos.  After our chat I left, and if nothing else, felt grateful to have the courage and teachings that could be shared, in a good and honourable way.  The next day, as I flew out west my friends I was in Montreal with sent me a text: a picture of the store window – sans headdress.  They had removed it.

I had the chance to stop by the shop again over New Years and the entire section of commercialized fake Indigenous gifts were gone, including the head dress.  The remaining items were from Indigenous owned companies that provide many of those goods to similar shops and genuine Indigenous art pieces. I spoke with owner and we shared a wonderful moment in an embrace.  She told me when her daughter, (the clerk) passed on to her more of what I had shared, (she had been listening the first time I was there) she immediately took them all out and threw them away, committing to not every carry them again.  She shared after listening she learned more….knowing she could do something.  No shame.  Just learning and action.

The same can be said about the hundreds of people who have taken part in our Community Talking Circles here in Kingston.  There is an interest in learning more – building knowledge, understanding and competency on how to develop meaningful relationships with not only Indigenous Peoples in Canada, but with the accurate history of our country.  Shame and guilt aren’t a requirement, nor helpful in the path towards reconciliation.  Learning is.  Listening is.  Work is.

One of the best opportunities for individuals and businesses to do this listening, learning and work comes from our good friend, and one of our senior consultants at Three Things, CEO of Sakatay Global, Shannon Monk Payne.  Sakatay Global works with socially conscious organizations who believe in truth and reconciliation and who want the tools to build their cultural confidence and to cultivate vibrant and meaningful relationships with Indigenous people.  Shannon is offering the Circle Approach to Cultural Confidence™ online, and the next session begins on October 19th, 2017.  Now is the time to explore this as an option to build your knowledge and confidence about what reconciliation can look like in Canada.  It is an investment in your personal and/or professional growth towards reconciliation.

Shannon has been a leader and innovator for decades with a focus on education and reconciliation.  She has worked in First Nations, within government and education and with the Assembly of First Nations.  She is a sought after commentator on Indigenous issues and has worked with business, NGO’s and governments (Indigenous and non) to help them along the path of reconciliation.  In addition to her being on our list of the most knowledgeable people we know – she is funny, passionate and a beautiful demonstration of someone who walks in a good way.

We are proud to be part of her team and this is the reconciliation “How-To-Guide” you have been looking for!  This course is based on The Circle Approach to Cultural Confidence™ and guides participants through the six steps necessary for moving towards reconciliation.  This is an introductory course to build cultural confidence – and today is a great day to start – or build upon, your journey towards reconciliation.  Taking part will help will help you break barriers and build bridges to positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in your organization, community and Canada.

So yes, some days it’s hard not to be skeptical – but today isn’t one of them.  We see reconciliation – and its intention – of righting wrongs – from the past, and today occurring across Canada.  Even regarding the social media post highlighted above, the comments that followed from diverse Canadians were clear: those ideas are not welcome here.  So, though there is work to do, we know that people are doing just that: the work.  Learn more at www. and register today and work through this journey with like-minded individuals.