Objectives four and five in the University of Alberta’s Strategic Plan “For the Public Good” address the celebration and support of diversity and inclusivity as well as the development of “a thoughtful, respectful, meaningful and sustainable response to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.” We have begun 2016 with a focus on reconciliation, and plan to continue this work throughout the academic year and beyond.
Along with the grand opening celebration of the Wahkohtowin Lodge last March, and the recent installation of Stuart Steinhauer’s Treaty Bear sculpture, this past month Augustana hosted Charlene Bearhead, Education Lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation based at the University of Manitoba. Charlene visited Augustana on Thursday, September 27th for a Lunch & Learn session well attended by community members, staff, faculty and students alike. Bearhead was also present later that evening to be part of the very first session in a series of six Workshops in Reconciliation, a co-curricular certificate program in its pilot year of implementation here at Augustana.
These evening workshops are spread across the fall and winter terms, and participants (made up of students, faculty and staff) who complete all six workshops are eligible to receive the Co-Curricular Certificate in Reconciliation. Each of the workshops covers a different theme, brings in different experts to share their knowledge and experience, and includes meaningful dialogue about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report and the ninety-four calls to action. The workshops aim to assist participants in building their own personal capacity for the work of reconciliation, and to begin Augustana’s work towards reconciliation as a community.
The first lecture, an introduction to reconciliation, began with a discussion led by Bearhead in much the same vein as the lunch lecture earlier in the day. Bearhead broached a difficult subject with respect and understanding, recognizing that not everyone in the audience would be at the same place regarding reconciliation, but that it was enough that we were all willing to begin. “People asking about the work of reconciliation” Bearhead stated “That’s a gift. We have to be where people are at, if we don’t start where people are at, no one asks.”
Bearhead spoke of balancing the difficult parts of the work of reconciliation with hope, mentioning that the process is called “truth and reconciliation, not ‘skip it’ and reconciliation,” tempering humor with the reality of having to work through difficult subject matter that often incites feelings of guilt and shame. Instead of being ashamed, Bearhead suggested taking action that “makes you not ashamed,” and provided concrete examples to do so, like recognizing the Treaty that you are working, living or existing with all the time instead of just at special events, and making time to learn about residential school history through the number of resources accessible online (see the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s website). Aside from the helpfulness of a few examples, Bearhead posited reconciliation as work that is foundationally about relationships, but that “you’re going to have to figure out for yourself” what reconciliation means for you.
The discussion portion of the first workshop ended with each person naming one or two of their own personal calls to action, which could exist as seemingly simple changes such as those mentioned above, to larger, sweeping agendas that might be a bit more complex, like building space to have larger conversations about reconciliation more generally amongst friends and family who may not be interested in participating in the difficult work it will require. Bearhead’s presentation was followed by the Kairos Blanket Exercise, an educational tool used to get participants to actively engage in the history of Indigenous people in Canada by standing on blankets, as a representation of Canada before the arrival of European settlers, and moving around them as well as removing and changing them in order to emulate the interactions that followed between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous settlers.
The Thursday night workshop was followed by Orange Shirt Day, an annual event held across the country, in which many on our campus and within our community wore orange shirts to commemorate the children who never returned from residential school, as well as the survivors. Looking forward, we are facilitating a junior and senior high school screening of the documentary the Pass System the afternoon of October 27th in the Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre, followed by a panel discussion of the film with Director Alex Williams, Indigenous studies and history professor Daniel Sims, and Bruce Cutknife, member of Samson Cree First Nation and Indigenous Education Coordinator for the Nipisihkopahk Education Authority. The screening and panel following will run again the evening of October 27th at 6:00 pm as part of our next workshop, and community members are more than welcome to attend this free public event. Click here to view the poster.
Reconciliation is an ongoing process and not merely a set of boxes to be checked off. Here at Augustana, we are committed to the continued work of recognizing Indigenous history and finding meaningful ways to engage in respectful conversation around this difficult and emotional subject matter, to the ends of strengthening us in our diversity. Only together can we “Uplift the whole people.”