A year of reconciliation in Saskatoon
- Angela Hill | August 12, 2015
Saskatoon has kicked off a year of reconciliation, but what exactly does that mean?
Figuring that out is the first step in the year, said Rhett Sangster, director of reconciliation and community partnerships with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC).
“Reconciliation is a big word and it can seem daunting and intimidating, but it’s not necessarily about big huge political deals, it’s about every day relationships.”
He said the City of Saskatoon approached the OTC leading up to a council meeting. It was Councillor Ann Iwanchuk who put forward a motion that the city declare July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016 the year of reconciliation and that the city administration work with the OTC and other organizations to promote reconciliation in the province.
It passed unanimously.
Sangster said the OTC “applauds the city’s vision and courage in this for sure,” because it shows that the concept of reconciliation is gaining traction publicly and politically.
The OTC plans to act as a neutral body, bringing together the players that are actually involved in making change to figure out a goal, and create a set of measurables.
“If change is going to happen, who are the people that need to be sitting at the table and let’s see if we can bring them together and actually have a discussion and come up with a vision of what reconciliation means,” he said.
From Sangster’s perspective, it’s a concept that once it gets started, “it can start to snowball.”
He sees experts tackling reconciliation in their own fields – health professionals looking at what reconciliation means for health and teachers, and principals and the school systems looking at what reconciliation means for education.
The timing is right with the recently released Truth and Reconciliation report, he said, but added it’s also an important time because “we are at a point in our country’s history, a crossroads between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.”
“We are making a pitch to create a bit of movement on reconciliation. There is some momentum going now because of the TRC report, we actually would like to see if we can ramp up a little bit and have some discussions in the province about what does reconciliation mean in Saskatchewan,” Sangster said.
“People get it more and more. People get it that things need to change and things are changing I think. There is a lot of good work happening in the province of Saskatchewan.”
A big part of discussing reconciliation is changing the narrative from negative to positive, he said.
“Let’s talk about the positive stories – the teachers that are doing really great work, the business people that are working well together – those kinds of stories that can hopefully try to inspire others to do more.”
Their goal is go to out and find examples of people doing reconciliation every day and promote them, and use that to have others feel like they can be involved. Sangster points to Saskatoon examples of Aboriginal inclusion and economic development as signs of reconciliation.
In some ways they are entering uncharted territory as OTC leads the way towards miyôwâhkôhtowin, the Cree word meaning living well together. There are some international definitions and examples they can draw on, where reconciliation is described as moving from a divided past to a shared future, but the City of Saskatoon is the first that Sangster knows of to sign on in Saskatchewan.
He said cities like Edmonton and Calgary have done activities around reconciliation, but those were mostly tied to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work as it moved across Canada. They are looking to British Columbia, at the work of Chief Robert Joseph and Reconciliation Canada to help them prepare for the discussions.
Reconciliation Canada was active with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it remains active in B.C., Sangster said.
They’ve created learning modules to help guide people through kitchen-table conversations, he said.
“This is every-day stuff, this is talking to your friends, this is talking to your families, this is talking to your loved ones about some of this stuff,” he said.
“We all have got opinions on these things that have been built up over years and years and I think it’s time for all of us to start questioning some of those and informing ourselves a little more and getting away from some of the negatives, ‘what’s wrong’ and start thinking about ‘what’s right.’
“How do we build on what’s right? Where do we go? In 50 years what does reconciliation…we’re reconciled what does that look like and how do we get there.”
The OTC is currently meeting with the city and a few others including the Saskatoon Tribal Council to find out what it means to have a year of reconciliation – to think about possible events or activities.
According to the motion in the City of Saskatoon, the administration will bring forward any financial implications and implementation costs to be included in the 2016 budget deliberations.
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