Looking back at reconciliation in 2018
- NC Raine | December 14, 2018
Only a handful of years ago, reconciliation was a burgeoning concept in Canada to revitalize and mend the relationship between Indigenous people and Canadian society. Now, it is very much a reality, with thousands of individuals and organizations moving developments forward in the spirit of reconciliation. With 2018 almost in the books, Eagle Feathers News is taking a look at some of Saskatchewan’s most significant developments in reconciliation over the past year.
“One of our goals, for the past three or four years, has been talking to people about what ‘reconciliation’ means, and what successful reconciliation looks like,” said Rhett Sangster, Director of Reconciliation and Community Partnerships at the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC). “So, with this in mind we’re trying to create a common agenda where everyone can agree on where we’re aiming. So, if First Nations, Metis, and non-Indigenous people can all agree on what we want to build as a province, we can all start working together.”
One of the headline events in Saskatoon is the Rock your Roots for Reconciliation walk in June, coinciding with National Indigenous Peoples Day. This years’ event saw more than 4,000 attendees and over 100 organizations involved.
“There were more individuals and a more diverse crowd than we’ve ever had,” said Gilles Dorval, Director of Aboriginal Relations at the City of Saskatoon. “It shows the commitment of the community has to reconciliation.”
Saskatoon also reinforced their commitment to reconciliation with the naming of Chief Mistawasis Bridge in October – the naming of which as the result of public consultation in the spirit of reconciliation.
“That whole naming process really brought the community together. We say, Graham Construction built the bridge to join both sides. Naming the bridge built a bridge for people and the community. That’s been one of the biggest highlights,” said Dorval.
Other highlights in Saskatoon in 2018 included Orange Shirt Day in September, in which thousands of people honoured residential school survivors. A reconciliation flag raising ceremony took place at City Hall in May, honouring residential school and 60s scoop survivors. The Wicihitowin Aboriginal Engagement conference in October continues to be a strong voice and opportunity for cultures to learn and work together, assembling over 500 delegates from over 50 organizations. Yellow Quill First Nation announced an urban reserve in downtown Saskatoon, while Muskeg Lake Cree Nation began development on an urban reserve in the city to be occupied by SIGA. And public art sprang up all over the city, including a Cree language art piece on Broadway, truth and reconciliation mural at St. Paul’s Hospital, and bus shelter art project by a Metis community, to name just a few.
While Saskatoon had many public displays of reconciliation, the City also made many strides internally, said Dorval.
“We focused on trying to ensure we’re moving the needle internally as well, making some appropriate changes to the systems and processes that we govern,” said Dorval. “We’ve been trying to develop champions within the organization…our employees have really taken this to heart.”
The City also worked on initiatives with the Gabriel Dumont Institute, Saskatoon Tribal Council, and Saskatchewan Indigenous Institute of Technologies to work on Indigenous employment, said Dorval.
Developments in reconciliation weren’t limited to Saskatoon. The Heart of Treaty 6 is a multi-community, government, and business group who gather to discuss what reconciliation can look like in north-west Saskatchewan. Other municipal and rural groups, including ones in or near Prince Albert, Yellow Quill, and Warmen/Martensville have been meeting to educate themselves on treaties and reconciliation, said Sangster.
“It’s exciting to see the growth. We’ve had other communities contact us and say ‘can you help us?’ People realize the status quo relationship isn’t good for anyone. There’s interest on all sides to improve the relationships and improve the understanding of our history. We’re starting to take off now,” said Sangster.
Reconciliation Regina held their first public event in March, with community members and the City of Regina gathering to discuss how understanding can be achieved. Regina also committed to giving 25% of new streets and 50% of new parks names with Indigenous roots.
In July, the Metis-Nation Saskatchewan signed a framework agreement with the federal government to recognize and implement Metis rights under the Canadian constitution.
“I’m most proud of the momentum we’ve been able to create this year,” said Sangster. “In 2019, I see us continuing the momentum, continuing to grow, and continuing to learn.”
In 2019, OTC is planning an evaluation toolkit that will help them assess and progress reconciliation in areas across the province, said Sangster. In Saskatoon, Dorval said the city will be busy, including plans to partner with the police in education and designing a new rest and educational area by Chief Mistawasis bridge, among many other community initiatives.
“A lot of positive things occurred this year, but it doesn’t mean we going to take our foot off the gas,” said Dorval. “We have a big year planned for 2019.”