Op-ed: wâseskwan, a big step toward reconciliation
- John Lagimodiere | October 24, 2017
This last month has been full of hope for the future. September was a month where we honoured residential school survivors with a gala hosted by the Saskatoon Foundation and then all wore our orange shirts with pride and respect for orange shirt day to remind everyone about the residential schools.
And now early October finds the Federal Government announcing a settlement of almost $800 million for victims of the Sixties Scoop, a couple generations and thousands of young people who were taken from their homes by social workers and fostered out to families around the world.
This, like the residential schools, separated children from their parents and robbed them of their cultural upbringing. Many fostered children had terrible experiences in these homes with folks that were unfit to foster children. Others landed in fine homes with great parents and did alright. Despite the varieties of upbringings, all the children lost the tie to family and culture the impacts of which are deep. Sure, the money does not repair the damage or reconnect the survivors with their families, but it is a good start on addressing the historic abuse and heavy hand of the government and can give the survivors a chance to start healing if they haven’t already.
The PotashCorp Saskatoon Foundation Cultural Gala theme was “wâseskwan” which means “the sky is clearing” in Cree. The night of cultural entertainment was a fundraiser for their Community Fund for Reconciliation. This fund, expected to be $100,000, will be endowed to acknowledge the importance of reconciliation among Indigenous and non-indigenous people. Groups that want to do events or services that lead to reconciliation will have a place to go to get some funds to make it happen.
Having a gala themed on reconciliation was a bold step for the Foundation. This is usually a very elite black-tie affair for folks who can afford the $300 ticket. But at this event it was heavily Indigenous. We had elders in regular clothes, some even in camouflage hats! Walter and Maria Linklater gave an opening invocation. Eugene and Lorna Arcand were the cultural advisors. Artist Kevin Peeace created a painting on site for auction. Spoken word poet and all around awesome person Zoey Roy performed. Theodore Bison and Charging Bear provided the drum. Donny Parenteau and Andrea Menard performed a beautiful and haunting song. Lancelot Knight, Bluejay Linklater and the Little Prairie Steppers performed. There were interpretive dancers, random yoga folk and cool Indigenous items for auction. The event was produced by the dynamic duo of Carrie Catherine and Dawn Wasacase. Oh yah, I also got to co-host with my old pal Leanne Bellegarde from PotashCorp.
The power of the evening was introducing so many people to our elders. To our residential school survivors and their stories. TCU Place was decorated beautifully. Each person received a copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and a mini Métis sash. There was a full video wall showing running bison and a storm. Survivors gave video testimony of their own stories. The performance, of many kinds of drums, was intense and emotional. Like make wet things come from your eyes kind of moving.
It would have been impossible to leave that event not a changed person. And, thanks to the Saskatoon Foundation, we now have many allies in the community that have a lot of influence on business and politics in Saskatoon and beyond. I would argue that they have made a big step toward reconciliation for all of us.
And now the Sixties Scoop survivors have something to build on, though we must be patient. It took the Truth and Reconciliation Commission seven years to learn the story and give us a way forward through their Calls to Action. And lo and behold governments and groups across Saskatchewan are embracing them and the residential schools are a normal part of our conversations.
The Sixties Scoop is not fully part of those conversations yet. This settlement will awaken Canada to the reality of the governments intrusion into the lives of Indigenous people and the impact that is still being felt across the country. But it has started. wâseskwan.