by Amanda Dodge
Over the last few years, there has been a painful and sobering recognition of structural and interpersonal racism embedded in our communities in Saskatchewan. The legacy of colonial violence lives on in everyday life here, continuing to harm and marginalize Indigenous peoples. Yet, in the midst of this dark reality, and indeed in response to it, a light is shining and becoming brighter by the day.
In Saskatchewan, we’re seeing considerable momentum around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s dialogue and the 94 Calls to Action. Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are coming together for conversation and action in ways that are engaging a broad range of communities, schools, non-profits, faith groups, businesses and government agencies. It is encouraging to hear that some believe that momentum around reconciliation is greater in Saskatoon than any other Canadian city.
Often in peace and justice work we find ourselves “preaching to the converted”; folks we engage tend to have preexisting commitments around justice-based peacebuilding. What’s particularly exciting to me about the reconciliation work happening across Saskatchewan is that it is succeeding at engaging people who are new to critically examining their racial biases and confronting racism in their communities.
Over the last 5 years, we have seen momentum building in Saskatchewan through reconciliation initiatives that focus on education, relationship-building and advocacy. Over ten reconciliation committees have formed throughout the province in recent years. The Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC) is leading the way and resourcing local leaders and initiatives. The committees are ensuring that this work is done in a good way, led and informed by Indigenous Elders.
Over the last few years, the OTC facilitated a highly consultative process to develop a vision for reconciliation in Saskatchewan which laid out a four-fold vision for Truth and Reconciliation through Treaty Implementation. This vision works toward i) a Shared Understanding of Our History, ii) Authentic Relationships, iii) Vibrant Cultures and Worldviews, and iv) Systems that Benefit Us All.
MCC Saskatchewan is actively involved in two of these reconciliation committees, Reconciliation Saskatoon and the Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee, by providing financial sponsorship and capacity building support.
Reconciliation Saskatoon is a collective of almost 100 multisectoral partners. One of its major initiatives is an annual “Rock Your Roots” Walk for Reconciliation on National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) which had approximately 5,000 participants this year. During this walk along Saskatoon’s riverbank, community members walk alongside residential school and 60s scoop survivors.
This reconciliation committee has also developed an educational web-based resource called ConnectR. People at any point of their reconciliation journey can go online to learn more about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, Indigenous culture, and events and opportunities to engage. Around the committee table at Reconciliation Saskatoon, friendships are being formed and deepened among Indigenous and non-Indigenous community leaders.
The Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee is a collective of over 40 multisectoral partners from rural communities north of Saskatoon and south of Prince Albert. This committee has made education a priority, which includes educational sessions at the monthly committee meetings.
This committee also organizes an annual conference called “Rural Reconciliation: An Educational Gathering” which addresses the impact of racism. The goal of the conference is learning, unlearning and relearning. When I’m at this conference, I often hear people saying things like, “we didn’t learn any of this in school”, “I’ve lived most of my life in this town and haven’t met people from the nearby reserve before this”, and “my perspectives on these issues are changing.” Here also, new friendships are forming around the table.
Another important initiative in Saskatchewan is the Wîcihitowin Indigenous Engagement Conference, which has been hosted by the City of Saskatoon in partnership with various organizations for the last five years. “Wîcihitowin” means “helping each other” in Cree. The conference discusses Indigenous inclusion in a range of public sectors, such as justice, health and education.
The number of attendees has grown significantly from 300 people in its early years to the conference being sold out with over 700 people attending this year. Attendees include representatives from government, educational institutions, non-profits, businesses, faith groups and more. The conference dialogue is led by Indigenous leaders of national and regional renown. The presence and active participation of church leadership is also an element of the conference. Church leaders have acknowledged past wrongs, held spaces for pain and anger, and shared what steps they are taking toward reconciliation.
What this wave of action demonstrates to me is that reconciliation has momentum in Saskatchewan and is becoming mainstream. It is encouraging to see that a wide breadth of the public is engaging in large scale events and educational sessions, and participating in key commemorative moments like National Indigenous Peoples Day and Orange Shirt Day. Government agencies, educational institutions, corporations and more are investing in their employees’ learning about Indigenous history, realities and cultures, as well as the structural barriers that persist. Large organizations and the government agencies appear to be taking the TRC Calls to Action seriously. I often hear about internal TRC or reconciliation committees who are implementing the Calls to Action through policy and practice within their organizations.
While the growing momentum is moving Saskatchewan in the right direction, we still have a long way to go. We know racism is still alive and well in our streets and in our systems. As we work and journey together, I am encouraged by these gatherings of people, these courageous conversations, and these tangible acts towards friendship, inclusion and systemic change.
Amanda Dodge is the Program Director of MCC Saskatchewan
To learn more, listen to a podcast produced by MCC Saskatchewan and to find out how you can get involved in reconciliation initiatives in Saskatchewan, visit the website of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner here.
Banner Image: Leonard Doell, MCCS’s Indigenous Neighbours Coordinator, with community at the Rock your Roots walk for reconciliation in June 2019. (MCC Photo/Jana Al-Sagheer)