Reconciliation circles are gaining momentum in Saskatchewan – from a pow wow at Lakeland College in Lloydminster to an annual conference in Warman, a reconciliation walk in Saskatoon and flags and posters in Regina’s Victoria Park.
“It gives me hope and makes me very happy to see that despite all the things that are happening, there are people in these communities who are working towards reconciliation and building a better future,” said Autumn Baptiste, Truth and Reconciliation Community Coordinator at the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC).
Baptiste works as a liaison with the circles and helps them connect with each other. So far there are 10 circles: Battlefords Regional Truth and Reconciliation, Heart of Treaty 6 Reconciliation, Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee, Prince Albert Urban Indigenous Committee, Reconciliation Nipawin, Reconciliation Yorkton, Southwest Reconciliation, Reconciliation Regina, Reconciliation Saskatoon, and Yellow Quill Reconciliation.
“Reconciliation must be locally driven and context specific. And communities know their priorities and where to work. And we’re trying to help them the best we can,” said Rhett Sangster, OTC’s director of reconciliation and community partnerships.
The OTC worked with community leaders to kick-start the circles, first in Saskatoon and then across the province as interest in reconciliation grows.
“Canadians have been mobilized in a way we hadn’t seen before through the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and people know the status quo is not acceptable and so we need to do better,” Sangster said.
For Reconciliation Regina, the goals are to support and encourage truth and reconciliation activities with civil society organizations.
“For me, it’s about hearing our truth, hearing our stories, learning about our history,” said Kirstin Francis, executive director of Reconciliation Regina.
“If we don’t learn history, how are we supposed to understand the present and our present circumstances and situations. It is important to me that we educate the public.”
This week’s Reconciliation Regina is conducting her education campaign in residential schools by putting up flags and posters with the slogan, Every Child Matters. Francis is also conducting a series of Reconciliation Through Language in four languages of Treaty 4: Saulteaux, Cree, Dakota/Lakota/Nakota, and Michif.
The three Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee chairs, Chief Tricia Sutherland, Tracey Grand’Maison and Velma Assinewai talk about building relationships and working together as a goal.
“I think we can have tough conversations there in a safe environment, where we all leave knowing we’ve been listened to and we respect each other’s opinions,” said Sutherland, one of the presidents and head of One Arrow First Nation. .
Their committee represents the communities of One Arrow, Warman, Martinsville, Rosthern, Osler, Aberdeen, Corman Park Rural Municipality, as well as local businesses, school departments, government agencies and organizations. In addition to meetings, the committee hosts an annual conference to facilitate learning about residential schools and reconciliation.
“When we teach, we don’t force it on anyone. We teach people who are ready to learn,” Assinewai said.
“As soon as you say ‘yes, I’m in’, that’s your first step towards reconciliation.”
The work isn’t always easy, but it’s important, said Doug Abrosimoff, who co-chairs Heart of Treaty 6 Reconciliation with Clint Chocan.
“This, in my opinion, has been the problem, in the west and in Saskatchewan, that we’re neighbors, we literally live next door to each other, but we don’t know each other that well,” he said.
“I think it’s important to sit around the table and build and gradually change these concepts that we have from each other. There’s a lot at stake here in Canada right now.”
The groups will meet in October to discuss how to move forward with reconciliation in the province.
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