The Centre’s Executive Director, Kim Chung, shared her thoughts surrounding Truth and Reconciliation with a personal story.
“As we approach the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I have been reflecting on what those words, “truth and reconciliation” mean to me personally, as well as for the Centre. I think about what it would feel like if my children were forcibly taken away from me, not knowing what was happening to them, and the possibility of them never returning. It is a parent’s worst nightmare. The fact that this nightmare was purposely inflicted on families through residential schools, the 60’s scoop and in many other ways is inexcusable.
My knowledge of the history of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit people was very late in coming and is still a work in progress. This is the case for many people because it was never talked about. It wasn’t taught as part of our history when I was in school, and although it is more prevalent now, I still don’t think it’s enough. This really hit home for me when I was providing a training session a number of years ago in a small community in northern Alberta.
During this training, we touched on how family literacy programs should be inclusive — that all should feel like they are welcome and wanted in a program. As we talked about differences and strategies to adapt a program to reach this goal, one young participant started talking about their views on different cultures. They asked questions like “Why do we have to change to fit them? Why can’t they just do it the way it’s done?” They proceeded to use an Indigenous cultural example to make their point.
Everyone in the room could tell this person wasn’t speaking out of malice, but rather a lack of knowledge and their own experience with privilege. I knew, as a facilitator, I was going to have to step in, but there was also an Indigenous participant in the room — someone who had the real-life experience within the community that was being discussed. I made the decision to wait and see if they wanted to respond. Eventually they did, in the most articulate, dignified and compassionate way that left the group with learnings, but no bad feelings. I was very grateful to this person because I knew what I would have said in that moment would not have had the same impact.
After the session, I spoke to the Indigenous participant, thanking them for stepping in with the grace they showed. How they responded has stuck with me since that moment. They said “I almost didn’t speak because I am so tired. So tired of having to explain and justify who I am even though, this time, I could tell it was coming from a place of ignorance.”
They were tired of having to explain their existence… think about that for a moment. I felt awful. My own privilege had blinded me to the idea that it could be exhausting for people to respond in these types of situations. From that day forward, I have tried to be a better ally; not to speak for a community I did not grow up in, but to support their voices in ways that have been asked for, to help others learn and make connections, and to speak up when needed for those whose voices are silenced or who are too exhausted.
At the Centre, we are working to ensure our team has knowledge and support about actions we can take to support the TRC. We are choosing materials that are more representative of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, partnering with Indigenous serving organizations, and creating and holding space for our program participants to have conversations about this important topic. We are committed to Truth and Reconciliation, not just on this one day of the year, but every day.”