Tuesday October 20th was the monthly zoom meeting for the Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee. Gilbert Kewistep, the committee’s cultural advisor said a prayer before the meeting began asking for the continued safety of our children, for all that were in need in any way, and that our meeting would be a good one from which members could continue forward in their journey in good ways.
Newly elected to the tri-chair position, Chief Tricia Sutherland, chaired her first PRRC meeting. The traditional round table introductions welcomed some new faces to the committee as representatives of organizations that are a consistent part of the committee, and welcomed back some members who have had scheduling conflicts which have limited their participation in the past months.
The new Social Media Sub-Committee met on Tuesday October 13th and discussed ways to keep the Facebook page current and relevant. Kristen offered to post Office of the Treaty Commissioner happenings, while Garrett volunteered to answer questions that may appear on the page, and Angela agreed to help monitor the page for relevance. The group came up with the idea to contact the signees of the Declaration and to ask in follow up, why they wished to be part of the signing, what steps have they taken since that signing to move forward in the reconciliation process, and where are they now in their journey? Tracey summed up the meeting saying that it was a productive and engaging meeting, and they were excited to get at it.
Tracey reported that with Amanda’s help they submitted an application for a SaskCulture Grant which if approved would pay for the cost of our meetings and educational sessions until the end of 2021. This was originally submitted in January for the Dakota Dunes CDC Grant and included a proposal for six community events and funding to cover honorariums and travel etc. That application was not successful and with the current pandemic in-person events are not possible, so the details and proposal specifics were adapted to reflect the current reality and submitted for this grant. A question arose from this about the PRRC’s budget. The committee typically looks to spend roughly $8-9000 each year on educational events for rentals, honorariums, tobacco for offerings, and travel expenses. As for an annual budget there really isn’t one presently.
From there the meeting moved to a discussion about the still empty position of Treasurer. Discussion with Affinity Credit Union are continuing but there is no promise a treasurer would be forthcoming from that avenue. A call for a volunteer from the floor at first didn’t garner any response, but later Lori O’Leary, who is new to the committee but represents Sask Polytech, and does have experience with this, volunteered to fill the position if no one else was interested or felt comfortable in the role. Lorie’s offer was quickly accepted and a unanimous vote by the committee members present secured Lorie in the position of treasurer.
One of the objectives of the Committee is to foster reconciliation activity within the home communities of its members. My activity is to present information on our meetings and the educational activities and presenters that we have at the meetings. Tracey shared that she and her granddaughter had been busy with a beading activity related to Remembrance Day and some members of the RM council had expressed interest in the kits she had purchased. Others invited their group to view the initial episode of the documentary Elder in the Making, others created orange shirts for Orange Shirt Day/Every Child Matters, and Annie shared that Reconciliation Saskatoon have Action Committees a book club and that the Office of the Treaty Commissioner is involved in a pilot project with the City of Saskatoon relating to actionable things to do in the office.
The next item on the agenda related to ‘swag’ items for educator guests and then moved on to include the possibility of members of PRRC having the logo put onto jackets. Bob Daniels offered to put together a list of Indigenous businesses who we could have do the work and thereby support an upcoming business. With that the meeting moved to the educational portion.
Chief Sutherland had talked to a Residential School survivor about talking to the group about her experience at Residential School. The speaker did not feel that she would be able to go through with the painful exercise and of course as a group all were understanding. To relive trauma of that magnitude is something that not everyone is able to do. Sometimes it is just how life is going on a particular day, and sometimes it is just too painful to share. In her stead, Chief Sutherland shared what it was like for her grow up. Chief Sutherland attended school in Wakaw, she did not go to a residential school, but her mother and grandparents and great-grandparents did, the effects of their experience trickling down to those who did not. She shared that her parents were fluent in Cree, but other than an understanding of it none of their children speak the language. Perhaps it was a lingering fear of punishment, but whatever the cause, the language and the culture that went with it disappeared from the family and her life and it wasn’t until she was a teenager that her uncle brought back the traditions, spirituality and cultural ways to the family.
As a child in school, her mother always tried to make the children look less indigenous so they would sort of blend in. Chief Sutherland shared that one time she had to do a report and she wanted to do it about her identity, but when she went to the library all the literature about First Nations people painted a picture of savages and heathens, even devil-worshippers and she didn’t want to be seen that way. That wasn’t who she was. Ultimately, the report was written about whooping cranes.
She is proud now of the generations that have gone before and is glad that her grandkids don’t have to be ashamed of who they are, the history they share and the stories of their ancestors.
It is important to recognize in any discussion of residential schools and the survivors, that even though laws changed over time, First Nations people were not told things had changed. For example, many First Nations parents continued sending their children to residential schools because they believed they still had to. They still believed that if they didn’t the police were going to come and forcefully remove their children and children who were taken by force were not allowed to return during holidays, to refuse to send a child was to lose them forever. Many First Nations elders passed away still believing they had no choice.
As we remember the Holocaust and say Never Again, we need to remember the Residential Schools and say Never Again.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder