The Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee met for their monthly meeting on Tuesday March 23, 2021 from 9:00 – 11:00 am via Zoom. Twenty-nine individuals representing a variety of towns, businesses, and government agencies were present at the meeting.
Amanda chaired the meeting and after the customary roundtable introductions, Tracey related that the facemasks embroidered with the PRRC logo had arrived and the are available for members to purchase for the price of $5. Next on the agenda was an update from the social media group and Kristen reported that since the last meeting the Facebook page has garnered 120 new ‘likes’. Following suggestions from other committee members, other platforms will be explored to have a presence on specifically Instagram and Linked-in.
The Fall Conference was the big topic for this meeting as the planning and organization need to get underway. The conference will be planned as a virtual online event that will be spread over perhaps three days in early November 2021, to run in the afternoons. Spreading it out like this will prevent “zoom-fatigue” and give attendees more flexibility. Just as in-person conferences feature keynote speakers and breakout sessions, this conference will feature that as well. Discussion then turned to ideas for themes and content. Many ideas were brought forward which could advance beyond beginner topics such as what does reconciliation look like, for example one idea was to look at economic development and engagement strategies between First Nations and Rural Municipalities and towns/cities, the concept of urban reserves, a discussion panel for youth to discover the differences between life and schools in the north vs the south, a session that could foster engagement between youth and elders, and lighthearted topics that could possibly include or feature a comedian. With ideas swirling, a Conference Planning Sub-committee was formed consisting of Robert (President CEO Misty Ventures), Alison (Federated Cooperatives Indigenous Engagement Manager), Tracey (Town of Aberdeen), Kim (Wheatland Regional Library), Velma (Aberdeen Arena Kitchen Supervisor), and an as yet to be determined representative form SREDA. This being the third conference, there is much experience to be drawn upon, but this sub-committee will work out the nuts and bolts of conference.
The final agenda item before the educational portion of the meeting regarded the SaskCulture Grant which the PRRC received. As yet no projects have been presented and the tri-chairs encouraged everyone to be thinking about community events or activities that the PRRC could help fund, and with that we moved to the educational portion of the meeting. The presenter for this month was Randy Klassen, the Indigenous Neighbours Coordinator for MCC Saskatchewan.
From MCC Canada’s website we find this explanation of what the Indigenous Neighbours program is. The “program strives to build respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.” In partnership with Indigenous people, this is done by: “(1) facilitating opportunities for constituents to learn about Indigenous history, rights and concerns using workshops, speaking engagements, publications and online resources; (2) supporting connections between MCC constituents and Indigenous partners to build respectful relationships; (3) collaborating with Indigenous partners on advocacy to promote positive political, social and economic change for Indigenous peoples; and (4) providing opportunities for international exchanges between Indigenous people.” (https://mcccanada.ca/learn/what/categories/indigenous-neighbours) In Saskatchewan, its focus is changing long-term social relationships between the settler descendants and their Indigenous neighbours so they can live as good neighbours as envisioned by the Treaties. The project “focuses on reducing racist perspectives, increasing positive awareness and interaction with Indigenous people and perspectives, and advocating with Indigenous peoples for justice.” (ibid) Some of the tools the MCC Indigenous Neighbours program uses are the showing of the video “Reserve 107”. This video delves into the true story that led to the shared pain and trepidation of landowners around Laird who discover their ancestors had homesteaded unknowingly on the land stolen from Reserve #107, and what happened when the two groups, Indigenous and settler, finally sat down to meet and talk and get to know one another.
Another tool to promote healing, friendship and reconciliation is the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. Developed in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers and educators in 1997, the KAIROS Blanket Exercise (KBE) is an interactive and experiential teaching tool that delves into the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in our country. The exercise has been described by those who have experienced it as “immensely impactful” and “it is an extremely effective way of teaching people about the history of the Indigenous people” from precontact onward. Participants experience in a workshop setting what Indigenous peoples have experienced over the last 150 years and more from loss of language, to loss of family, to loss of self. A virtual KAIROS Blanket Exercise is now available and needs three hours for 16-46 people. (https://www.kairosblanketexercise.org/)
Erica Littlewolf, of Albuquerque, N.M., Indigenous Vision Center coordinator for MCC Central States, after being present at a hearing led by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted that “the journey of healing is both international and personal. If we are to heal collectively, we need to recognize that we need healing in ourselves and that the institutions and systems we are in also need healing. Healing isn’t for other people; it is for all of us. It is a choice that we have to embrace and work toward together.” And this ties in somewhat with what Randy Klassen shared from his own family experiences and the history of the Mennonite people who as displaced people, inadvertently displaced others. Many “settler descendants” who take part in the blanket exercise feel sadness or a sense of guilt for what happened while others experience a sense of anger that they hadn’t learned of many of the atrocities. The beginning of any journey is one conscious step. Learning the truth of the history of this land, the history of the people who live here, and accepting that although we did not sit along side the governments of the day who acted on the Doctrine of Discovery, we and our ancestors did accept the privilege and benefits that came along with the colour of our skin. The acceptance of that truth opens the door to true reconciliation.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder