As an Indigenous woman, whose family spent a total of 200+ accumulated years at a Residential School, who has experienced enough heartache and disconnection to fill a thousand pages, the “Righting Relations” Folk School Gathering in Wabamun Alberta proved to be healing, engendered hope, and a heartfelt wish that many Canadians and Indigenous people get a chance to experience this initiative, as well. Righting Relations is an initiative of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights spearheading the development of a Western Canadian Hub for Adult Educators.
There were many different people coming from all walks of life, and cultural backgrounds. When reflecting at the gathering my thoughts would often go to my own Grandmother, my children’s great-Grandparents, and my own parents. Each stayed at the residential school for many years and experienced things no child, no human should ever experience. There is one exercise we did at the Gathering that I’d like to share that captures the power of our journey together for that weekend. We were gifted by three newcomer women (Adult Educators) who joined the Gathering and did a skit about their experience learning about Canada and our Indigenous peoples, and then they said something like this, “We have learned about what Canada wants us to learn, and we have learned about your Indigenous people. Learning from your people, we can now say that we like what we have learned and believe your people need to lead.” “Wow!”, I thought, “Wow!, I get to hear this!?” “What did she just say!?” More thoughts surfaced, “I wish my parents were here (tears welling); they wouldn’t believe this was real; Oh Grandma, are you here, too … Peaking through the veil from the other side? I hope you are. Thank you.”
Other Indigenous participants also got to witness this display of Righting Relations and my heart swelled with so much hope and a feeling of safety and calm that I don’t usually get to experience. In light of this sacred time together that we shared with newcomers, Settlers, Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and many mixed blood people, I approached more closely the idea that maybe, identifying myself as “Canadian” might not be so bad if being “Canadian” means we create our “village” together. In this space at the Gathering, we actually created a new kind of “Canadian”; a new way to move forward together without alienating each other due to our inherited legacy of colonization, residential schools, racist policies and practices, etc. What is unique about Righting Relations is that it engages Adult Educators willing to be the change agents that heal, empower, and enlighten Canadian settler populations, newcomers and Indigenous people with unique workshops, learning circles, and cultural reclamation/acknowledgements that engender mutual respect within their spheres of influence, both personal and professional. They are correcting historical wrongs in such a way that builds newfound relationships and creates deeper understanding and appreciation for the common history that binds us, one to the other.
We can’t change history; however, we can change what this moment offers by a genuine commitment to the Canadian ideals of inclusiveness, cultural diversity, and respect for human rights that haven’t always been the experience for Indigenous peoples, and people who are economically disadvantaged. Our Adult Educators come into this program with unique skill sets, professional backgrounds, and the Spirit to ensure all human beings who engage with our program understand and appreciate that the way forward for Canadians is made more promising by inclusion of Indigenous worldviews, practices, ceremonies, and ways of being together.
If you hear of a gathering in your area that is put together by Righting Relations we hope you join us. Be a part of the solution, a part of the healing of our Nations, so much so that when your children and your grandchildren look back at this particular time they know their Ancestors (you) began the necessary healing that they got to inherit, and be filled with a genuine and well deserved sense of pride.