What does reconciliation mean to you? What suggestions do you have for non-Indigenous people to respectfully engage in reconciliation? Have you seen a change in how people are engaging in reconciliation in recent years? If you had to choose one thing that you wish every person knew about reconciliation, what would that be? What are your thoughts on how to be a good ally?
Many settlers wish they could ask questions like these to Indigenous people without appearing foolish or rude. Canadian Friends Service Committee knows that not every settler has the opportunity to have open dialogue with Indigenous friends and neighbours. This is why we want to give you a chance to hear the answers to these questions from some of our Indigenous partners, people that we work closely with and trust to give us honest responses, and who trust us enough to engage with this project!
Recently we met with five of our Indigenous friends and asked them each of the five questions above. Are you curious about their responses? The good news is that we brought a videographer with us to capture the conversations. More good news, we will be sharing those videos with you soon. But we wanted to give you a sneak peek at what we learned during this project.
“It is a mutual respect of Nations. It needs to come from a place of love.”
Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot is Anishinaabe from the Lake Superior band of Ojibwe. She is the University of British Columbia’s Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs and the Canada Research Chair of Global Indigenous Rights and Politics. CFSC has worked with Sheryl over a number of years and asked her to be a part of this project.
When asked about what non- Indigenous people can do, she said “[Reconciliation] requires a huge burden and responsibility to not only learn about the Indigenous peoples who are your neighbours, who are to be your family. It means learning about their customs, their languages, their societies, and their legal systems. It means learning about the land that you live on and the people of that land and then putting that into action in daily life.”
Learning about your Indigenous neighbours was something that every person we interviewed mentioned. Each one said that the first step is educating yourself about who you are reconciling with and not putting the burden of educating settlers onto Indigenous peoples.
Many of the interviewees also highlighted the importance of approaching reconciliation with the right attitude. Haana Edenshaw is from the Tsiits Git’anee clan of Haida Gwaii. Haana accompanied CFSC’s delegation to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York last year. Haana emphasized that, “I think you need to know that reconciliation isn’t a favour you’re doing for Indigenous peoples. It is a mutual respect of Nations. It needs to come from a place of love.”
Similarly, Collin Orchyk of Treaty 1, Peguis First Nation, Manitoba, reflected, “A Cree Elder in Saskatchewan once asked me, ‘Who is reconciliation for?’ and I said, ‘Well… it’s for Indigenous people,’ and he said, ‘No it’s not. They did nothing wrong.’ And that really put things into perspective for me.”
When we began working on this project, we didn’t want it to be a step-by-step guide to how to reconcile with Indigenous peoples. We wanted to open up the conversation and remind Friends it is our responsibility as Quakers and settlers to educate ourselves. When asked about being a good ally, Naomi Bob (Snaw’naw’as/Nanoose First Nation, Lyackson First Nation, Peguis First Nation, and Melbu, Norway) said, “To me, being a good ally is an active state, it’s not an identity. Being a good ally is something you are continuously doing.”
Kirby Muldoe, from the Tsimsian and Gitxsan Nations, is a partner that CFSC works closely with. He frequently holds speaking tours in Northern BC where CFSC’s Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator Jennifer Preston and CFSC associate Paul Joffe present about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Kirby said, “Think about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Learn it. Think about how you fit in there. I’d also like people to look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s handbook and the 94 Calls to Action and see how you can fit in there and help Indigenous peoples gain back their human rights.”
Kirby’s message is one that CFSC shares—the first step of implementation is to read the Declaration and the 94 Calls to Action. We all can see ourselves—and therefore actions we might take—in different elements of these instruments.
All of the interviewees agreed, the first step in reconciliation is to educate yourself. We’ve made resources to help you learn how to engage in reconciliation. Visit https://quakerservice.ca/resources/#Indigenous for guides, information on what Quakers across the country are doing, and more. But don’t forget to go beyond this and learn about the land that you live on and the people of that land.
Keira Mann is CFSC’s Assistant Coordinator, Programs and Events.