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September 30th was the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, deemed as a national holiday, which was one of the 94 Calls to Action proposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was meant to honour Indigenous children who were forced against their will to attend residential schools.

The day is also known as Orange Shirt Day in memory of Phyllis Webstad who wore an orange shirt to school, which was taken away from her, and was forced to wear the school uniform instead.

The “Every Child Matters” slogan is of even more significance since approximately 1300 unmarked graves were found on the sites of four former residential schools across Canada.

On this day, people were asked to reflect by reading books written by Indigenous authors, attending a ceremony, wear an orange shirt in solidarity, and taking a moment at your workplace to reflect through workshops. I chose to read Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips and Suggestions to Make Reconciliation and Reality by Bob and Cynthia Joseph.

I also chose to watch two short films: First Stories: Two Spirited and Urban.Indigenous.Proud: Full Circle.

I will admit that my knowledge of Indigenous culture is very limited, especially not having learned about residential schools until I attended in Edmonton back in 2012. While there has been anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, the lived experiences are different. The common thread here is colonialism and economics, land had been taken from Indigenous people while Black people were brought to North America and the Caribbean as indentured slaves. So there was more to learn here.

My takeaways from this material is plentiful. The RESPECT model (p.65) outlined in Joseph’s book was very helpful.

Image from p 67

This model is meant as a “principled approach to relationship building, which (is seen) as the key to working effectively with Indigenous communities” (p.65). It is seen as a circle rather than a triangle, which is typical of Western culture with respect to hierarchy.

One example was about timelines. Me being the sometimes impatient person that I am, I want to get the job done as quickly as possible. NOPE!!! The best way to approach Indigenous communities is by having the willingness to listen and understand that issues are more complex than anticipated (p 82). This is a perfect example of where an adaptive leadership framework can be used.

Another example was the word “stakeholder”. During community engagement, the word is used as a blanket term to indicate a person, group or organization that stands to be impacted by a process. The difference though is that Indigenous groups should be called Rights Holders because they are protected by the Constitution (pp 109-110).

Indigenous Peoples have been subjected to trauma and marginalized within and outside their communities. Whether it is acceptance of Two-Spirited people or through the residential school system, a lot must change. This is a learning process for myself, even as a Black person. I certainly hope that many of my friends and colleagues took something away from their day of reflection. We must continue to give Indigenous peoples the dignity and respect they deserve.

Share with my what you did on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

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