At 40 years old, Kimberley Levasseur Puhach learned her mother was a residential school survivor.
"I’d gone through a life knowing there was a history, feeling the evidence of that legacy and trauma... but not being able to understand what it (was) rooted to," Puhach said of the 2007 revelation.
She jumped into reconciliation efforts, eventually becoming the chairwoman of Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman’s Indigenous advisory circle.
On Thursday, she emceed the city’s fourth annual Indigenous Accord signing. Thirty-nine organizations added their names to the document’s pledge for reconciliation.
"It just brings me such pride and optimism of what’s possible in the future," Puhach said.
Group after group approached the accord outside city hall — masked, socially distanced and grabbing a spritz of hand sanitizer before signing — while Puhach read aloud their promises of change.
"Any commitment that aligns with either the Truth and Reconciliation (Commission of Canada’s) calls to action, or the (National Inquiry into) Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (and Girls’) calls for justice... is a commitment in the right direction," she said.
The City of Winnipeg created the Indigenous Accord in 2017; 200 organizations have signed on.
Thursday’s additions spanned from travel agencies to post-secondary schools to non-profits. (The Winnipeg Free Press signed, saying it has and will continue to hire more Indigenous journalists and ensure representation in its pages.)
Puhach said the recent news of unmarked gravesites at former Indian residential schools across Canada has amplified people’s views of the importance of reconciliation, but there’s more work to be done.
"We can do better," she said.
The document has furthered reconciliation over the past four years, according to Bowman. "We are seeing many positive changes in the community as a direct result of the... pledges."
For its part, the city is focusing on education: it provided employees with Indigenous awareness training and it is filling the Bill and Helen Norrie Library with Métis-related books and artifacts.
City staff are donating red dresses for installation in city hall, as part of an awareness campaign for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Winnipeg is also looking to rename Bishop Grandin Boulevard due to the namesake’s past of championing residential schools.
"We have to remember where we were and where we are," Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the crowd Thursday. "When First Nations do well, we all do well."
A bear paw was indented into Norman Meade’s silver-and-blue metal tie attachment; he wore it to connect with his grandmother, who’d nicknamed him Little Bear. It gave him strength while performing the opening and closing prayers, he said.
"The grandmothers are the ones who really carry us through the stuff we go through, doing the relationships in a good way and a proper way, and reconciliation is about that," he said.
Meade, a Métis elder, has delivered prayers at the signings since 2017 (minus last year — there wasn’t an event due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
"We are moving in the right direction, but we have to persevere," he said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.