In a room warmed by the scent of beef stew and bannock, an indigenous organization and a non-indigenous organization came together in the spirit of reconciliation.
On Wednesday, Ka Ni Kanichihk — an indigenous community health and wellness organization — and the Sexuality Education Resource Centre announced a new partnership that will see the resource centre’s indigenous-focused program White Wolf Speaking move to Ka Ni Kanichihk. It’s a small but incredibly significant move, one that could set the tone for other community organizations.
"This is an opportunity to demonstrate what reconciliation might look like between indigenous and non-indigenous organizations," says Nicole Chammartin, who is the executive director of both the resource centre and Klinic.
The centre’s mandate is to promote sexual health through education, operating under the belief everyone has the right to safe and accurate information. As part of that mandate, it developed White Wolf Speaking, a program that promotes healthy sexuality in indigenous communities. While the program was built in consultation with indigenous people, indigenous people weren’t leading the program. That will change with Wednesday’s announcement.
About a year ago, Chammartin sat down with Leslie Spillett, the executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk, to discuss ways in which the resource centre could put reconciliation into action. The organization will be responding to several specific calls to action as outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its final 2015 report, including requiring all staff to take a course on how residential schools continue to impact indigenous health as well as providing opportunities for the use and integration of indigenous healing practices.
For Spillett, reconciliation is about giving back the power and control that was taken away from indigenous people through colonization.
"It left our community disempowered, marginalized, disenfranchised and weak in some ways," she says. "So what is the new relationship going to look like as a part of Truth and Reconciliation? What it has to look like now — and this little project is the beginning of that — is to centring our own systems of knowledge, our own indigenous experts, our own ways of knowing and being."
Reconciliation also means acknowledging and working to repair the harms that continue to be inflicted by colonization. It means recognizing we all exist within a societal framework that confers power and privilege on some people over others, and that some of us actively benefit from oppression. That can be a hard thing for people to admit, let alone examine and unpack. But meaningful relationships between communities can come out of having those conversations, even if they are difficult or uncomfortable.
Spillet believes partnerships such as the one between the resource centre and Ka Ni Kanichihk are the way forward.
"To surrender power and control can be very scary for people," Spillett says. "So if we can learn that it doesn’t have to be so scary, that it can be a celebration and lift everyone up, then that’s a good thing."
Hopefully, the way these organizations are working together will inspire other health-care organizations to examine how they could practise reconciliation.
As Spillett says, reconciliation has to be about action. Otherwise, it’s meaningless.
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