By Siobhan Laverdiere, former Halton Youth Initiative Coordinator
“It’s often said before there can be Reconciliation, there must be Truth. I would challenge that, even before Truth, there must be Trust.”
Robyn Ward, Director of People Operations, Animikii
As a former Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) coordinator, this statement came to mind back in June 2020 when I was thinking about how to approach the topic of Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation with some of our youth volunteers. They had expressed keen interest in knowing more about Truth and Reconciliation and were considering reaching out to the Indigenous community.
Reflecting on Truth, Honesty, Love, Humility, Respect, Wisdom, and Bravery: Pathways to Trust
Before we began our journey, the Community Builders team took some time to think about building trust and seeking the Truth. Their reflections were framed by the Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe People; Truth, Honesty, Love, Humility, Respect, Wisdom, and Bravery.
Truth and Honesty
“To me, Truth means to fully understand and honour what happened in the past, and not avoid it just because those actions weren’t caused firsthand by you. I think Reconciliation means to build the trust again, and make what was wrong right.” Senoli Jayaratna
“How would I feel if I were forcefully relocated to a different area? How would I feel if one of my family members went missing and no one responded or made an effort to find them? I deeply empathize with these questions since we all have our family whom we love and would go crazy if they are missing. And it would be worse if my government refused to provide me with any help because of my color and my nation.” Melissa Ban
“For hundreds of years, Indigenous Peoples have been disrespected and discriminated against by settlers. Their culture and people suffered, from many languages being lost and thousands of lives being taken away. The terrible actions must be discussed, the truth must be discussed. But, trust must be built first, since racism and discrimination are still a prominent issue of today. I think it’s expected for a community to not trust easily after facing centuries of mistreatment, and that is why this trust should be rebuilt first.” Ekaterina Stepenski
“I think we should first start by trying to learn and understand to the greatest extent the life of Indigenous people in the past and present. I also think that while we are doing so, we should attempt to build connections between us and our Indigenous allies, to establish the trust that was the focus of the article by Robyn Ward. Reconciliation means making up for the mistakes that we have made, so once we have learned more about the perspectives of some Indigenous people, we can find out what more we can do to help the Indigenous community.” Senoli Jayaratna
(On the knowledge and wisdom she learned from Robyn Ward’s article) “I found the analogy about the vault aspect of trust very interesting. Referring to it as a trust bank account helps to really understand the concept of withdrawals and deposits in terms of trust (efforts that violate or build/strengthen trust). Keeping this in mind will help us to be better allies who actively make efforts towards making deposits through being kind, good listeners, respecting boundaries, respecting decisions (especially when someone does not want to share), and more. It also can help us to understand the impacts of our mistakes and the toll they take.” Romina Mirsaeidghazi
“I was born and raised in a country where freedom of expression was limited and the government acts more as a dictatorship rather than a democracy. I know that if my people suffer in the same way that Indigenous peoples in Canada and North America have, I would want others to bravely advocate and support my people too. This relates back to “treating others the way we want to be treated”. As someone who is working on becoming a good ally, I feel as though I have an obligation to educate myself and others if I get a chance in order to stand for justice. I would want the same if this was me who was suffering.” Romina Mirsaeidghazi
Having had experience working with Indigenous organizations such as the Métis Nation of Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, I quickly realized that it would be important for these young people to connect with Indigenous teachers and leaders and the Indigenous community in Halton and beyond.
Our aim was to show our commitment to the Truth in order to build future Trust. What better way to do this than by approaching this learning with:
Humility: Admitting that we needed to learn more, and to listen to the stories of Indigenous People, especially those of Residential School Survivors
Accountability: Taking it upon ourselves to find these stories and do our own research.
Empathy: Taking the time to reflect on ways we can make connections between our own personal experiences and those of Survivors in order to build emotional links.
This is what we did…
After our preparatory learning and self-reflection, the HYI Community Builders virtual team felt confident to contact Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous lead. This new relationship led to other connections within the Indigenous community.
The experience of taking the time to learn and reflect, engage with Indigenous leaders and teachers and then have the opportunity to express their emotions and knowledge in concrete ways was absolutely transformative for these passionate young people. You can hear the sadness, anger, reverence, and courage in their voices in the reflections above.
As a result, the Community Builders team put their learning and inspiration into action with a podcast series titled Halton Youth Share the Truth and a video Land Acknowledgement Resource for anyone who is called upon to acknowledge a Territory. These valuable community resources will remain available to help other youth and adults as on their journeys to seek Trust, Truth and Reconciliation.
Halton Youth Initiative Youth Volunteers
Ethan Potter Ruggiero
Hargun Kaur Rekhi
Halton Youth Initiative Adult Allies
Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous lead
Pat Howell-Blackmore, Consultant, PHBSpark Consulting
Stephen Hurley, Founder, VoicED Radio