Episode 1 - What does reconciliation mean?
We hear the word reconciliation a lot, but what does it actually mean and what does it look like in action? To begin the series, we asked Yukoners what the word means to them.
This episode includes remarks from: Tosh Southwick, David Silas, Shirley Adamson, Joanne Henry, Robby Dick, Fabiana Naves, Phillip Gatensby, Aubyn O’Grady, Debra-Leigh Reti, Peter Johnston, Jody Beaumont, Teagyn Vallevand, Wendy Tayler, Steve Smith, Robin Bradasch, Katrina Kocsis, Jackie MacLaren, Ron Chambers, and Karen Barnes.
Welcome to Walking Our Path Together, a series of audio stories exploring Yukon College’s journey toward reconciliation.
Over the course of the series, we’ll hear from people who are connected with the College, and we’ll also hear voices of people throughout the Yukon – Elders, educators, community leaders, and youth.
This is Episode 1… What is Reconciliation?
It’s a word we hear a lot in Canada, so we asked some Yukoners what the word Reconciliation means to them.
My name is Tosh Southwick. I am a citizen of Kluane First Nation. I belong to the Wolf Clan. And my current role at Yukon College is Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation.
Reconciliation to me means resetting the relationship and acknowledging equality, acknowledging that many ways of knowing and doing are valid, and repositioning the power. Taking a really critical look at what we acknowledge as truth, what we support as knowledge, and who’s in that inner circle that makes these decisions and gives ourselves the ability to navigate within this education space.
Reconciliation to me at its simplest is really about working together in partnership – a true partnership. And it is about making sure First Nations in the Yukon are at every part of that conversation, whether it be about policy, whether it be about programs or services or space. And not just that they’re involved in the conversation, but that their input is valued.
My name is David Silas. I am from Selkirk First Nation. I am part of the Wolf Clan and I am currently the First Nation Engagement Advisor with Yukon College. I am also a past student of Yukon College with the Bachelor of Science.
You know, reconciliation to me. . . it’s a new word. It’s something that I never heard prior to my professional career actually working at the College. Reconciliation has been something that for me has been a journey, a learning journey.
Being immersed it in has been more beneficial to me that reading about anything. Being involved in reconciliation, working with our First Nations, connecting with them and really having them define what it means to work under a true partnership umbrella has been really eye-opening for me.
So, I think reconciliation really has yet to be defined and I think the more we do what we do here at Yukon College the more we’ll define it and what it means for the North.
My name is Shirley Adamson. I’m a Yukon resident, always have been and probably always will be. I was born here in Whitehorse and lived in the Whitehorse/Lake Leberge region and around Fox Lake as well my entire life.
The reality is in truth and reconciliation, somebody is going to be hurt because that’s just the nature of it. You can’t have an agreement to reconcile unless one of the parties has admitted to some kind of wrongdoing and the process of truth and reconciliation between Indigenous people and settlers in Canada is a time of extreme ugliness and somebody is going to be hurt in the telling of it.
Joanne Henry. I am the Director here at CAIRS and CAIRS is Committee for Abuse in Residential Schools. My name is Keesaax. My parents are Don and Pat Henry. My grandmother is Maude Fox and I am a member of the Crow Clan with Teslin Tlingit Council.
And I don’t know if I just notice it a lot more because of the work I do but it’s my belief that you have to reconcile with you. You need to know that you’re OK. You need to know that whatever you went through, whatever you had to deal with you’re still an OK person. There’s nothing wrong with you.
We might have been put in these residential school where terrible things happened to us. We were treated badly, we were not fed properly, we were for whatever reason these guys thought we were no good, but we are good people. And we need to truly believe that. I don’t know if that will ever happen for some individuals.
(Kaska language) My name’s Robby Dick from Ross River.
When I hear that term, I put myself in the shoes of what that means. If I hurt somebody, I want to reconcile that. Canada has a long history of injustice and a lot of hurt, and residential schools there is a lot of hurt people.
It can mean different things with different people. I can’t speak to that with other First Nations, but I see the different struggles that First Nations are going through across Canada. Yeah, it’s pretty sad. It’s pretty sad to think of what our people had to go through and had to endure and for them to rise above that and carry on and try to be a good human being even though we’ve been through hurt and struggles.
And I think of our First Nations, we are the very definition of self-determination. We are trying to go back to our roots as a people because that’s where we get our strength as a people. We go back to our culture and learn our prayers, our ceremonies and our songs.
Hi there, my name is Fabi, and I am originally from Brazil. I came to Yukon to study and now I work at Yukon College in the President’s Office. I love Yukon and Whitehorse and I definitely call this place home now.
Well, I feel like being a new Canadian it might mean that I am still learning about First Nations and I can never assume anything and it’s better for me to learn from the people, rather than learn from history books or whatever. I think it’s also about reaching maybe a common understanding of each other.
(Tlingit language) My name is Phillip Alexander Gatensby. My real name is (Tlingit language). That’s the name that was given to me before I was born.
So, the idea of reconciliation… I believe that if someone was to actually say: man, we screwed up royally. I think we just messed up so bad, but we want to make it right. In Tlingit we don’t have a word for forgiveness, but we have a thing called making it right and if somebody, if this whole culture that’s here right now was to say: I get it, I get it we did something really wrong here. Well, I never did it, my grandparents did it, but I still bear some responsibility.
Why couldn’t we help people to know … right, that this has happened and that we can change it. If we can do that as a whole in Canada. If we could put out that information and say, you know, we messed up. We did the wrong thing to a people and we decided to say we are sorry, really, we get it.
I think honest to gosh that native people would say: OK, well, where do we go from here? I think that’s all that we want. I think that’s all that Indigenous people want is to be known. That they’re real and they’re legitimate because I always thought when I was young that I was good for nothing and I was going to go to hell. As it turns out, I actually did and I got singe marks on my legs to prove it, but it wasn’t that bad, you know, and look where it brought me.
My name is Aubyn O’Grady and I am the Program Director of the Yukon School of Visual Arts. So, something that stands out – a quote – a warning that stands out in my mind when we talk about reconciliation – reconciliation isn’t an Indigenous concept, and so I think about that all the time.
What are we asking when we talk about Indigenizing the curriculum or when we talk about reconciliation, and how we can bring that into education? What are we asking Indigenous people – the people we’re supposed to be reconciling with because I am a settler – what are we asking them to do when we ask them to come into a system that wasn’t set up by them or maybe isn’t super welcoming to all people.
I think about how people feel when they enter into this space – that’s what comes to mind when I think about reconciliation is who feels welcome where and what limits are we putting on peoples’ imaginations or levels of comfort when we ask them to come to us.
I’m Debra-Leigh Reti and I am the First Nation Cultural Coordinator here at Yukon College.
Reconciliation to me is learning from our past, forgiving – you know – because it is hard. My mom went to residential school, and I can get upset with things and systems – you know – I see how it’s changed my mom and how it’s even affected us kids growing up.
Reconciliation is forgiving, learning from the past, and find a way that we can all work together and never have these things repeat again.
My name is Peter Johnston. I am a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council. My Tlingit name is (Tlingit language), 45-years-old, I have four children; Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
It doesn’t mean a lot, really. I am really tired of that word to tell you the truth. It’s not that I’m against the initiatives or the program money that’s being delivered from government, but it’s tokenism in a lot of cases.
If you’re really truly going to change the systems that our people are in, you have to go right to the heart of it and that’s the child welfare system, which goes back to the residential school system.
Once you start going after the most precious resource – the continuation of our traditions and cultures that have always been handed down and you snip it at some point in that history. You know, we’re really challenged today by the outcomes of those actions and a lot of it is just the healthy families and the spiritual connections that we have, the practices that we’ve always done – the singing and the dancing – have really been thrown off to the side and we’re really taking an aggressive approach to bring those back.
Once you have community members growing up in their own communities within their own families, once we start helping our next generation be successful and to build that capacity that is the key ticket to our longevity let alone to build prosperity for generations to come.
My name is Jody Beaumont and I work in the Heritage Department at Tr’ondëk Hwëtch’in.
Well, I think education is the single most important piece when it comes to reconciliation. But to have this country recognise and acknowledge its colonial reality today and to understand what that meant to take an entire group of people and not just take away their access to their home and their land, but then to create a whole myth to deny that that even happened.
You can create every program in the book, but if you’re not willing to say out loud, publicly, very loudly, that we have a lot of dark history. We are responsible for the current reality that we’re in, especially as a country that sells itself as all about human rights it’s pretty embarrassing.
To have a country that is confident enough to be OK with the mistakes it’s made, that’s reconciliation to me. I mean, we will never have reconciliation until this country actually deeply, truly understands its history, like its actual history, not the story that we tell about history.
It’s not a program; it’s not an event; it’s a whole structure and we’re not even remotely close, you know. Talking about reconciliation when most people in this country know nothing about it through no fault of their own. And then to be so closed to even learning about it is so sad to me. A lot of people, they know it’s bad and they don’t want to hear it, and I get that.
The reason I bring that up is because I think of one Elder in particular. He always talks about it because he’s very, very open about his residential school experiences and people have said: I don’t know how you do that. He has said that every time I tell my story it takes its power away. If people recognise that about the history of Canada and said that we’re just going to own it and we’re going to talk about it, it takes its pull off of you. So, it means those types of things to me.
Áyįnzhi Aatagwéix'i ùye. Hi, my name is Teagyn Vallevand. My Tlingit name is Aatagwéix'i. I’m from Kwanlin Dün First Nation, and I belong to the Ganaxteidi Raven Crest.
In terms of reconciliation, educating ourselves as Yukoners, as Canadians, First Nations people, non-Indigenous people – just for everybody – it’s important that we educate ourselves on our history, our full history. And our full history is also acknowledging the Indigenous perspective because oftentimes what we’re taught in high school is from a settler perspective, coming over and discovering Canada when we know that’s not the case.
Especially when you’re from the Yukon where our First Nations culture and First Nations people is such a part of our history, it’s important that we acknowledge that. Because we need to do that for future generations, and we need to do that so we can instill positive outlooks among our youth and also understanding among our community members, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
It’s important to have that understanding, and you get that by Googling the 94 Calls to Action, and by Googling whose traditional territory you’re on and doing a land acknowledgement. Those are all really easy things to do to educate yourself and to strive toward reconciliation.
My name is Wendy Tayler. I am President and CEO at Alkan Air, and proudly in the Chair role with the Yukon University Foundation. In addition to that I am an alumni of the College. I am a Certified Management Accountant, and I was able to complete the majority of my education for my CMA through the College.
Reconciliation to me means getting to a point where all Yukoners are working together on moving the Yukon Territory forward collectively. But I recognize moving forward we need to continue to have conversations to ensure we have true awareness of our past and are truly aligned on how we can move forward in the best way for every Yukoner.
(Southern Tutchone language) My name is Steve Smith and I am Chief of the Champagne Aishihik First Nations.
I think there’s a fine balance between respecting where people are coming from but then not to say I’m thankful to you for being here, but we are going to do everything the way we want to do it at the end of the day – that’s not reconciliation, that’s tokenism. There is a fine line between true reconciliation and tokenism that still exists today.
To have someone assess my capabilities based on my capabilities and not who I am. It goes both ways, right. I don’t want a job because I am an Indian, and I don’t want to lose the opportunity because I’m an Indian. I think that’s kind of the sweet spot we’re at.
It’s so complex, and I think it comes down to the individual people as well. The individual nations and who they are – whether you’re Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, Northern Tutchone, Kaska, Tr’ondëk Hwëtch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin, or Upper Tanana. It’s contingent on how people look at it, so it’s always going to be a complicated and somewhat convoluted discussion because there are so many variables.
My name is Robin Bradasch. I am a citizen of Kluane First Nation and I have worked in the area of land-claim and self-government negotiation and implementation for the past 25 years.
It’s an interesting thing because I think that three or four years ago, I had a different take on reconciliation. It’s really become a buzz word and I think it in some ways it just sort of confuses people as to what is their role in reconciliation.
Me, I think it’s righting wrongs. In a lot of ways, it’s about righting wrongs. Not all wrongs can be righted, and I think it starts with the creation of a shared history. So much of reconciliation to me is about education of the general Canadian society about what has happened.
It’s not to rehash it or to blame anybody, but it’s about building a shared history and understanding of how we came to be where we are. And then, a shared responsibility to move forward.
That’s how I see it, and I think it’s different for everyone and I think we all can contribute to reconciliation in different ways, but I think we’re still very much at that education stage. We’re really not quite at that shared responsibility stage yet.
I am Katrina Kocsis and I’m 25 years old and I’m a Tr’ondëk Hwëtch’in citizen. Probably picking up the broken pieces of our citizens and putting us back together because they caused so much damage on all of us. Even I’ve been traumatized from the inter-generational trauma.
My grandma went to residential school, so she was not nice to my mom and then my mom wasn’t as bad to me – like, you know, trying break the cycle and everything but she was not nice to me. Now I am trying to break the cycle with my daughter, but it’s hard. I don’t want to treat her bad and I don’t want to make her cry every day, but sometimes I just find my mother coming out of my mouth and it’s just – it’s hard.
The way they’re doing it is not right, by just sending us money. They should actually be sending people here who can help heal us like counsellors, more doctors; and maybe even a treatment centre that’s here.
My name is Jackie MacLaren and I have been in the Yukon since 1986, primarily working in the field of mental health counselling and community development. And, I was also involved… I was the lead counsellor for the three territories for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and travelled throughout the three territories.
It’s not just saying you’re sorry. It’s the action. It’s what is the reconcili-action that follows, and what do people do differently knowing – once they have learned about some of the trauma impacts that people have experienced and some of the injustices.
I like that term (reconcili-action) because it’s about implementing. It’s one thing to have the TRC and all the stories, all of the experiences and all of the truths that are out there, but what? Does it sit on a shelf or in a virtual library? What does that mean when we hit the ground running the next day? What do you do differently knowing what you know now?
And if you’re not doing anything differently, then you need to do some more learning because I don’t think we can learn about the difference, the disparity, the poverty, the lack of resources and not be moved by that.
My name is Ron Chambers. I was originally raised in Burwash; it’s where my mother is from. My father is from the Champagne area. Now I live in Haines Junction and I have for the past 30-some years.
Reconciliation – well, I don’t know if we have that term in the first nation language, but the idea of reconciliation to me is that it’s a recognition that there has been a wrong done for too long a time, for one thing.
Reconciliation is the fact that the highest position in government has recognised that something wrong has happened. That, to me, is a consciousness of a country that says – even if they don’t understand the details of it overall – they know there’s been something wrong and the Prime Minister of the country has said: we apologize for what’s happened. But it doesn’t take back the fact that people have had really terrible experiences.
Now it’s up to us to show Canada that we can handle things and do things – that’s what we’re doing our young people today; that’s what some of the students here are doing right now. They’re the ones that are going to keep carrying this ball. And I just want them to know (that they can) take this history, learn about it, and realize how far you’ve come and now you guys have a way to go.
Karen Barnes, President and Vice-Chancellor at Yukon College.
Fundamentally for me reconciliation is a shared responsibility. You know when we talk about reconciling things it’s about bringing things back to where there equal or the same. There’s still lots of work to do but that’s what it feels like to me.
What I love the most is when I am in some of our committees at the College and there is a conversation going on around things like traditional knowledge and how do we recruit First Nations students into our programs. How do we recruit more staff at the higher levels? All of those questions and they’re all coming from non-First Nations staff and faculty.
That’s what I love the most because they’ve embraced it; they’re trying to live it. They really feel responsible for doing these things that we say we’re going to do, and that’s very rewarding.
This audio story was produced by LC Creative for Yukon College.
We are humbled and grateful to the knowledgeable Yukoners who took the time to be a part of this project and help to tell this story.
Original music is by Jona Barr.
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