Understanding, Reconciliation and Plain Old Respect

Yesterday, in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister announced a new legal framework for Indigenous people. While the details are not entirely known, the aim is to redefine section 35 of the Constitution Act and affirm Aboriginal and treaty rights. This would mean Indigenous people would no longer have to go before the courts to prove rights and title.

This new framework could be something big… or it could be another example of government and many Canadians getting it wrong when it comes to Indigenous people and recognizing their rights.

If ever there was a case for the importance of process or the how, this is it. The result of the what is obviously important, but if this is not done with Indigenous people, leaders and communities, the result will be inauthentic, no matter how “good” it may be.

I had the chance recently to facilitate two day-long workshops. One brought together Indigenous people and healthcare staff in the Lower Mainland. The topic was around identifying ways to bring cultural safety and humility to healthcare delivery. The second workshop was a wrap-up event with participants from across the province.

We had Indigenous elders participate in both days. They honoured us with their presence, their wisdom and giving. They blessed the opening, the food, the closing. They were available to support participants who might need some comfort if they were triggered in sharing painful stories, and there were plenty shared.

I was really touched by their words and kindness, and also by the reactions of other participants. People who didn’t know each other came together and held hands and prayed for guidance, wisdom and open hearts. They closed their eyes and seemed to welcome an Indigenous experience they may not have had before.

I had many take-aways from those two days, but a big one is that reconciliation, understanding and humility don’t come from governments: they come from people, communities and relationships. I have a deep hope that this government can collaborate with Indigenous people to develop a legal framework that recognizes Indigenous people’s rights. But no matter what, each of us as people, parents, leaders, employees and community members can bring about understanding and the spirit of reconciliation.

A non-Indigenous participant shared with me: “I want to extend to the Elder my sincerest appreciation for her very moving, emotional Blessing Ceremony that she gave us all at the end of this remarkable day. I could readily see that many of us felt deeply moved by her sincerity, her work, her personal life history, her amazing accomplishments… I still feel shivers when I think of all that she represents, and how beautifully she communicated it with us, with her voice, her cedar bough, and her manner.”

I truly believe that in being open to understanding, and in being humble to history, we can grow the spirit of reconciliation in our communities, our work, and maybe even our country.