It would be an understatement to say that the world has changed considerably in the year since EHC hosted the symposium Reconciliation and Resurgence: Heritage Practice in Post-TRC Edmonton on March 3-4, 2020.
In response to the topics covered at this symposium as well as the profound and widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, our organization has felt a renewed sense of urgency around such important concerns as equity and barriers to access (see Connections & Exchanges: A 10-Year Plan to Transform Arts and Heritage in Edmonton).
The complex set of issues at the heart of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action have, of course, remained a powerful guiding force for us as well.
A video of interviews and insights produced through the kind support of Production World following the 2020 symposium
Taking some time to reflect on what’s happened in the year since the symposium, we remain strongly committed to evolving as an organization to meet the needs of the community. Below are a few insights from EHC’s Programs & Partnerships Manager, Danielle Dolgoy, on the work and thinking that has arisen in the year since the symposium.
Despite the use of the term Post-TRC Edmonton in the title of last year’s event, it remains clear that EHC, like so many other organizations and individuals, still has a long way to travel before we can truthfully say we’ve done our fair share of work on the path to reconciliation.
- Due to the inherent discomfort, it may seem tempting to bypass the truth part of Truth and Reconciliation, but it is necessary to find the moral courage to face it head on.
- The symposium included a session, led by Dr. Matthew Wildcat, on creating meaningful territorial acknowledgements. For many of us, acknowledgements have become a dulled tool in the ally’s kit. If you commit to making these a part of your practice, it is essential to first understand the history of that practice and do the work to connect with the land you stand on and your relationship to it.
- Power structures and systems of privilege are real, and they impose everyday barriers in the form of micro-aggressions and willful ignorance. Do your reading and research ahead of time. Please don’t show up and ask an Indigenous person to explain it all to you. If you don’t know how to behave, what to ask, or what shouldn’t be discussed, say so and ask for guidance.
- Making a start is just that – a start. How will you follow through, and what do you want to achieve in the longer term? Knowing that, you can build a stronger foundation from your current efforts
- Slow down. This work takes time. Learning is acquired at the pace of unlearning other stuff. “Working at the speed of trust” was a new idea to me and it’s guided all work that has followed. Trust has to be earned. It should be proven with actions that back up our words. And it can withstand failure if that is born with humility, respect, and a commitment to fix the issue.
- Respect Elders. Treat them as your own precious family. Be thoughtful with them. Arrange for transportation and someone to take them by the arm into new or unfamiliar spaces. Feed them first. Send them away with a care package of event catering. Always offer honoraria. If you’re asking them to help you with your work, offer protocol (tobacco and a small gift are customary). If your ask involves ceremony, then cloth/print/calico is likely also appropriate, but again, if you’re not sure, ask! Elders are not a commodity. Their one-time involvement doesn’t guarantee their ongoing support, but the invitation to continued participation should always be extended.
Perhaps the most powerful impact of the symposium from our organization’s standpoint has been the opportunity to introduce Indigenous Initiatives in terms of programming and appropriate staffing.
At first, we made a mistake familiar to all well-meaning organizations with privilege and good intentions: we asked for one person to fill a single staff role within this program area, giving the unfair impression that any one person could ever be expected to do it all, fix it all, and solve our community’s problems.
In the end, the right thing for us was to reconsider the role and hire two people instead. Together, Rob Houle and Pehbamegamegok make a stronger team. They each have their expertise and areas they’re passionate about, and their strengths complement one another in supportive ways. One Indigenous person taking on the responsibility of a whole organization’s approach to reconciliation is a recipe for undue pressure. This new staffing model will work better for my colleagues and it allows us to be more open to opportunities that emerge as the work begins – there’s depth on the bench now. Our new colleagues will have a sounding board to truly empathize when the work gets hard, which we know it will from time to time.
Anyone who would like to discuss the different approach we took to recruitment, screening, and interviewing is invited to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The symposium was made possible by the collective contributions of the steering committee, presenters, and partners. The work ahead, of course, amounts to much more than the work behind. Below are a few highlights of what we are committed to doing in this area:
- Releasing a community shareback report, reflecting on the event and what’s happened since then. Anticipated later this spring.
- Finding an appropriate place to hang the graphic notation produced at the symposium.
- Continuing the conversation with those who attended – what are they doing now, and how can EHC help?
- Launch of The Beacon, a new monthly e-newsletter created by staff in the FIRE (Funding Indigenous Resurgence in Edmonton) program (subscribe here).
- Community conversations on what Indigenous folks want to see in a heritage project funding stream.
- Continuing to meet and learn from Indigenous people in our community and holding space for those people to share their stories, in their own words.
We were fortunate to have Joleyne Mayers-Jaekel of ViClarity Inc. attend and document what happened at the symposium (as well as pre-symposium events and conversations on March 2). The piece she created is a visual representation of learnings from the symposium. This moving graphic shows the enormity of the work to come.