Erin Halonen is an Educator and the former First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Curriculum Consultant in the Curriculum Implementation and Resources Branch, Alberta Education. Her passion for Education for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ways of Knowing was born through her lived experience with the local Cree First Nations community. Embedded in her work is deep sense of agency to urge the provincial education system to move forward in reconciliatory understanding and action.
Simply put, the definition of reconciliation is “to restore friendly relations”. In recent years, reconciliation in Canada has become synonymous with improving relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people began with the Treaty agreements that were foundational to the creation of the nation of Canada. Treaty agreements outline the way in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people agreed to share the land and resources.
On May 25, 2020 Experiences Canada hosted the first of a series of five live discussions about reconciliation. Past National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, defined reconciliation during the first episode entitled Reconciliation Conversations: Introduction to Reconciliation.
He outlined the need to go beyond current practices such as the Land Acknowledgement. Collectively, this is a call to continue deepening our understanding of the issues embedded in the different themes or topics of reconciliation, and take action towards improved outcomes. The outcomes can be measured as quality of life indicators. Bellegarde synopsized that reconciliation is about, “building a better quality of life for ALL Canadians”. Explaining that, according to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), there is huge disparity between the quality of life for the average Canadian and the Indigenous population of Canada. The HDI ranks Canada 6th in the world for quality of life indicators yet the Indigenous people’s quality of life ranks 63rd. He explains the gap in quality of life is a reflection of current issues such as percentage of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls, over representation of Indigenous people in prison and in the child welfare system, as well as poor educational outcomes for Indigenous students. These are issues that we continue to hear about, and require significant action to improve. Bellegarde posited that if we are attending to Treaty relationship and truly sharing the land and resources, “there shouldn’t be any gaps.” He stated that embracing reconciliation is “advocating for reducing gaps.”
The Assembly of First Nations is continuing to pressure governments to take action towards reducing the gaps Bellegarde noted, this year’s Throne Speech dedicated a chapter to Indigenous issues. Citing actions such as a National Action Plan for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls, the introduction of bill C-91 (Languages bill), as well as advocating for the inclusion of “Creator’s Law (Natural Law)”. Attending to lateral violence, especially on social media, by calling for a “lateral kindness” movement was also mentioned. Bellegarde spoke to the need for educating people respectfully, because “understanding leads to action.” I am proud to take action as much as possible with the hope that within my lifetime, friendly relations will be restored.
Reconciliation Conversations is a five part, live series collaboration that will unfold throughout the month of June. A discussion guide for teachers is provided and will be updated as the live meeting events occur.
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