Temagami hosts community conversation about Truth and Reconciliation

by Victoria Grant, Board Chair with Community Foundations of Canada and founding Chair of the Temagami Community Foundation

We all know what happens when family and friends get together around the dinner table or campfire. Stories are shared, relationships are built, wisdom is imparted, and people feel a sense of connectivity to each other and their environment.

When a community gets together the impact on our shared sense of belonging is equally powerful.

On a pristine afternoon in mid-August, more than 60 members of the Temagami community gathered in the Welcome Centre Bunny Miller Theatre to engage in a conversation about Truth and Reconciliation.

A five-member panel, reflecting a diverse cross-section of native and non-native perspectives from Robin Potts, Walter Ross, Jessica Lewis, Patsy Neu and Bill Kitts, contributed to a discussion about the impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report, and what Reconciliation means individually and collectively.

I also shared my experiences as a Teme-Augama Anishnabai-qway woman from Temagami, along with some personal reflections about how Canada’s laws and politics have defined my identity, and how in contrast I might choose to define myself – a contradiction I share with most Indigenous people across Canada.

For more than two hours, the group discussion centred on a range of topics: the personal experiences of being a survivor of the residential school system and its intergenerational impacts; the importance of revitalizing traditional knowledge, culture and practices; how to strengthen relationships and co-existence with the Indigenous community in the Temagami area. The stories and perspectives we shared gave rise to questions, comments and participation from audience members from all walks of life. It was an extraordinary and healthy dialogue.

After the event, many friends sent me emails offering their support and thanks for the opportunity to come together. “Many thanks for bringing this brave initiative to Temagami. It was a gentle beginning to a community discussion and awareness raising that will lead to a greater understanding of the experiences of Indigenous people in the Temagami area,” shared Kathy Hokola who grew up on Obabika Lake and is now a community leader and Board member with the Temiskaming Art Gallery.

I’m glad so many attended. Community building efforts are never wasted,” offered Linda and Ron Cunningham. “The crowd was well informed and the event raised a heartfelt, emotional discussion. It was wonderful to see such a diverse representation of people in the room,” said Danae Hawkins.

These kinds of sentiments are encouraging and suggest that we are on the right track, but really this is only the beginning. When we look at how we can strengthen our sense of belonging to each other and our communities, it’s really a two-way street. Communities need to send signals of acceptance and inclusion; and individuals need to cultivate connection with other people and engagement in the community. This interdependence is an important aspect of what it means to belong.

It’s probably not surprising, given my own history, that Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and the opportunity to redefine the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, is important to me. A sense of belonging to community and an opportunity to redefine the relationship is how we at the Temagami Community Foundation first came into being. We were looking for vehicle to link the three sectors within our community – Temagami First Nation, permanent residents and summer cottagers – who have shared this region for more than a century.

When we started, we didn’t use words like Reconciliation or Reciprocity, we spoke instead about building relationships and working together in the interest of the whole community. We talked about making sure we were honest, respectful and truthful in the difficult conversations we were to have with one another. We understood that there would be difficult conversations.

But over the years, through the diversity of our Board, Summer Art Camp, and public events, the Temagami Community Foundation has come to live and practice the ingredients of Reconciliation and Reciprocity in all aspects of our work. Because of this approach, our story has been told in different ways at events across the country, and I think it would be fair to say that we have been an early advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous peoples at both a local and national level.

As fellow panelist and foundation co-founder Walter Ross shared so eloquently: “The opportunity for us all, and for the Temagami Community Foundation in particular, is to find ways to expand the discussion beyond those who were in attendance.” And of course we want to do this in a way that is full of Manajiwin and respect. “When people are treated with respect they act respectfully. When people’s opinions are valued they become engaged in the conversation. Differing opinions are not wrong opinions; they are as diverse as we all are, and it is in seeking opinions that we become a successful and evolving community,” highlighted Ron Prefasi in a Facebook post about the event.

We at the Temagami Community Foundation, and indeed as a community, believe Reconciliation within Canada can happen. It’s a process that has begun and will continue over generations. We have an opportunity here and now, within this political time, to create a foundation for Reconciliation. But this cannot happen at a national level without it happening at a local level and by shining a light on what’s most important.

The more we get involved in the community, the more we feel we belong. The stronger our sense of belonging, the more willing we are to contribute to the community because we feel responsible for its well-being.

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Victoria Grant is of the Loon Clan, Teme-Augama Anishnabai, and a member of the Temagami First Nation. President and owner of Moving Red Canoe, Victoria operates a unique professional services firm focused on Aboriginal affairs. She is an avid volunteer and a passionate voice for a more robust Aboriginal presence within the foundation and philanthropic world. Victoria is founding Chair of the Temagami Community Foundation, Chair of The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award.

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