Aboriginal leaders, educators, former residential school students, and government representatives attended a workshop in Vancouver Wednesday, as part of a series of discussions set to take place in the lead-up to a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission event this fall.
Chief Robert Joseph, the ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, said the workshops are aimed at “beginning a dialogue among us that leads to creating better relationships”.
"It means that those people together are talking about how we can reconcile our differences as a society," Joseph said in a phone interview. "And it’s all triggered of course by the resident school [experiences] and what’s happened to aboriginal people in our communities."
The workshop at the Musqueam Cultural Centre featured about 50 attendees, including Mayor Gregor Robertson, Order of Canada recipient Nancy McKinstry, deputy provincial health officer and actor Evan Adams, and Stephen Kakfwi, the president of the Dene Nation and the former premier of the Northwest Territories.
Joseph, who is a hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, said similar workshops are being planned in the Lower Mainland and across the province, in locations including Campbell River, Port Alberni, Victoria, Prince Rupert, Prince George, Kamloops, and Kelowna.
He explained the workshops were initially launched to help people understand the issues at the centre of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event in Vancouver in September. He noted that both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are welcome to attend the workshops and the events in the fall.
“The other really important thing that we want to happen is that Canadians come, not just aboriginal people, because it’s really between all of us that there needs to be improved understanding and better relationships,” he said.
Joseph noted that former residential school students are present at all of the workshops.
"It’s important to get that context of the harm and the loss and the grief, and the need to heal and to rebuild and to reconcile," he said.
The national event will launch on September 17 with an All Nations Canoe Gathering featuring kayaks, canoes, and dragon boats, and will culminate with a Walk for Reconciliation on September 22. Reconciliation Canada is aiming to draw about 50,000 people for the walk.