Reconciliation takes many shapes and requires many voices.
That’s what was heard during a gathering to garner ideas on needs to be included in the City of Yellowknife’s Reconciliation Action Plan earlier this month.
“We had such a mixture of Yellowknifers, a diverse group close to 70 people came in. It was nice to see the dialogue and the questions being asked on what not just the city but businesses, health and social services, community services could do for reconciliation in Yellowknife,” said Maggie Mercredi, Indigenous relations adviser for the city.
The evening kicked off with a prayer, followed by a panel moderated by former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Marie Wilson.
Roxane Landry, a residential school survivor called for the city to invest in safe spaces to address mental health and wellness issues which resulted from colonization.
“There’s intergeneration residential PTSD because right now there is no sacred space to go to vent your trauma, to feed the fire, to cry, just to let out a big scream without anyone phoning the police,” she said.
Ernie Bernhardt, another residential school survivor and former social worker said the city grew too fast and left some people behind.
“I think over the years Yellowknife has seen many people come to the city empty handed. Realizing that a lot of your citizens in the city are residential school survivors and you have to remember to you have to include their kids and their kids. If you are only giving us lip service we are going to read it right away,” he said.
Educating newcomers about Canada’s history was also brought up by several presenters.
Angelique Ruzindana Umunyana, a Yellowknife resident of 14 years originally from Rwanda, told a story of how she worked with a client who had been denied old age security because she had two birth certificates – one with a name and one with a number.
She had received the number in residential school with a made up birth date.
“I looked at the other I.D. with a different name and birth date, that’s why she had been denied. I was just staring at that number and letter. I tried to be professional which was what I had to do. In the meantime she was trying to explain what happened like it was her fault the discrepancy,” Umunyana said.
Halfway through the evening, the gathering broke into smaller groups, allowing input from participants who then relayed their thoughts back to the room.
Some of the suggestions included a visitor center which reflected all of the languages of the north, a cultural centre, renaming of streets and a monument for survivors of Akaitcho Hall, a residential and day school.
Mercredi said she heard the topic of racism and discrimination echoed in many examples during the evening.
She encouraged anyone who wished to provide input on reconciliation to do so by contacting the city.
The city will hold meetings in the neighbouring communities of N’Dilo and Dettah in the coming weeks, similar to the event held in Yellowknife.