In February, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Canadian Roots Exchange National Youth Reconciliation Conference Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Despite long travels and the brisk weather, all of the youth attendees showed up with smiles on their faces from the first day of the conference. The theme for this year’s conference was “Giiwedinong," an Anishinaabemowin word that translates to "the North Star which helps guides us home.” Commencing with the opening panel, we explored the meaning of the North Star and the definition of reconciliation. One of the panelists, Candace Day Neveau instantly embraced the discomfort and courage it takes when confronting such an emotionally charged topic such as reconciliation. She was honest with her words, describing the harshness behind the doors that often interweaves itself into the lives of so many Indigenous peoples across Canada due to experiences of colonization and residential schools.
With the legacies that colonization holds on this land, confronting these issues and igniting a conversation on these difficult topics is not always easy. I, along with 250 youth from all across Canada found ourselves immersed in workshops about reconciliation and listened to presentations by Elders and youth leaders. Through these workshops, I learned about reconciliation in health-care system, curating relationships with the land, and what it means to be an ally. I began to understand that genuine allyship comes with not only educating myself, but also to be humble and listen to the Indigenous voices that needs to be heard. While each of us had different histories and experiences, the conference brought us all together to aim towards truth and reconciliation and promote relationships of respect and understanding in Canada.
Though we came to learn, we began to share and our stories had many commonalities and many questions: Who is reconciliation for and what does it mean? Where do we place ourselves in these issues as non-Indigenous peoples? There were so many different faces, different cultures and different backgrounds, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. I realized that despite our differences, we were all striving towards a mutual understanding of respect and truth. Through my learnings, I began to understand that by being on this land called Turtle Island, we all hold responsibilities to educating ourselves to the darker histories, legacies and the current injustices that it contains. Whether we are involved in social work, health-care, business, engineering, or whichever industry we are in, there are many opportunities to contribute and be involved in the path towards reconciliation.
I want to thank the Elders for their sincerity and their love for the youth, the amazing young leaders for sharing their experiences and all the wonderful attendees that I was able to meet throughout the conference. I am incredibly grateful for all the stories, the tears and smiles that we were able to share throughout this short but meaningful time. As part of S.E.E.D.S., I would also like to thank the Youth Opportunities Fund for supporting and funding us to be a part of this great conference.