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March 27, 2017 7:00 AM

Conestoga hosts Truth and Reconciliation event

On March 24, students, employees and members of the Conestoga community gathered in the Recreation Centre at the Doon campus to participate in the college’s first Truth and Reconciliation event. 

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Conestoga hosted its first Truth and Reconciliation event on March 24 at the Doon campus Recreation Centre. Closing remarks from Aboriginal Services manager Myeengun Henry were followed by a drumming circle.

To acknowledge the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action, the event was hosted in partnership by the college’s Student Life Department and Aboriginal Services to recognize, explore and enhance culturally competent practices to strengthen the reconciliation process between Canada and the Indigenous culture.

The day-long event began with an opening ceremony that included drumming and honour songs, followed by a medicine garden workshop and a session with honoured residential school survivors. During the afternoon, guest speaker Maya Chacaby led an Indigenous cultural resilience workshop.

“The media only report on the problems,” said Chacaby. “We hear about numbers and statistics in the news, but those reports don’t talk about why problems exist. You need to know why things are the way they are for Indigenous People or else the TRC recommendations won’t make any sense to you.”

Chacaby works as a researcher, consultant and professor of linguistics and sociology at York University and has provided Indigenous cultural competency training to 7,000 participants across the province over the last five years ranging from school boards, health service providers, law enforcement, legal clinics, provincial ministries and others.

Throughout the afternoon, Chacaby discussed the impact of key historical events, the effects of the Indian Act and the establishment of the residential school system on the cultural identity of Indigenous People, the current issues and socio-economic conditions they face, the effects of inter-generational trauma and a summary of the TRC’s Calls to Action.

“Out of all the recommendations what you need to remember is that Indigenous People need to find the centre of their community again,” said Chacaby. “They need a sense of identity and belonging in order to heal. If 86 per cent of us live off reserve, that community has to exist wherever we go and gather. Help us create that space wherever we are.”

Mike Dinning, vice-president student affairs, thanked organizers, guests and participants for their attendance and said he was encouraged by the tremendous turnout. More than 120 students registered for the event through the college’s Co-Curricular record.

“This is an important moment in Conestoga’s history,” said Dinning. “The college is like a mirror and if you can’t see yourself in that mirror you may not think you belong here. I hope this first step will help our Aboriginal students see themselves and remind them they are an important part of our community.”

Conestoga's Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginnings, provides services for Aboriginal students at Conestoga, including those who are First Nations (status and non-status), Metis and Inuit. It is a welcoming environment that assists students with a smooth transition to college life by providing ongoing support. Services include social and cultural events and activities, un-traditional counselling services, Elders-in-Residence programs and the Aboriginal Student Association.

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