How to find a conversation starter

When she said “it was all very confusing and frustrating,” it was like a woman in the audience at the University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work event Alumni Distinguished Speakers Series on the Truth, Reconciliation in view of Canada’s 150th birthday was taking the words right out of my mouth.

She was speaking about her experience as a self-identified “white woman” mentoring in the field of social work in Canada’s North.

Dr. Marie Wilson speaking about her work with Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission on January 17, 2017

Dr. Marie Wilson on Jan. 17, 2017 speaking about her work with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

For me, the confusion and frustration stems from recent race (all types) conversations with individuals working in emergency services and those I’m close with, and how there are never any easy answers.

And quite frankly, no easy questions either.

The heaviness in all of this was at a peak for me this week during the event featuring Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner (TRC) Dr. Marie Wilson.

The weight of the topic was lightened slightly after Wilson revealed that she too is not Indigenous. And, in her role as TRC Commissioner it never mattered.

This was proven shortly thereafter when a residential school survivor shared her story but began with

“I actually always thought you were Indian.”

She went on to thank Wilson for her role in helping get almost 150 years (seven generations) of personal stories out there, including her own.

In terms of all Canadians’ roles in this, Wilson said the stories that were uncovered by the TRC belong not just to the Indigenous community, but to all, especially as we commemorate 150 years this year.

Paraphrasing a quote mentioned by Wilson, residential schools are a big part of our 150-year Canadian history (having been in operation for 130 years of that time), BUT they are only a small part of the thousands of years of Indigenous history on this continent.

In other words, this is a part of the cultural history but it doesn’t define it. And that’s the conversation we need to be having.

So where do you start the conversation?

Wilson said read the 94 TRC recommendations (which is just 11 pages), whether as part of your book club or just on your own.

Then figure out where you can put your initials to continue the dialogue.

She added, who knows where the conversation will take you but actually talking about it is more than we would have seen even a decade ago.

And, it all matters.

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