Laurel Dykstra, who has worked in various capacities in Indigenous justice and reconciliation work, was sponsored to attend the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the Interfaith Institute for Justice Peace and Social Movements and Mennonite Church BC. In Ottawa she met with educators and leaders to share Hidden Legacies, a film that tells the stories of young people whose parents and grandparents attended residential schools. The film was produced by Interfaith Institute with support from the diocese and the Anglican Healing Fund. The following is a letter she wrote to thank her supporters and to report on her ministry and her experiences in early June 2015.
Thank you for your support to attend the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools in Ottawa. I spent time with survivors and children of survivors, bridge-builders and advocates from different faith traditions and was present when the final report, or 94 Calls to Action were delivered.
While in Ottawa I was able to distribute 50 copies of the film Hidden Legacies on inter-generational survivors. This short documentary by Lisa Jackson was produced by the Interfaith Institute for Justice Peace and Social Movements and the distribution and promotion phase has been sponsored by the Anglican Healing Fund.
Twenty-five copies of the film went to teachers from Ottawa-area middle and high schools, particularly teachers of multi-racial, multi-ethnic classrooms. The film was distributed to at the Education Day where the programming was excellent quality but the students were not in the same venue as the majority of survivors, witnesses and elders. I connected with two members of the National Teachers’ federation who were very enthusiastic about the film and hope to bring it to more classrooms.
Twenty-five copies were distributed to key communicators during the events at the closing ceremonies. I was particularly pleased to get copies to Tungasuvvingat Inuit urban centre, an aunt of Johnny TwoFeathers who co-ordinates education for the Indian Resdidential School Survivors Society, Wabano Schools Liason young men who work with aboriginal youth in schools, the Salmon are Sacred project and several denominational education co-ordinators through the faith and justice group KAIROS Canada (Quaker, Reform, Presbyterian, United, Unitarian Universalist).
In hindsight Interfaith Institute could have afforded and distributed more copies of the film but the many recommendations in the TRC final report for secondary and post-secondary education mean that there will be an increased demand for this film and other education resources.
At the KAIROS workshop I learned about other reconciliation education tools and resources. The Quakers are doing excellent work on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons—particularly with reference to free, prior and informed consent. This is especially critical because of how much the 94 recommendations are based on the UN Declaration.
The Christian Reform church has compiled and developed excellent resources including study circles on the CBC 8th Fire series.
Different groups have worked on KAIROS’ blanket exercise which more than 1000 students experienced in Ottawa. St. James Anglican church and the lower mainland KAIROS group recently hosted the education exercise in a pacific coast traditional context with use of ceremonial feast protocols that included brushing with cedar, calling, paying and blanketing witnesses and presenting gifts to all who attended. Jerry Adams, Kelvin Bee, Victoria Marie, Patricia McSherry and Brander McDonald were key leaders in using this exercise in our context.
During the presentation of the 94 Calls to Action I experienced the strongest and most unified response in all of my experience with the TRC. When the commissioner read Call to Action #41, the call for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls (a number that is well over 600 cases by the most conservative counts) women of all ages leapt to their feet, elders pounded their canes in approval, I saw young men openly weeping. This is the strongest message that I can bring back from Ottawa—follow the leadership of Indigenous people calling for a public inquiry and work for real meaningful changes that truly honour, and respect First Nation, Inuit and Metis women and girls.
Since my return, I have initiated an online group for support and accountability for white Christians engaging in anti-racism work, I spoke on Aboriginal day at St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Richmond, I connected a Metis generational survivor with speaking engagement in Surrey, made some other one-on-one connections and promoted the work of the Coming Home Society which provides street-involved aboriginal youth with skills and services rooted in Indigenous culture.
I thank you again for the opportunity to be part of this incredibly important event, I believe my participation has strengthened my capacity and commitment to work for Indigenous justice.