Joining the journey of reconciliation

It is with great pride that United Way Winnipeg adds its signature to The Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action presented to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Signing The Declaration – prepared by a group of Canada’s philanthropic organizations and stewarded by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada – signifies support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and the journey of reconciliation in the wake of Canada’s Indian Residential School system.

“Reconciliation isn’t a point in time we’re working towards; it’s going to be an ongoing journey,” said Angie Hutchinson, the chair of United Way’s Council for Indigenous Relations (CIR).

A copy of The Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action gifted to United Way by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada sits alongside a medicine bag given by Angie Hutchinson. Also shown are a talking stick created and gifted to United Way by former Council of Indigenous Relations chair Christine Cyr and volumes of the TRC reports.

A copy of The Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action gifted to United Way by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada sits alongside a medicine bag given by Angie Hutchinson. Also shown are a talking stick created and gifted to United Way by former Council for Indigenous Relations chair Christine Cyr and volumes of the TRC report.

“To me that’s what The Declaration means – that we as a Council and United Way are willing to engage on that journey with our Indigenous population and to move forward in a good way.”

Reid Hartry, who sits on United Way’s Board of Trustees and is also a CIR member, echoed Angie in saying reconciliation is a journey.

“Reconciliation, to me, is something that we’re going to be doing for the rest of my life.”

Reid said it’s been a very positive experience “to see members of the board who are really key actors in the community – people that really make Winnipeg move – are taking in what we’re saying and seeing that it’s important for it to be incorporated into everything we do and they do.”

CIR member Cathy Woods said there is much work to be done.

“It’s just the beginning.”

She said the journey of reconciliation is one that all Canadians need to be part of.

“Everybody needs to ask themselves, ‘what does truth and reconciliation look like to you?’”

The Declaration was presented to United Way in a box representative of the red cedar TRC Bentwood Box commissioned by the TRC and used at national events around Canada.

The Declaration was presented to United Way in a box representative of the red cedar TRC Bentwood Box commissioned by the TRC and used at national events around Canada.

Reconciliation is “a spirit and intent,” says Angie.

“It’s not an action, or an end-goal that we’re working towards. We’re working in the spirit and intent of reconciliation in all that we do.”

She said the spirit and intent of reconciliation includes fostering relationships built on equality and respect.

“True relationships. True partnerships. And, you know, checking all the power imbalances at the door and coming to the table as individuals, as human beings, and addressing how we can work together in a good way.”

Angie said she often meets people who have never heard of Canada’s residential school system. She hopes people will take the lead to become informed, and build the relationships necessary to understand.

“If you’re completely unaware of what people are talking about then educate yourself. And if you’re still unclear after you read things and educate yourself, talk to somebody. And if you’re unsure after that, talk to somebody else. Ask questions. That’s how you build relationships, is you just start on an individual level.

“It’s going to take courage from all Canadians to have difficult conversations.”

United Way encourages everyone to look at the TRC reports and 94 Calls to Action – based on six years of work and more than 6000 interviews by the TRC – and make use of excellent resources like Groundwork for Change that educate and contribute to relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that are rooted in justice and solidarity.

Coming together to shine light on our shared history.

A new exhibit in our atrium tells the stories of Canada’s Inuit Residential School Survivors.

As part of United Way Winnipeg’s ongoing efforts to bring unique communities together for the benefit of all, we’re pleased to announce a special partnership with the Manitoba Inuit Association.

In addition to the few hundred Inuit who call Winnipeg home, our city is also one of the few regular southern hosts to many Inuit guests who come here  to obtain medical services, training, and other opportunities.

Together with the Manitoba Inuit Association and the Legacy of Hope Foundation, we have created a space for Winnipeggers to gain a deeper understanding of our neighbours to the north through a public exhibition called “We Were So Far Away:  the Inuit Experience of Residential Schools”. The exhibit, produced by the Legacy of Hope Foundation, tells the stories of eight Inuit Residential School survivors.

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On Monday, guests from the community gathered to mark the exhibit’s opening.  The Manitoba Inuit Association invited their members and we also welcomed our friends attending the national “All My Relations Gathering” on Indigenous philanthropy being held by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (The Circle).

Abraham Ruben was a student at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in Inuvik, NWT, for 11 years.

Abraham Ruben was a student at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in Inuvik, NWT, for 11 years.

Udloriak Hanson with The Circle greeted about 70 guests by recognizing their presence on Treaty 1 territory and the homeland of the Metis Nation.

The Honourable Eric Robinson, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and himself a residential school survivor, encouraged people to come and see the exhibit for themselves. He said the experience of Inuit in the Residential School System is not as well-known as other Indigenous groups.

Minister Eric Robinson

Minister Eric Robinson

“The photos of this important exhibit and their stories need to be seen by many more people, and I would encourage our fellow citizens and fellow Manitobans to come and look.”

Fred Ford, President of the Manitoba Inuit Association, shared a moving letter sent to him by Theresie Tungilik, sister of Marius Tungilik – one of the survivors in the exhibit.

Fred Ford points at the panel of Marius Tungilik

Fred Ford points at the panel of Marius Tungilik

Theresie’s letter speaks of how her experience attending a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut impacted the families in her community.

One of the historical photos in the exhibit: Ikaluit school children, Nunavut, 1958

One of the historical photos in the exhibit: Ikaluit school children, Nunavut, 1958

Theresie tells of the times when it was difficult to talk about the experience with her brother, although in time Marius and other survivors were instrumental in getting people to share their stories. Through this process many have found some healing. In sharing Theresie’s letter, Fred noted that she is thriving, having found the strength for her own healing journey. Marius Tungilik died in 2012 at the age of 55.

Marius Tungilik

Marius Tungilik

Angie Hutchinson, Chair of United Way Winnipeg’s Aboriginal Relations Council, talked about United Way’s Aboriginal Relations Strategy and its goal of building knowledge, relationships, capacity and engagement within the Indigenous community and beyond.

Angie Hutchinson, Chair of United Way's Aboriginal Relations Council.

Angie Hutchinson, Chair of United Way’s Aboriginal Relations Council.

The exhibit, and the brave people sharing their stories, is advancing that goal, she said. “These courageous survivors, who have shared their experiences with the Legacy of Hope Foundation, will educate generations of Canadians and contribute to reconciliation across our nation.”

Closing the evening, Nikki Komaksiutiksak described some of the intergenerational effects of the residential school system in her own family. Drawing from the examples of resilience in her own history, and the inspiration of her daughters, Nikki found strength in the power of throat singing.

Nikki Komaksiutiksak

Nikki Komaksiutiksak

She finished with a mesmerizing performance of the ancient form of singing, developed when Inuit women learned to make noises that would attract animals, in order to feed their children.

United Way is honoured to invite all to our atrium to experience the exhibit for themselves. We know it’s a transformative time and that Winnipeggers are interested in learning more about our full history.

The exhibit open to the public at 580 Main Street from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday until November 30.

Visitors note: the exhibition contains subject matter that may be difficult for some visitors and to Survivors of the Residential School System.