Now entering its sixth year at Cap, Truth and Reconciliation Week helps facilitate the dialogue we should be having year round
Freya Wasteneys // Managing Editor
“The more I talk, the greater my voice,” said Crystal Henderson, a Liberal Studies student from the ‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. For her, sharing stories during Truth and Reconciliation Week is not always easy, but it is necessary.
Each Fall, Capilano University renews its commitment to truth and reconciliation in a campaign that honours residential school survivors. The initiative is now in its sixth year, and is spearheaded by the University’s Indigenizing the Academy committee and Indigenous and Cultural Facilitator Clay Little. Held in conjunction with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), the event is one of many efforts from the University to raise awareness of Indigenous history. This year the campaign will be held from Oct. 15 to 18, 2019.
Findings from the TRC’s final report in 2015 show that creating dialogue and a space to share stories is a crucial part of healing and moving forward. “I think the biggest takeaway for me is gaining insight and finding a common understanding,” said Henderson. “There’s a lot of stereotypes and negative perceptions, and for me Truth and Reconciliation is about having a space to share those stories.”
In recent years, many CapU instructors have incorporated Indigenous history and teachings into their curriculum. Since education is one of the mandates from the 2015 report, the TRC encourages Canadians from all backgrounds to learn more about the legacy of residential schools and take part in the work of reconciliation.
While there is effort from the university to implement these changes, Henderson believes there is still work to be done. “I know for a lot of other fellow classmates of mine the Kéxwusm-áyakn Student Centre is our safe place,” shared Henderson. “We come together from different parts of campus and different programs, and we understand what we’re all going through. But when we leave into our separate classrooms, it’s often like we’re… alone.” Henderson has noticed an effort from many instructors to incorporate Indigenous content, but she also believes that there are times when discussions need to be facilitated and directed.
Truth and Reconciliation Week is an emotional time for Henderson, but also therapeutic as it can provide the structure that is so often missing from classroom discussions. Each year she attends as many events as she can fit into her schedule, and finds much to be gained. “It’s a lot packed into a week. There’s just so much history. Sometimes I’m in tears between classes because it’s so much to take in,” she said. “But it’s good. It’s necessary.”
Henderson comes from three generations of survivors, but even growing up in Port Hardy, she admits that there was a lot she was unaware of regarding residential schools until she came to CapU. “The last residential school closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan,” said Henderson. “I was six. This was within my lifetime.” She is thankful for the effort people like Indigenous Faculty Advisor David Kirk and Indigenous & Cultural Facilitator Clay Little have put into the Indigenization of CapU, and each year she finds more strength to tell her own story. “The biggest thing I take away is the importance of sharing,” Henderson said. “I’m still finding my voice, but I want to advocate as much as I can.”
If students are to attend any event, Henderson believes the opening ceremony on Oct. 15 is a good place to start. Elders-in-residence will give a welcome and blessing at 10 am, setting the tone for the week, followed by a one-minute reflection at 11 am All students and faculty are encouraged to partake and are welcome to visit the Kéxwusm-áyakn Student Centre at this time.
Each year different First Nations artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers come to share their work, experience and culture. Throughout the week, various events and performances are showcased around campus, along with sharing circles and facilitations.
Truth and Reconciliation Week aims to expand upon the work of initiatives like Orange Shirt Day—a day acknowledged annually since 2013 to commemorate the generations of children who attended residential schools, and which has been proposed as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. CapU has partnered with the Children’s Centre to hold a ceremony in the First Nations Pavilion from 9:30 to 10 am on Sept. 30 to commemorate this day, and all students and faculty are encouraged to attend.