Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan a keynote speaker

Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan Mary Culbertson was the keynote speaker during the virtual truth and reconciliation speaker series, March 17.

A successful virtual speaker series hosted through a partnership between several Swift Current organizations helped to draw attention to the importance of ongoing efforts towards truth and reconciliation.

The speaker series took place over a three-week period and featured three high-profile speakers, who shared their perspectives of what reconciliation means to them. Each speaker made a presentation in the morning to Chinook School Division students and another public presentation in the afternoon.

The speaker series started on March 3 with a presentation by Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada. Saskatoon artist and social activist Zoey Roy made the second presentation on March 10, and the series concluded with poetry by Roy and a presentation by Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan Mary Culbertson on March 17.

Culbertson and Roy participated in a telephone conference call with local media on March 17. They were joined by Bula Ghosh, a member of the speaker series organizing committee.

Ghosh said the organizing committee was very pleased with the speaker series and with the calibre of the presentations.

“We were worried about the technology part and most of it worked out very well, and the speakers we had just addressed exactly what we were looking for, especially today with Commissioner Mary Culbertson,” Ghosh mentioned. “She just gave a wonderful ending to this three-part series, and there is no doubt that his honour Murray Sinclair also had given a very good start to this series, and Zoey carried it through. So I think the committee deserves credit for choosing very good speakers that fit into what we wanted from the beginning until the end.”

Ghosh felt the committee achieved the goal of reaching out and informing people about the importance of truth and reconciliation.

“I think we were able to spread that message that education is key,” she said. “As Commissioner Culbertson kept on saying that education is what got us here and education will get us out of it. That is so true, and that's what we want to do.”

She added that the presentations during the speaker series can assist people to develop a better understanding of truth and reconciliation, but it is up to every person to decide how to react to the information.

“As today also it was said by Commissioner Mary Culbertson, there will be a small percentage of people who will perhaps be closed to information and that is accepted, but if we can at least get that message out, the history and the truth, and that would be our fulfilment that we've done it,” Ghosh noted. “We've reached out to the people, we've reached out to the youth, like the students of Chinook School Division, and given them the part of the history that they need to know in order to make the decisions that they need to do to live in Canada in the spirit of reconciliation.”

This was the fourth time the local truth and reconciliation committee in Swift Current hosted an event to raise awareness about issues related to reconciliation. The previous public events were held at the Great Plains College, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was no event last year. The committee therefore organized a virtual event for 2021 and decided on the speaker series format.

“We are going to go through a little evaluation of what we have achieved and what we need to achieve and how to move forward,” Ghosh said. “Like it was said by Commissioner Mary Culbertson, that evaluation and also creating a strategic plan and taking it bit by bit and trying to move forward with it. I think that is something that the committee will be looking at also.”

Culbertson and Roy both expressed appreciation during their presentations towards the Swift Current organizing committee for its efforts to promote reconciliation. Roy participated in previous events held by the committee in Swift Current.

“I can tell just by working with you over the past few years that your intentions are actually manifesting into real structural change and you are pushing the envelope in creating a speaker series to stay committed to the conversation of reconciliation, to check in, are we really working towards our intention or are we just reproducing the same old,” she said. “I appreciate your mindfulness of reconciliation. I think that is the most important part of this movement. … We are in this together, we are not alone, and if this pandemic taught us anything, it's that we really do need each other and we really can't do it alone.”

Culbertson mentioned she was in Swift Current a few years ago for an Orange Shirt Day event. She makes sure to mention Swift Current whenever she speaks to people about reconciliation circles and conversations that started in the province during the past five years.

“You have great leadership in your Swift Current reconciliation committee,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of conversations about truth and reconciliation, which can start on an individual level.

“I have said several times in different presentations that reconciliation starts in our communities, in our homes, and with us as individuals, and we know it starts with the people,” she mentioned. “We can never wait for governments to tell us how to treat each other. We shouldn't do that. We have to take the leadership and do it ourselves as people, as treaty partners.”

She emphasized the importance of education to create an understanding of the past and present situation of inequity and to create a future of shared values based on reconciliation.

“Everyone is touched by colonization, whether you are a non-indigenous person or an indigenous person,” she said. “We are all touched by that through our thoughts, our perceptions, our life experiences. So we have to understand these systems and we're doing that through education, by talking about those things, by providing resources, by having a network and staying strong and being brave, because sometimes those are difficult conversations. They're hurtful and they're emotional, and it is not an easy journey. Nobody said it was going to be easy to have reconciliation and it sure isn't.”

She spoke about the importance of allies and the need to build a network of allies during the process to have these conversations about truth and reconciliation. She referred to her own experience of being disappointed by someone who she considered to be an ally.

“We have to understand when we do want to be allies, there's people who are going to be very trepidatious of the authenticity of it,” she said. There's going to be mistrust there, because we have had generations and generations of mistrust. …So we're learning all the time, but I also have good allies that stood up for me in situations when I worked different places and said hey, stop talking to her that way.”

Culbertson finds hope that reconciliation can take place when she hears stories of inspiration, and she is motivated by the desire to have a future where everyone’s children and grandchildren can be free from discrimination and racism.

“It's the future generation” she said. “There's people who the Creator puts in your path that will tell you you're doing something right. You'll have those people sent to you or having those conversations. So having hope in our children and grandchildren, we have to keep going, because otherwise what do we have if we don't have hope. There's a lot of people in our communities that are suffering who don't have to hope and we have to try change that and keep doing it and not just stop, because if we all stop then nothing is going to change.”

Roy felt it helps to get the message of truth and reconciliation across and to break down barriers when she uses her poetry and music. She grew up with intergenerational trauma and her own creativity is a means to acknowledge her personal trauma.

“I have to let myself create, because the only way that I can get over my criticism, my judgements about how I'm supposed to be in the world is by listening to who I actually am by creating, and that's really important to me,” she said.

She emphasized that truth and reconciliation do not only refer to past events, but to ongoing systemic problems in society that causes inequality and barriers for indigenous people.

“My work in reconciliation has a lot to do with telling the truth as I see it” she said. “We can only move forward from here, we cannot change what we've done, but what we can do is be very critical of what's going on around us right now. … Reconciliation is not just needed for the past, but reconciliation also means being really critical and mindful about the way that we're running our institutions today.”

Roy finds hope that reconciliation can take place when she looks at the desire of other people to also find a better future.

“I am learning forgiveness in my own heart,” she said. “I can see that there are a lot of people really trying to make our communities, our world, a better place. People who are taking it upon themselves to heal, to grow, to question what they have learned, is it true, or did somebody have a goal. What else is true, what is my truth?”

The local partners organizations that hosted the virtual speaker series included the Southwest Multicultural Association, Great Plains College, Chinook School Division, Chinook Regional Library, Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre, City of Swift Current, and Innovation Credit Union. All three presentations in this series are available to watch online at www.trc-swsk.ca

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