Reflections on the TRC Alberta National Event

April 14, 2014

What the TRC Taught Me

by Tatiana Wugalter, Programs Coordinator

Over the past year, compassion has become an overarching theme of much of the work I do at JHC.  I have been working with JHC Peace-Builders, a group of young people aged 18-30, to foster a genuine appreciation of Edmonton’s faith diversity and to build communities where compassion, peace and human rights prevail. As participants of JHC’s interfaith leadership program, we often speak of compassion in the context of spiritual diversity and interfaith understanding and appreciation. We define it as treating others with the utmost respect and dignity, even if someone has a set of values or beliefs that differ from what you believe. Despite my best efforts to foster compassion and act compassionately, my experience at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently taught me what compassion truly means.

Throughout the four days of the TRC, the JHC had the opportunity to share an interactive booth with the United Nations Association of Canada and the Inspirit Foundation. At the booth, we asked people to reflect on the question, “what actions can we take to reach reconciliation?” and to write their answers on colored index cards, which were then pinned to a large bulletin board. The board became a colorful rainbow of reflections on the hopes and challenges we face when continuing the reconciliation process.

My experience at the booth was truly incredible. With close to 500 comments pinned to our board, I met dozens of dynamic, inspirational, strong, courageous, hopeful, wise, enthusiastic individuals from a wide diversity of backgrounds. I met residential school survivors who shared the unthinkable atrocities they endured and exhibited the profound resiliency of the human spirit. I began to truly grasp the deep extent of intergenerational suffering as many survivors would relay how their experiences at residential school affected the way they treated their parents, spouses, children or other loved ones. I listened to intergenerational survivors explain how their parents or relatives never spoke of residential schools or associated their childhood experiences with shame, suffering and confusion. I learned how violence, drugs or alcohol were used as coping mechanisms to dull the pain and erase the horrors experienced at residential schools. While several individuals expressed anger and hurt, reinforcing how the journey of reconciliation still has many miles to go, others exhibited excitement, hope and a willingness to work together, as Canadians, in building a better future.

There were others still who didn’t share their experiences or vocalize their opinions but privately reflected on the question we posed to them. One such individual stood out to me. He took time writing his card and asked me to read it back, ensuring it clearly communicated the importance of sharing the truth about residential schools with future generations. His thoughtfulness and precision differed from others who quickly jotted down their ideas; I could tell that it was very important to him that others both saw and understood his message.

Later that day, I attended a survivor’s sharing circle and was surprised to see this man step up to share his experiences at residential school. I watched as he recounted them with tremendous strength and dignity. Not only had he endured barbaric treatment at residential school, he had the courage to share these experiences with a room full of strangers. My heart truly ached for this man as I could not begin to imagine what he, and his sister who was there supporting him, had withstood throughout their childhood and into their adult years. As I listened to him, I thought back to earlier that day when he was filling out his index card. I realized that I would have never known this about him had I not happened to join this sharing circle. How many other residential school survivors had passed by my booth? How many people did I interact with that day, not knowing a single thing about their lived experiences, their beliefs, their hopes and dreams? I was friendly and respectful but was I compassionate? Did I convey to them that I did truly care about the statements they pinned to our bulletin board?

I was deeply impacted by my experience at the TRC that day and spent the rest of the evening reflecting on how compassionate I really am. I will be forever grateful to this brave survivor for unknowingly teaching me one of the most important life lessons: compassion is treating others, always and no matter who they are, with genuine care, respect and dignity. It’s as simple as asking the person serving me Tim Hortons how their day has been, understanding that the grumpy gas station cashier has more to her life than ringing through my payment, or recognizing that the person who just cut me off without signalling might be stressed and late for something important. It’s acknowledging that everyone is fighting their own battles, enduring their own struggles, achieving their own dreams. It’s taking time, even just a single second, to show someone that you value them and that they were important to you in your moment of interaction.

I tell this story because I believe compassion is incredibly important when reflecting on the TRC and the continued efforts towards reconciliation which must occur throughout Canada. Although the TRC has come to an end, the reconciliation process has not; nor have centuries of oppression, systemic racism and marginalization of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. In order to work together in building a better future for everyone in Canada, we must act with compassion and do away with centuries of outrageous stereotypes and misconceptions. They deter us from genuinely listening and understanding, they build walls that restrict us from connecting through our common humanity and they derail us from acknowledging the truth, injustice and wrongdoing of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Canada.

So, what actions can we take to reach reconciliation? I’m not sure if I had an answer before the TRC, but  I do now. We can truly act with compassion – we can take time to listen, to acknowledge that the experiences of residential school survivors and their descendants are real and unjust and we can recognize that the negative impact of residential schools continues to affect thousands of people throughout Canada.  Those of us who did not experience residential schools must make known that while we may never truly feel the pain and suffering of residential school and intergenerational survivors, we do care very much about what they experienced and the impact it had on themselves and those they care about. Most importantly, we can work together to implement the lesson I learned at the TRC; that true compassion is understanding, acknowledging and cherishing our common humanity.

Ignite Change Now! Youth Forum

March 19, 2014

Every spring, the John Humphrey Centre hosts the ICN! Youth Forum which brings together 100 high school students from across Edmonton and area. The goal of the ICN! Youth Forum is to build a caring community of engaged youth across school boundaries, who value their role as citizens, are proud of who they are as Edmontonians and are appreciative of our city’s magnificent diversity. On April 25th, 2014, the Ignite Change Now! Youth Forum will take place at King's University College (9125 50 Street, Edmonton Alberta) from 9am - 2:30pm.

At the ICN! Youth Forum, youth will come together to share their unique experiences, learn to understand and appreciate each other’s diverse backgrounds, and build strategies for creating a peaceful and compassionate city where human rights and dignity are upheld for all. By providing direct connections to young change-makers in the community, and highlighting the experiences of individuals who are working to build peace in our city, the ICN! Youth Forum will enable youth to build solidarity and understanding on critical human rights issues such as interfaith diversity, inclusion and indigenous rights. They will develop an understanding of the many ways peace can be built in their schools and communities and will collaborate on developing tangible solutions to foster peace and human rights throughout Edmonton. The ICN! Youth Forum will provide the inspiration, as well as the tools and skills needed to foster positive change, equipping these youth as leaders; today and tomorrow.

Creating spaces where we can foster a sense of shared commitment and connection among youth builds a sense of pride in being an Edmontonian as well as an understanding of our shared responsibility in creating a human rights community. Youth will leave the ICN! Youth Forum with a renewed commitment to work together in building an Edmonton which appreciates diversity, respects human rights and upholds dignity.

To register as an individual, or to register a class /group of students, please complete this registration form and return it to jennifer@jhcentre.org or pay and register online at http://www.eventzilla.net/web/event?eventid=2139015017 by April 20, 2014.

Social Justice Film Series in Partnership with EPL

February 24, 2014

NEW Social Justice Film Series in Partnership with EPL

Do the Rights Thing: Standing up for Human Rights in History is a monthly film series presented by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights and the Edmonton Public Library, Whitemud Crossing Branch. Join us each month to view a documentary related to human rights history in Canada, followed by a dialogue and discussion lead by Robert Normey, a long-time constitutional lawyer who has practiced both private and public law. Robert has also been an avid supporter of human rights organizations and civil rights causes. This initiative provides a free educational opportunity for those who are interested in history, law, and human rights and aims to provide a space to enhance knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of Canada's provoking historical record on human rights issues through an interactive learning experience.

One of our first films will be "Woody Guthrie : Ain’t Got No Home" and we will begin on Sunday, April 27th @ 2pm. If you would like to attend this free event, please email jennifer@jhcentre.org to RSVP.

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