Never Forget That Reconciliation Involves All Of Us

A cohort of Life Skills Coaches in Thompson, Manitoba.

My position at YWCA Toronto is unlike any other. I have taken a small plane in the middle of winter into the Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario to deliver training. While visiting Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation in northern British Columbia, a participant gifted me with an Eagle feather passed down from an Elder. That act of kindness meant a lot to me. As a non-Indigenous person, it is always a privilege to be invited into Indigenous communities.

YWCA Toronto’s Life Skills Coach program is all about training community leaders, coaches and facilitators in the areas of communication, leadership and problem solving skills. Over the past five years, I have worked with over 50 Indigenous-led organizations and Band Councils. Last year, over 30% of participants self-identified as being of Aboriginal descent. People turn to YWCA Toronto because they have heard about the transformative impact of our unique Life Skills program.

I have worked with over 50 Indigenous-led organizations and Band Councils. Last year, over 30% of participants self-identified as being of Aboriginal descent.

Life Skills Coaches, Neskantaga First Nation

As a trainer and facilitator, my job is to help give leaders the opportunity to reflect on self, and build on their own unique skills and talents. I have had Elders, Chiefs, Indigenous service providers and youth all take my training sessions. It is a great fit because the program is about people and experiential learning – not theory. Our goal is always for participants to walk away with additional tools to engage people in their communities and, ultimately, to make change.

Indigenous participants in my sessions sometimes lead with smudging, prayers and drumming. I value the opportunity to get to know participants – we often eat together, spend time together and get to know each other. I have learned that listening is key, and the people I have met are incredibly generous, open and willing to share parts of their rich culture and experiences. Every community that I visit is different.

I have been in sharing circles with survivors of residential schools. Once in Thunder Bay, an Indigenous woman in my group said that it was the first time that she had ever passed an Eagle feather. It struck me how wrong it was that we were both having this experience and learning together. The impacts of residential schools – described as cultural genocide by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – have been lasting. Yet right across Canada, Indigenous Peoples are working to reclaim their tradition, culture and identity.

For me, reconciliation means education about Canadian history and residential schools. It means speaking up as an ally and supporting the changes needed to build a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

For me, reconciliation means education about Canadian history and residential schools. It means speaking up as an ally and supporting the changes needed to build a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples. It means ensuring that Indigenous women’s voices are heard at decision making tables – in government, non-profit, public and private sectors. And it means talking to Indigenous women about what services and support are needed, and then working in partnership to fill those gaps. A lot of this work should happen right here in Toronto, which is home to one of the largest urban Indigenous populations in Canada.

Never forget that reconciliation involves all of us.

Karen Whynot is a Trainer and Facilitator in YWCA Toronto’s Skills Development Centre. Learn more about YWCA Toronto’s national training centre for Life Skills Coaches here