A Conversation Opens… by Heather Skoll and Suzanne Smoke
A Conversation Opens… by Heather Skoll and Suzanne Smoke

On Sunday, October 29th (2017) in Richmond Hill, there was a follow up discussion to “The Secret Path” film and event that took place on October 22nd at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Gathered in circle were 18 people, including Councillor Deputy Mayor of Aurora John Abel, organizers of the Secret Path event, Ward 4 Councillor David West, Joel Clements with Suzanne Smoke, Biindigen Healing and Arts, passionate adults from the community, and youth from We Can Change the World Day’s executive team (WCCTWD).

What we shared in common is a desire to take steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous people. The late Gord Downie brought light to the Indigenous past in particular through the story of a 12 year old boy, Chanie Wenjack, who died on his path home after escaping from the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Kenora, Ontario in 1966. Chanie was one of over 150 000 Native children forced to attend govt and church led residential schools. Many suffered horrendous abuse and the mortality rate was exponential.

Suzanne Smoke, Indigenous Knowledge Keeper and Water protector, facilitated the follow up event. Suzanne, Executive Director of Biindigen Healing and Arts, one of the host partners to the Event, told us about some of the challenges that Indigenous people face, such as the over 4000 (according to Grassroots Indigenous Women) Missing Murdered and Taken Indigenous Women and girls in Canada. Suzanne went back in history to when settlers came to North America and although the Initial relationship was based on Trust by the sovereign Peoples, it became clear almost immediately that colonization and assimilation was the main goal of the settlers and resulting government that was formed. Not only were Indigenous people forced to smaller parcels of land, the existing land was stolen and given to the influx of settlers and it became illegal for the Indigenous to speak their own language and retain their culture. Their rights, and way of life were taken away.

Ken Alexander, a retired elementary school teacher with the York Region District School Board said that the lessons taught about Indigenous people focused on the era prior to when the settlers arrived. From Confederation to date the last 150 years have been kept secret as to what was done to the Indigenous people, Gigi Liang, one of the youth from the WCCTWD team said “I learned more about the Indigenous people in our country in the 4 hours with Suzanne than I have up to now being in grade 10”.

Aaron Brown, the Youth Mentor for WCCTWD, applied for and received a grant from The Laidlaw Foundation. This grant made it possible to take the WCCTWD team to The Secret Path event, as well as invite Indigenous guests to attend and to hold the follow up event. Aaron suggested that the first step before taking any action is to listen, truly listen.

One of the biggest lessons that we learned from this process was that if we want to talk about reconciliation with Indigenous youth, then we must be prepared to go to where they are comfortable.

Suzanne has a strong message for those wanting to help.
Gain Knowledge and understanding of the broken relationship between Canadians and the First Peoples, before you set out in Action. Do Not apply for First Nations program or healing dollars if you are based in western methodologies of healing. Our people need Native Traditional Healing methods to heal our people and we need Canadians to understand that our way of life, our Traditional Ecological Knowledge will become invaluable to the next seven generations.

Suzanne also stresses the important role that non-Indigenous people can play in reconciliation, every one of our voices are powerful to support Indigenous rights and to bring to light news of any injustices against Indigenous people. Call out peers when racist and uneducated comments are being made in reference to the sovereign peoples. Educate yourself to the real history inclusive of the voice of the Lived experience of First Nations people .

As this is only the beginning, we have hope that more conversations will take place that lead to better understanding.

To support local programming in First Nations Healing strategies please contact Suzanne Smoke Biindigen Healing and Arts [email protected] 289-716-7665

If you wish to join our mailing list, we can update you when future conversations take place.
Contact: Heather Skoll, Founder of We Can Change the World Day, Creative Director of LifeNotes Wisdom at [email protected]

Associated to: LifeNotes Wisdom Inc