Reconciliation recommendation: know yourself first

In January, Decoda Literacy Solutions hosted the Sk’elep Indigenous Antiracism series with Bonnie Morgan and Elders.

“Reconciliation training is an important part of Decoda’s – and any literacy organization’s – path to address settler colonialism and racism,” said Sandra Lee, Decoda’s executive director. “This training was so meaningful. We were honoured to have Elders share blessings and stories, and Bonnie created a safe space for listening, learning and discussion.”

Bonnie created the program in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to assist businesses and organizations/municipalities to forge a path towards reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Pre-reading was assigned, then participants met over Zoom for three sessions of  learning and sharing. Together, they explored Indigenous history, land acknowledgements, worldviews, power, privilege, their own histories and responsible allyship in practice.

Start with Elders

Each session began with an opening prayer song, drumming and blessing by Elder Glida Morgan from Tla’amin First Nation.

“We start with Elders, prayers and songs to state intention. So that we start our work with a good heart and mind and good intentions, to move forward,” said Bonnie.

Canadian history through an Indigenous lens

They learned the history of Canada through an Indigenous lens and the ongoing impacts of colonization, the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools.

The Indian Act was created in 1876 to control and assimilate Indigenous peoples and their communities. It included policies like Indigenous women losing status if they married a non-Indigenous man; restrictions to leaving reserves without permission; needing permits to sell agricultural products, or to buy groceries or clothes; mandatory attendance at residential schools; banning spiritual ceremonies such as the potlatch – and dancing.

“The Indian Act has been deemed the most racist piece of legislation in the world,” Bonnie said, “And that includes Apartheid – which ended in 1994.”

The Act has been amended several times but is still controversial today.

World views and land acknowledgements

Where the Western world view uses a pyramid model, with man at the top, the Indigenous world view has humans as an equal partner, in balance and harmony with nature. This Indigenous philosophy, combined with the theft of ancestral land is why land acknowledgements are so important.

Did you know?

  • There are over 200 Nations in BC.
  • 95% of the land in BC is unceded territory.
  • Reserve land makes up just 0.2% of Canada. (Art Manuel, Reconciliation Manifesto)

Respectful land acknowledgements honour both community and land-based reconciliation.

Know yourself and your privilege

Bonnie stressed the importance of people knowing their own family histories – where their ancestors came from, how they came to Canada, and how they have benefitted. Cultural humility is a big part of antiracism and reconciliation.

“Antiracism training is about knowing yourself. Your family and roots. From that comes a knowledge of your being. Then you know your benefits and privileges,” said Bonnie. “Name it and move forward.”

A great resource shared was the Power & Privilege Wheel from Canadian Council for Refugees, which graphically demonstrates who has power and privilege in society.

“Analysis of systemic oppression teaches us that in order for someone to be marginalized, someone else has to be benefitting.” – Harsha Walia, activist and writer

Small group discussions

Groups held breakout discussions in separate online Zoom ‘rooms’ to delve deeper into topics including:

  • How do we benefit from living on unceded territories? What are the ways in which our own settlement here, whether displaced or not, impacts Indigenous people?
  • What do residential schools have to do with colonialism?
  • How to position yourself on the land and create a land-based cultural humility plan.
  • How can I be a good ally and leverage my position and privilege as a non-Indigenous person?

First-hand residential school stories

They also heard from a residential school survivor who shared their story of resilience and hope.

Elder Flora Morgan (Bonnie’s mother) told of being 9 years old and unable to speak English, when she and other children were loaded into the back of an open five-ton truck and taken to St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake/Secewpemic Territory.

Indian Residential Schools (IRS) were run in Canada from the 1870s to 1996. Children were forcibly taken by the RCMP to IRS’s, forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture, and 90-100% suffered severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Flora said many children were so traumatized that they couldn’t study. “It was a fear place. What the government did to us is wrong.”

Listen, learn, make mistakes

Bonnie’s message for non-Indigenous people on their reconciliation learning journey is listen to Indigenous people with an open mind and heart, be willing to learn and be willing to make mistakes.

“We don’t have to be experts. That’s a Western concept. It’s okay to make mistakes.”

Comments from participants

“Thank you for supporting this work. I am the newly hired Indigenous Literacy Coordinator in Nanaimo, BC and I experience lateral violence in many spaces because these are acceptable practices within the colonial narrative. This work is relevant and needed. I hope that more people would attend these workshops. Gilakasla, wishing you good health and thanking you in our language.” – Charlene Schooner, Literacy Central Vancouver Island

“I learned that it’s important to take the time to listen and build relationships, and then, you can find out what you can do as an ally.” – Lynda Sampson, Lillooet Area Library Association

Resources

About Bonnie Morgan and Sk’elep Reconciliation

Sk’elep Reconciliation roots all Indigenous Cultural Safety and Competency Courses and curriculum in The Four R’s-Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity and Responsibility along with the First Peoples Principles of Learning by FNESC.

The aim is to dismantle and disrupt colonial narratives while allowing participants to gain valuable knowledge and transform.

Bonnie’s specific matrilineal ancestry is Secwepemc from St’uxwtews. She has worked in Indigenous Education for the past 15 years. Currently she facilitates Indigenous Anti-Racism Training for Government, law enforcement, universities and Not for Profits with a strong emphasis on shared history, stereotypes/biases, responsible ally-ship & advocacy for direct calls to action. Bonnie holds a Masters in Education from Simon Fraser University in Curriculum and Instruction. She has done work with NRCan, EMBC, Douglas College, FLNR:EX, LBR:EX, PSA:EX, Canada Heritage, VCC, Capilano University, SFU and has been a part of many Indigenous Steering Committees and Advisory Boards. She is also the Regional Director in B.C/Yukon for KAIROS Canada for the KAIROS Blanket Exercise.

Bonnie has been part of the LFVAS Board since 2008. She is humbled and honored to be able to carry out this work in a good way with teachings from her Aunties, Mom, family and her adoptive Kwantlen family.

Learn more at skelepreconciliation.com and connect with Bonnie by email at: bonnie@skelepreconciliation.com

About us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing resources, training and funds.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

Find more professional development opportunities on Decoda’s training page.

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