Re-tooling, an open discussion on finding and using new tools in conversations about reconciliation, diversity and equality, drew more than 50 participants to Semiahmoo Park’s Spirit Stage on July 12.
Hosted by the Semiahmoo First Nation, the early-evening discussion was billed as being open to “people of all ages, hues, abilities, genders and orientations.”
While participants shared experiences of exclusion and discrimination and overcoming prejudice, the focus was also on moving forward toward systemic change and countering unconscious bias on all levels.
“You guys are all the change agents here, every single one of you,” SFN councillor Joanne Charles told the crowd.
“You guys have the ability to change your attitude and the ability to have a ripple effect to go out to the rest of the community, to government, to agencies, to businesso change how things go forward – that we make reconciliation into ‘reconcili-action’.”
Charles noted that her mother Mabel Charles – present at the discussion – is a survivor of the residential school system, like many other relatives and SFN members.
The recent confirmation that the remains of children were buried at the former sites of residential schools across Canada was far from a surprise for First Nations people.
What is surprising, she added, is that, for the first time, media aren’t ignoring the issue.
“(The remains) weren’t ‘discovered’ – we knew that they were there,” she said.
Among those contributing to the discussion were Lizzie Allan, co-founder of White Rock-based therapeutic comedy program Hilarapy; Gordie Hogg, past mayor, MLA and MP for South Surrey/White Rock; and UNITI (Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and the Semiahmoo Foundation) board member Marie Sabine.
Others sharing their experiences included self-advocate Krista Milne; Semiahmoo Secondary students and community activists Olyvia Gue, Sana Shams and Esther Zhang; and Dr. Farhan Haque, psychiatrist and chair of the White Rock Muslim Association.
Acknowledging those who had spoken about discrimination experienced as members of minorities, or on the basis of visible or invisible challenges, Charles said it is vital that all voices in our society be heard.
She called on all those attending to “move forward and educate people and listen.”
“It’s very important to listen to everybody and try to do the things we can do to make this a better world,” she said.
Charles noted that her uncle, late Grand Chief Bernard Charles, taught her the continuing importance of communication and education in combating the inherent evils of the still-entrenched colonial system, and the institutionalized racism of the Indian Act.
“He told me, ‘You need to share with the people who we are, and how we worked together to overcome these things,’ she said.
“The work we did with the community allowed us to create a path forward,” she added.
Moderator Deb Salh, while noting in earlier remarks that all humans are subject to unconscious bias, closed out discussion by echoing Charles’ call for continuing dialogue.
“I hope we will have many more of these discussions,” Salh said. “Let’s be good allies for each other.”