Urban Nation

The long road to reconciliation

Discourse Media March 12, 2018

In a busy Tim Hortons on the Trans-Canada Highway in Kenora, Ont., the conversation often turns to reconciliation.

Marlene Elder, Dan Yerxa, Geraldine Kakeeway, Theresa Jamieson and Shirley Kelly are regulars here. Today, they sip tea with honey, making jokes about bannock and squirrels. While the close-knit group often has hearty laughs together, they also sometimes find themselves reflecting on the impact of colonization, residential school and racism.

“People don’t have time to worry about reconciliation because they are trying to find a house, or get their kids back or get a job,” Elder said.

“If reconciliation is working, why can’t a family of eight get an apartment or a home in this town?” Jamieson asked.

Kenora, a city in northwestern Ontario on Lake of the Woods, not far from the Manitoba border, has been called the crossroads of colonization.

Treaty 3 territory, where the city sits, had six different residential schools, with the last one closed in 1974. Two sat not far from Kenora’s bustling downtown business district, which fills up every summer with cottagers.

The city also has a long history of violence, racial tensions and segregation policies, which sent a message to many of the area’s approximately 25,000 people from the 28 First Nations in Treaty 3: Do not come here.

In the three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its report, which included 94 Calls to Action, the idea of reconciliation has permeated meetings, churches, dinner tables and coffee shop talk in the city of about 15,000.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It travelled across Canada to gather information and its report detailed the harmful legacy of residential schools and made suggestions on how to advance reconciliation in Canada.

In Kenora, some evidence of that advancement is visible.

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