Reconciliation through Poetry


Last September, 70,000 people gathered in downtown Vancouver on a rainy Sunday in an effort to build new relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. The four-kilometre walk began at Queen Elizabeth Plaza and a steady stream of umbrella-toting individuals took over the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, gathering together as one.

The Walk for Reconciliation on September 22, 2013 was part of a week-long culmination of events in Vancouver to engage in a dialogue about the painful legacy of residential schools in Canada.

“I’m still moved by the results of Reconciliation Week, in particular that big walk,” says Chief Robert Joseph, Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation. “We were trying to create that image, that vision, to convince others that there are those who care,” he says.

These comments were part of a video created by SFU’s Centre for Dialogue, which presented Chief Joseph with the 2014 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue to honour his life’s work. The Walk for Reconciliation was just one piece in the ongoing process of reconciliation.

“We were trying to create that image, that vision, to convince others that there are those who care.”

Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada

The Blaney award was presented on Jan. 15 and several events were also organized for the local community to participate with the ideas and topics at hand.

“We don’t want to just give this award and then walk away,” explains Mark Winston, the director of the Centre for Dialogue, speaking about the series of events in conjunction with the Blaney award.

A key figure in the ongoing process of reconciliation, Chief Joseph is the current Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, an organization dedicated to using dialogue to revitalize relationships and build resilience.

“The real profound shift [from healing to reconciliation] for me was being part of a national dialogue […] as we moved across the country, the tone of these discussions and the attitudes of people between each other started to shift. People were actually starting to talk to each other instead of screaming and pounding tables. We began to listen to one another and we began to think, well, maybe there are some ways to resolve this terrible legacy.”

Chief Joseph is also a special advisor to both Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indian Residential School Resolutions Canada; he is also involved in several other societies and organizations for Aboriginal First Nations and Residential School survivors.

“I know that there are enough of us — including Simon Fraser and other institutions — who care, and other like-minded people are thinking about how we can continue to do this,” says Chief Joseph. “We have to stay the course and we have to promote this idea that we are one: Namwayut.”

“All five poets have different styles and approaches to reconciliation.”

Mark Winston, director of the Centre for Dialogue

A workshop for the SFU community in early February addressed how SFU could be more welcoming to Aboriginal peoples and perspectives. The dialogue included administrators, faculty, community leaders, and students, and Winston says a full report will soon be released.

Next week, a third event will take place called Reconciliation through Poetry.

“We wanted something arts-related,” explains Winston, and the connection to Lunch Poems at Harbour Centre made poetry a fitting medium.

On Thursday, Feb. 27, five poets will read from newly commissioned poems exploring the concept of reconciliation. A selection committee approached poets Jordan Abel, Joanne Arnott, Juliane Okot Bitek, Jordan Scott and Daniel Zomparelli after careful deliberation.

“We wanted a diverse selection of poets — both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, gender identity, cultural background. All five poets have different styles and approaches to reconciliation,” Winston said.

The event is free and open to the public. It will take place at the Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch, in the Alice McKay Room from 7 to 9 p.m. The evening is not dialogue-based; it is intended to be a community gathering to explore the theme of reconciliation through the medium of poetry.