Principles of Reconciliation with the Principles of Community Engagement in practice.

By Hala Arafeh
By Hala ArafehOPIRG McMaster

National Truth Reconciliation Day is observed each year. A tribute to the victims and resilient survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities is held annually on September 30th. It is imperative to commemorate the tragic and painful history of residential schools and their ongoing impact on reconciliation.

During Truth and Reconciliation Day events on September 30th, the themes of connection, forgiveness, grief, and education came up as Indigenous people and Canadians reflected on intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools. In this blog post, we share how non-Indigenous students and faculty can use the principles of community engagement and reconciliation to be responsible allies to Indigenous communities. To honor September 30th as a day to commemorate the tragic history of residential schools and honor those who did not make it home, as well as survivors and families, I would encourage all to reflect and remember that reconciliation is an ongoing effort, not just one day of the year.

Here, the principles of the McMaster Office of Community Engagement are reflected, as we examine what constitutes a reconciliation process and how non-Indigenous students can engage as allies. These principles were actively created by the community engagement office in collaboration with student groups for the purpose of creating a framework in this new space of responsible action and responsible dialogue. As future leaders, we must acknowledge our social privileges and condemn Indigenous Discrimination & Harassment.

What are the principles of community engagement?

  • Respectful Relationships – deliberate in building a relationship with the community you are engaging with through thoughtful dialogue and action, being mindful of assumptions, and understanding they take time and trust to build.
  • Reciprocity – understanding that your community partners have value and are reciprocal, they can bring valuable knowledge, skills, expertise to your partnership.
  • Equity – Understanding people’s intersecting identities that have shaped their lived experiences. An example of intersecting social identities is being a racialized elderly woman, there are three identities intersecting here.
  • Understanding the difference between engaging and sustainable engagement. Day-to-day activities that are sustainable consist of small actions that can be up kept to foster a long-term social good, same as recycling every day for the purpose of combating climate change.
  • Openness to Learning – Reflecting consistently on yourself and being open to learning, sometimes this includes learning outside of your comfort zone through difficult conversations, challenging questions, and ambiguity.
  • Commitment to Act – aspire to act with the intention of fostering social good through your actions.

What are some of the principles of reconciliation?

  • All Canadians hold a collective responsibility to establish and maintain reciprocal relationships with Indigenous individuals, institutions, and communities.
  • For reconciliation to take place, we need to address the ongoing legacies of colonialism in a deliberate and responsible manner, acknowledging the consequences of ongoing and historical colonialism.
  • Reconciliation means to create a more equitable and inclusive society through closing gaps in social, health, and economic outcomes. This aligns with understanding equity and continuity in your pursuit of being an ally to Indigenous communities.

What can we as students do to align with them?

The greatest starting point to allyship is reflection. The first thing you can do as an individual is to assess your own bias. Every person has implicit bias; these are the things we’ve learned that are unconscious or conscious, that sit in the back of our minds but have an overwhelming effect on how we experience and interact with the world. When you think of Indigenous communities or of Indigenous individuals, what stereotypes might come to mind? Why do you have these stereotypes? Where did they come from? And most importantly, how can you fight against these implicit thoughts to ensure that you act from a place of reconciliation in your day-to-day life through your day-to-day tasks whether it be through the media you share on social media, the conversations you hold, the language you use, etc.

Things you can reflect on as a student to uphold reconciliation and community engagement

Beginning Actions:

  • Language Use:
    • Recognize the type of language you use whether it be in formal or informal settings or academic outputs you produce such as essays, discussion posts, etc.
  • Online Media You Absorb:
    • What books, podcasts, movies are you watching? Do they speak to a side of history? Do they accurately represent all the perspectives of those that were affected throughout history? Is it sensitively produced?
  • Your Comfort Zone with Asking Questions:
    • It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone and ask questions that may be challenging to do so, as long as you do it respectfully with mindful language use.
    • If you ask questions, especially to indigenous individuals, be aware that they are not a channel to educate you about their experiences or societal barriers. The internet has countless resources for you to explore. Be sure to ask first if they feel comfortable answering this question, or if they would like to share themselves or direct you to a source.

Taking it a step further:

  • Endorse an Indigenous Speaker to come speak at an event you are hosting or know of. This is done through your own community initiatives whether it be clubs you are a part of, community events you heard of, or your network.
  • We invite you to begin your community meetings with a Land Acknowledgement to show respect for the land we – as Treaty Peoples – reside on. You can also offer feedback for meetings you may attend, but not host, to also start off with a Land Acknowledgement.
  • Supporting the inclusion of Indigenous peoples’ cultural revitalization by integrating Indigenous Knowledge Systems into your own – whether it be at work, while volunteering, in community interactions, etc.

Endorse an Indigenous Speaker to come speak at an event you are hosting or know of. This is done through your own community initiatives whether it be clubs you are a part of, community events you heard of, or your network. Watch OPIRG’s Events space for updates!