Storytelling for truth reconciliation

Author and journalist Richard Wagamese is planning to use the power of storytelling to raise awareness about the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings in March. On Friday January 24 he’ll engage Calgarians in a unique and personal way when he combines Ojibway oral tradition with contemporary performance storytelling techniques.

Wagamese says the whole notion of reconciliation is contingent on people knowing each other better and he contends that the easiest way to achieve that is through sharing stories.

“We are a species that’s meant to be communal; we’re not meant to be isolated. We need to start to talk to each other more to use the telling of our stories not to highlight our differences but to highlight our similarities” he says.

“The transmission and telling of stories is important because when we share these things we find out how much we have in common. We get to get to know people rather than the expectations from stereotypes” he adds. “The easiest way to eliminate a stereotype is to eliminate the space that separates you from someone you don’t know. When we can do that we can start to talk earnestly about who we really are. We become able to see each other and hear each other. That is the power of reconciliation.”

Wagamese who is from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in Ontario says he has faced many challenges himself over the years.

“From the very beginning my life has been an ongoing process of encountering every social issue that comes to define First Nations’ experience in Canada. Travelling through each one of those scenarios I’ve been broken down a few times” he says.

“It’s only resilience that’s allowed me to stand up and to brush myself off and look for the lessons in the stuff that I’ve experienced move myself onward and upward. Resilience is really important in my life.”

Wagamese sees the source of that resilience is the strength he’s gleaned from his belief system and his ceremonial life. “It’s a spiritual quality that is embodied in the whole act of faith — really important for First Nations people and anybody that has to navigate their way through a sometimes unpredictable and at times calamitous world.”

The January 24 event called Smoked Fish Bannock and Indian Tea is being hosted by Mennonite Central Committee Alberta at St. David’s United Church to “build communities close gaps in understanding destroy stereotypes and heal through laughter” in preparation for the TRC hearings in Edmonton scheduled March 27 to 30.

In 2008 the prime minister on behalf of the government apologized to former students and their families and communities for Canada’s participation in residential schools. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement which came about as a result of the efforts of former residential school students provided compensation to former students and established the TRC. The commission was given the responsibility of travelling across Canada to listen to the statements of anyone who wished to speak publicly about their experience. Its purpose was to hear the truth about aboriginal students’ experiences in residential schools and to make all Canadians aware of what happened there. Edmonton will be the final stop before Ottawa.