Last year, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Alberta National Event, Mayor Don Iveson declared March 2014 – March 2015 a Year of Reconciliation in Edmonton. Although this officially mandated period has reached its end, the process of reconciliation has only just begun. A group of citizens created RISE (Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton) to organize community events which carry on the conversation that the TRC started.
Next Wednesday, RISE’s #ReconcilingYEG event will fill City Hall with art, poetry and dance. According to former Edmonton Poet Laureate Anna Marie Sewell, #ReconcilingYEG will shine a light on the positive relationships which have been overshadowed by the dark truths of our shared history.
“We wouldn’t have a city if we didn’t have a history of cooperation,” Sewell says. “What’s the point of looking at our history together if, from the outside, you think: ‘Well, it’s always been bad.'”
Just as we are beginning to disrupt our whitewashed Canadian settler mythos, we have to be wary of writing the revisionist history in the other direction—saying that everything was horrible and settlers and aboriginal people never lived together with mutual respect, she notes.
“You look at it from this distance, in the light of the TRC, in the light of people going: ‘Gosh, I’ve been hearing about all these broken treaties and terrible things that happened. It’s got to be that it was always terrible.’ It wasn’t always terrible. People are people. There are always some people getting along—or there wouldn’t be Métis people,” smiles the Mi’gmaq/Anishnabe/Polish-Canadian Sewell.
#ReconcilingYEG will include poetry readings by Sewell and Historian Laureate Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, as well as paintings by Edmonton Artist in Residence Jennie Vegt. As inspiration for the paintings, RISE selected seven photographs from the municipal and provincial archives, showing aboriginal and settler interactions over 138 years.
“For me it was really important not to overly interpret the paintings,” Vegt says. “My angle was more like by spending some time, putting the hours into reproducing them, and maybe a touch of more vibrancy here and there, it would cause people to linger longer on the image instead of passing over it.”
The event will also include an interactive element that all members of the community are invited to join: a round dance.
“The first-ever round dance in City Hall,” Sewell says. “It’s one of the oldest dances of this land. … It’s truly a lot of fun and we’re going to make that fit in to the strange shapes of the City Room, so that’ll be a challenge.”
Ultimately, #ReconcilingYEG is an opportunity for Edmontonians to learn about and to celebrate our history of living in Amiskwacîwâskahikan together.
“This is a way of keeping faith with the best of what the TRC is,” Sewell says. “[Which] is to say: look at the truth. Learn the truth. Face the truth. And then we reconcile ourselves to what that truth is. And so we’re trying to bring some of the lighter side of the truth. Which you have to do.”
“It’s time,” she adds, a little later on. “Time to say some of the positive things, and celebrate some of the people who’ve been doing stuff all along.”