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Defining Reconciliation

How to define reconciliation?

It was the central question to a wide-ranging discussion in June at WAG-Qaumajuq including Free Press editor Paul Samyn and columnist and academic Niigaan Sinclair, and WAG-Qaumajuq Director & CEO Stephen Borys and Head of Indigenous Ways & Learning Julia Lafreniere. In this Free Press article, Ben Waldman gives you insights from the discussion on building respectful relationships.

“For me, and for WAG-Qaumajuq, probably the very first thing is building and maintaining respectful relationships. It’s about acknowledging past and current injustices. It’s about looking seriously as a museum at the (TRC’s) calls to action, said Borys, also an adjunct professor of art history at the University of Winnipeg. “For me on a personal level as a CEO, perhaps one of the greatest ways we saw this happen was when the knowledge keepers, sacred naming circle, and Indigenous council gifted us the name Qaumajuq, for what was to be the Inuit art centre.”


Samyn told the audience about the Free Press’ commitment, made in 2017, to include on its masthead an acknowledgement that the paper has been “Published since 1872 on Treaty 1 territory and the homeland of the Métis.”

“The Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Art Gallery are two key institutions here on Treaty 1,” said Samyn, who has been editor since 2011 and has worked at the newspaper since 1987. “We both have the power through our respective storytelling to inform, to enlighten, to broaden your horizons and to reflect.”

While describing the newspaper’s strengths, Samyn also acknowledged the historic shortcomings it currently works to address in its coverage of Indigenous life and issues in the province.

“We were too slow to recognize the crisis that is murdered and missing (Indigenous) women. It’s not that we didn’t do stories. It’s not that we ignored it. But we didn’t jump headfirst in the way we should have, in a way that would have made a fundamental difference,” he said. “I can’t turn back time, but when we have people like Niigaan, who help us do things to get this community balanced, I think we’re in a much better place.”

“We’re taking these issues far more seriously,” he went on. “And the results of discussions around searching the landfill, and the decision that Manitoba has made, I think are reflective of the role the Free Press and others had on that issue. So we didn’t (in the past) do what we needed to do, but to a degree, I think we have managed to – I’m not going to say make a difference – but ensure that we’re doing better. And if we’re doing better, I believe the community becomes stronger.”

Sinclair, an Anishinaabe writer and since 2018 a Free Press columnist, told the audience that he prefers not to use the term “reconciliation.” In every Indigenous language, he said, the words most closely associated with that English one are related to ideas of love and family-making. By that, he meant that seeing each other as relatives can help drive social change and ideological motion.

“Canada has always been about friend-making. Treaties are about family making. And so as we reach this moment, we have a pivotal choice as a city, which is the path of family or the path of friendship. Because friendship has not worked for 150 years, and it continues to produce murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, an overabundance of Indigenous children in our child welfare system, murder on the streets, people sleeping in encampments.”

“That’s what friends do – toxic friends at that,” he added. “Family would make sure none of those things happen, and that’s the difference.”

Sinclair cited a few moments of familial approaches, including the naming of Qaumajuq, but he also said those moments were usually punctuated by reminders of the challenges the city faces.

“There’s absolutely no reconciliation happening in certain grocery stores and in certain moments with police,” he said. “As I was walking in tonight, I saw some of our relatives really suffering.”

“So what I would say is reconciliation, if I were to define it, would be kindness led by love, which are fleeting moments that happen in spaces and times,” – Niigaan Sinclair

Borys described the WAG-Qaumajuq’s reconciliatory path as a long road, pointing to signs – the successful raising of $75 million toward the establishment of Qaumajuq, the broad public enthusiasm toward the institution – along the way that showed others were excited to join in. “I think it speaks to the strength of the city,” he said.

Lafreniere asked the group to discuss hurdles or impediments to change.

Borys indicated the greatest barriers at organizations such as WAG-Qaumajuq are systemic and colonial, requiring a “holistic dismantling” and restructuring of practice.

Sinclair said that moments of unease brought on by recognition of uncomfortable truths are worth noting, citing last year’s provincial election and the divisiveness around the landfill search — now underway — as such a moment.

“When we are the most uncomfortable, it might be the most important moments of our lives,” he said.

Above article by Ben Waldman from June 19, 2024 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press.

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‘What a wonderful, thought-provoking, inspiring, knowledge-acquiring, and hope-filled conversation.”

– Jules, Winnipeg Free Press subscriber


One thought on "Defining Reconciliation"

Janet Kinley says:

Thank you. This was a conversation I found helpful. It’s important to get into specifics to understand what the broad concepts mean. J. Kinley

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‘What a wonderful, thought-provoking, inspiring, knowledge-acquiring, and hope-filled conversation.”

– Jules, Winnipeg Free Press subscriber

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