When reflecting on relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, I am faced with a LOT of questions. What does reconciliation really mean? Is it just this pretty word that is tossed around a lot in Canadian politics? Can a person of European settler descent like myself play a role in building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples? How do we create healthy relationships that are founded on trust and mutual respect for each other and the land?
From August 5-10, I travelled to Tahltan Territory for the On The Land Youth Gathering hosted by local Tahltan people, Curtis Rattray of Edziza Trails and youth leader Darrian Dennis, with the support of Groundswell, a non-profit society out of Vancouver. The focus of this gathering was to bring youth together from various parts of British Columbia and the Yukon to share ideas and experience about reconciliation.
I felt many things during my time that we camped at our hosts’ fish camp. The humility of being a guest on land that holds so much cultural and spiritually significance to the Tahltan nation; the empowerment of being around young people actively working to make change in their communities; and especially the incredible gratitude for the warmth and open hearts of our hosts in sharing their stories and history as a people.
I was privileged to be a part of important conversations about the realities of Northern youth, and community members’ ideas on providing opportunities for youth to experience new realities. We touched on the importance between being welcomed and invited into communities and offering support in their initiatives if it is needed. We talked about encouraging youth to step outside of their comfort zones and building the confidence that they hold within themselves.
Our five days were filled with so many teachings and a flow of knowledge from our Tahltan hosts. Conversations about self-governance, the history of colonization and relationships of mutual understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples were woven together with stories of the rivers, salmon, mountains and trees.
I cannot say that I have a set definition of what reconciliation is – I believe that the meaning is very personal and I encourage folks to figure out what it means to them. For me, I am incredibly thankful for the experience on the land in which I can listen, unlearn, and best understand how I can honour people’s stories. As stated by Curtis, “Reconciliation is a journey that we may not see the end to in our lifetimes. It requires patience and dedication and a lot of hard work”.
There is still much to be done to strengthen relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, but I hold hope in the young people who are encouraging change in their communities and forging a path for generations to come.
Meduh to our Tahltan hosts Curtis Rattray, Darrian Dennis and Huey Carlick for opening up your community and hearts to us. I look forward to returning your kindness!
Photos taken by the awesome Cody Dawson, a participant and videographer extraordinaire from Campbell River. Follow him on Facebook @Cody Dawson Videography