Amanda Kennedy

King’s program calls for reconciliation

  • December 24, 2021

King’s University College at Western University marked the sixth anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s final report with a participatory reading of the 94 Calls to Action Dec. 15.

The 90-minute virtual session engaged over 150 people in the audible reading of the document which, organizers lament, Canadians are nowhere near as familiar with as they should be.

These calls to action call on all levels of government to work together to change policies and programs to repair the harm from residential schools and move forward with reconciliation.

The event was spearheaded by Carla Dew, a full-time student specializing in social justice and peace studies (SJPS) at King’s, with the support and backing of program chair Allyson Larkin.

Given the history of residential schools, Larkin says the work of healing in educational instruction is especially important for Catholic institutions.

“Universities in general have a role to play in reconciliation but Catholic universities have an especially important role to play,” said Larkin. “Reconciliation is at the heart of Catholicism, acknowledging and atoning for the sins of your past. I think that we have to get in there. It’s going to be messy and it’s going to be hard. It’s going to challenge us to own our actions that were taken by the Catholic Church. It think that’s critical.”

Dew proposed an independent study project to revisit the specific calls to action that address post-secondary institutions and publicly-funded denominational schools. Her research focused on truth seeing, a key idea to the process of decolonization and reconciliation.

She was inspired by a similar event at the University of British Columbia. Working with a team of student organizers, she gathered speakers of various demographics, vocations, backgrounds and locations throughout the country to read each call. 

The moving session, Dew says, may become an annual event.

“Our team was phenomenal,” said Dew. “They worked so hard and they saw the meaning and the significance of this event and they put themselves fully behind it, regardless of them being in exams and juggling family life and COVID cases increasing. There was so much going on, but it just shows you how important this was to people.”

Kuwahs^nahawi (Amanda) Kennedy who is Haudenosuanee, Bear Clan, from Oneida Nation of the Thames, is an Indigenous educator, community activist and economic developer working with King’s and other schools across Canada in the work of truth telling and providing counsel in reconciliation work. As Dew’s mentor in the SJPS program, Kennedy led the opening prayer and grounding and says such events are important in bringing the truth forward and increasing awareness.

If not for the discovery of the unmarked graves at residential schools, she says sadly, it would likely be a challenge to get as many people to attend such an event.

“Sitting there listening to the 94 Calls to Actions was heartbreaking because if these are actions everyone is supposed to take, why do I have to wake up every day working 16 to 20 hours a day, sometimes for my community, for justice, for change for stuff that’s supposed to have happened a long time ago,” said Kennedy. “A lot of people are saying, oh yes, we read the 94 Calls to Action, but don’t pat yourselves on the back yet because the truth is that we’re so far behind on the truth that the reconciliation can’t even be spoken about yet.”

The SJPS department has been intentional about setting goals in the movement towards reconciliation, which includes ensuring every student in the first-year course is exposed to the 94 Calls to Action. Program organizers have been developing curriculum around the document and particularly those action points calling on universities to correct miseducation, to create space for Indigenous knowledge, pedagogies and ways of learning.

Over the past decade the department has worked to build relationships with First Nations in neighbouring communities, develop experiential learning programs and regularly invites Indigenous leaders into the classroom to share knowledge, lead exercises and meet and engage with students.

The reconciliation work involves the full engagement of Indigenous communities and leaders, said Larkin. But the need for action lies in the hands of the non-Indigenous community.

“We are on a very long journey and it is not about Indigenous people, it is about the settler community,” said Larkin. “I actually think it’s existential. I think we are at a crucible moment where we don’t realize how oppressed we all are by these historic relations. They’re not just located in the past, they’re ongoing in the present. At our peril, we ignore them.”

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