Exploring Identity, Culture and the Future of Canada
By Nathan Lapointe (@nmlapointe), Finance Administrator at the Victoria Foundation and Lance Shaver (@LanceShaver), Island Savings Credit Union brand ambassador, Rotaract member, and student at the University of Victoria.
On March 29-30, 2014 we had the opportunity to attend the 4Rs Youth Summit at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. The summit was held during the Alberta National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) hearings. While many of the issues discussed at the TRC are related to those discussed at the 4Rs movement, 4Rs is a separate and distinct movement and covers a broader range of issues than the TRC.
What is the 4Rs movement?
The name “4Rs” stands for respect, reconciliation, reciprocity and relevance. The movement was initiated by 14 organizations representing 3 to 4 million Canadian youth, including the Assembly of First Nations, Congress of Aboriginal People, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, YMCA and YWCA Canada and Community Foundations of Canada. The beginning of the 4Rs movement was a meeting in August 2013 of six CEOs. This grew to 24 youth meeting in Banff at October 2013 who continued discussing and refining the concept. Over 130 youth attended this weekend's summit, representing all regions of the country and all 14 organizations.
The purpose of the movement was a large part of the conversations that occurred over the weekend. The goal is to bring indigenous and non-indigenous youth together to:
- Share stories and perspectives to gain a better understanding of issues facing our communities
- Explore our individual identities and our diversity
- Exchange aspects of our culture to better understand our individual perspectives on issues facing Canada
- Create a safe place to continue sharing our stories and breaking down barriers
- Discuss the future of Canada and how our generation can change our country
What did we discuss at the 4Rs summit?
The weekend summit covered a broad range of topics, from what the movement's goals are to the brand or identity of the movement, as well as the next steps for the movement. We heard from various speakers through the weekend, including representatives from the TRC, leaders from the 14 organizations supporting the movement, and First Nations elders sharing their stories.
A discussion about identity started the weekend's conversations, including facets of identity, challenges to considering the diversity of identities, whether some aspects of diversity are easier to consider than others, if privilege plays a role in erasing some aspects of diversity and the implications of diversity and identity within the 4Rs movement. This brought up issues and perspectives that we hadn't considered before the weekend, including the realization that some who live in this country don't identify as Canadian.
Other topics included the concept of reconciliation, which can vary from the legal perspective, such as in the Constitution, to broader issues of injustice. We found this quote particularly relevant:
“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The topic of injustice came up several times during the discussions, with an emphasis about how youth can drive change in our society to start correcting some of these injustices. As one speaker noted, we can only make change by knowing ourselves; and as another noted, to understand ourselves we must first look to understanding each other.
The overall goal of the movement is to create opportunities for dialogue among youth to discuss the Canada we want to live in. The 14 supporting organizations will play a key role in providing resources and logistical support to the movement as it continues to grow and expand.
What is the connection between the TRC and 4Rs movement?
The TRC was established by the Government of Canada as part of the residential schools settlement and reconciliation process. Through the commission's hearings, those affected by the residential school program were provided an opportunity to share their stories and continue the healing process. Since the TRC began in 2008, thousands have had an opportunity to present evidence and give an offering of reconciliation to the Bentwood Box, which will be preserved at a national research centre.
The former residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996, affected First Nations' society and culture at a deep and very fundamental level. We both knew about the residential school and the horrible abuses that occurred at them before attending the hearings, but learning about their impact first-hand was very moving. Learning that the history of residential schools is not a mandatory part of school curriculums across Canada was a shock to both of us. This is slowly changing, with Alberta, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories recently announcing that teaching the program will be included in their curriculums.
Photo: Display at the TRC exhibition
Photo: Drum made by BC artist, Mike Dangeli for 4Rs as an offering of reconciliation at the TRC hearings
The TRC generously provided the 4Rs movement with two meeting rooms to use and provided an opportunity for the movement to do an expression of reconciliation. A drum created by BC artist Mike Dangeli was presented at the hearings as an offering of reconciliation. 4Rs coordinator Jessica Bolduc gave a very moving three-minute presentation and 14 representatives joined her on stage to make the offering.
Photo: Jessica Bolduc, 4Rs Coordinator, presenting at the TRC hearings.
Photo: 4Rs representatives making an offering of reconciliation at the TRC Alberta National Event
Being able to join the thousands of people attending the TRC hearings was very moving. We heard from a variety of speakers and came away with a much deeper understanding of how the program affected generations of First Nations people. While the 4Rs movement encompasses a much larger range of issues than residential schools, the deep and lasting impact they had on First Nations people in Canada means it is important to understand that impact in the 4Rs spirit of mutual understanding and understanding individual perspectives.
Some facts about the residential school program and TRC:
- TRC hearings began in 2008 and will conclude in 2014 in Ottawa
- Justice Murray Sinclair is the Chair of the TRC
- The residential school program started in approximately 1915 with the last school closing in 1996
- There are approximately 80,000 residential school survivors living in Canada
- An estimated 4,000 students died in the residential schools from a variety of abuses
- Official Government of Canada apology was delivered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008
- More information, including records of the hearings and historical documents, can be found at www.trc.ca and www.projectofheart.ca
Photo: Official TRC sign in English and Inuktitut
Where does the 4Rs movement go from here?
Several sessions of the conference were spent discussing the personality, positioning and product of the 4Rs movement. We participated in strategic planning sessions about our shared vision for the movement and how the conversations started at the weekend summit can be continued. This will be summarized in a strategic plan for the movement, along with brand that will be created by a marketing firm. Being able to participate in such a new movement and provide input was very enlightening for both of us.
Discussions were also held about how to continue the conversations and progress made during the weekend. Meeting face-to-face is the best way to facilitate these types of broad discussions, but is much more expensive than meeting through social media. At some of the strategy sessions we discussed regional face-to-face meetings coordinated through a national social media campaign. Most of the 14 supporting organizations are national, and have local groups with the meeting space and resources to host meetings.
We also discussed what impact the movement could have on future events, such as the 2015 federal election and 2017 Canadian centennial. The 4Rs movement is not a political movement, but elections are a key opportunity to engage with those across the political spectrum about Canada's future. Engaging with groups who were underrepresented at the weekend's summit, including Quebecois, will also be key to the movement's future.
Both of us came away from the weekend feeling inspired and energized about the initiative. On the plane back to Victoria we discussed what we could do to further the movement and keep the conversations going. While a lot was accomplished over the weekend, there's a lot more to do as the movement continues gathering steam. To follow the conversation and see more pictures from the weekend, check out #4Rs on Twitter.
Photo: Community Foundations of Canada representatives at the 4Rs youth summit