Stories of Resiliency, Reconciliation and hope at ERDI 2021 Fall Conference

Written by: Marie Cresswell

Photos by: Marie Cresswell

Sharing stories of resiliency, reconciliation and hope promotes inclusive and healthy conversations about reconciliation at ERDI fall conference plenary last week. For many of us the September 30th was a day to wear an orange T-shirt, not for Kevin Chief, it is a day to share stories and invite curiosity and collaboration and encouragement to take risks to share and lead and to make a few mistakes along the way.

KevinThe Conference took place at Chateau Montebello, Fairmont, a beautiful scenic location in Quebec with fall colours enveloping the venue. The Plenary was very timely considering the federal government’s recent legislation to make September 30th a federal statutory holiday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. While many Canadians could benefit from additional insights and stories to bring a sense of truth, compassion and inclusivity, many corporate attendees didn’t have the benefit of learning about Residential schools in the seventies and eighties, whereas the province’s curriculum includes mandatory learning in Social Studies, Grades 4-6, and History in Grades 7, 8, and 10, including mandatory learning on residential schools in Grades 8 and 10, was introduced in 2018. While the ministry is recently committed to providing $23.96 million in Indigenous Education funding to support First Nations, Métis and Inuit students as part of a broader government commitment to reconciliation there is so much more conversations and work to be done.

Kevin’s personal stories of family survivors of residential schools as well as positive stories of indigenous youth resonated with our team and galvanized education and corporate leaders as one immediately, what a wonderful way to kick off a conference. Stories evoked pathos, curiosity and inspiration, as many of us sought to find ways to incorporate the work that we do with inclusion and diversity and with collaboration. There is so much more that can be done in addition to wearing orange – there has got to be a way for all of us to realize that all children’s lives truly matter.  For the first time I was able to see one of the privileges that we take for granted, doing the work that we do, attending or working at a reputable school and something as basic as voting.

While Kevin also shared many stories of youth taking risks and paving a new path for indigenous youth, with the work that True North was involved with – I was particularly surprised to hear of the story of his 63-year-old uncle, Dennis Chief, a Sixties Scoop survivor who has been living on the streets of Winnipeg for most of his life who brought light to the fact that many people on the street do not have Identification, a place of residence to reference or access to information, present barriers to voting for those experiencing homelessness.

That story really resonated with me, with our recent Federal election happening and upcoming Provincial election, exercising something we take for granted, the right to vote. He shared this photo and article written by Eva Wasney, Winnipeg Times, about Pride, prejudice of voting while homeless, an article about the Lack of ID, access to polling stations, information on candidates barriers for those living on streets

While Chief is passionate about exercising his democratic right, the process of doing so isn’t easy. He doesn’t have a fixed address or government-issued identification — although he can rattle off his social insurance and Manitoba health numbers from memory. Identification, access to information and polling station locations all present barriers to voting for those experiencing homelessness. Canadians have been required to show ID to be able to vote in federal elections since 2007, when the Harper government passed an amendment to the Canadian Elections Act. However, getting an ID is cost-prohibitive for Chief. In 2019, while most Indigenous electors had no problems providing identification, they were less likely to find it very easy to meet the identification requirements (91%, compared with 94% of non-Indigenous electors). This was more pronounced among First Nations electors (86%). This appears to have improved significantly since 2015, when 84% of Indigenous electors found it very easy to meet identification requirements, compared with 92% of non-Indigenous electors. In 2019, 2.8% of Indigenous electors living off-reserve reportedly did not vote because they were unable to prove identity or address, compared with 1.6% of non-Indigenous electors (Labour Force Survey).

Tim and Juan at the conferenceFollowing the Plenary session, we had the opportunity of holding two panels with six Directors of Education from Ontario to gain feedback and input regarding our marketing materials and presentations to senior school board admin for Cleaner Air for Schools. We received a lot of great advice and engagement and are very appreciative for having had the time with such a wonderful group of leaders. The collaboration between education leaders and corporations is key to improving our offering to school boards and making a difference in education.

Following the panels, the conference was rounded out with a well-orchestrated social evening, outdoors, in a tent. Thankfully the weather was warm and we were able to enjoy being outside as well. And finally, on Friday evening we concluded the conference with a Celebration dinner where we honored Martha Rogers for her 44 years in education and her 26 years as head of the UGDSB made her the longest serving director of education in Ontario and one of the longest serving Canada. What a conference to remember.

The Education Research & Development Corp. (ERDI), a forum for meaningful dialogue between business and education leaders (districts/boards across Canada), having a positive impact on education by influencing the quality of services and products provided to school systems by the Corporate Partners of ERDI.

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